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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Autumn Mindfulness

I wrote in Summer Mindfulness about a class I took this summer on mindfulness for educators. I also wrote about my struggles incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. Here's an update as the year progresses.

As someone with my own life-saving, pain-easing, anxiety-reducing, compassion-and-calm-producing yoga and meditation practice, I have always wanted to bring my practice to others, especially children, but often get waylaid. When I taught in a large elementary school classroom I used to try a little yoga or breathing with my students now and then, but when the schedule was frantic and I didn't see others reinforcing this work, I usually gave up pretty quickly. My best, most committed year, was the one in which I created Moment That Matters. It was a moment set aside in the day that could be used for any number of things. Sometimes I taught a yoga pose or led a short self-talk moment -- "I can do this!" -- or even just a class phone call home to a child who was sick. That year I had an assistant who loved I was doing this. That was a great reinforcement, even still I eventually started glossing through the time quickly or skipped the Moment altogether.

This year, partly inspired by the mindfulness class and partly by new circumstances, I'm determined to try yet again. As I have for the past three years, I am teaching in a resource room setting rather than a large classroom. My office/classroom used to be joined with someone else's. It was a very comfortable room and I loved the time I spent collaborating with the teacher who shared the room. However, there was a lot of movement in and out of the room either by her students or other teachers coming to get books that were stored there. So I suppose I must have lost confidence in the importance of that little bit of peace I was trying to bring into my students' academic day.

This year my office/classroom was moved. My old space was needed for first grade and my new one is actually joined to one of the Second Grade classes I serve. However,  it's a space I never initially would have chosen. Some years ago it was the back of the gym. Later a wall was built to incorporate it as a storage area into a classroom. Now the storage has been removed from the area and it is my office. There is no window or regular air circulation, so I've brought into the space everything I can to make it comfortable. (Mind you, interior decorating has never been a strength of mine.)

As you enter, you pass through a magical curtain instead of a door. It feels as though you are entering a sacred or secret space. My principal choose a calming blue paint that now covers two of the four walls. I have an air purifier which both clears the air and provides white noise to block out the sound from the adjoining classroom. Finally I have put to use an aromatherapy diffuser that I've had for years but never really did much good in larger spaces. I have a collection of oils that my students help me choose from for the room. Every now and then students in the adjoining classroom say, "I'm getting hungry for cookies. Where is that peppermint smell coming from?!"

For each of my daily 6 classes, the first thing I list on the board's agenda is "chime." The children are reminded by a poster I have on the wall, "When you hear the chime, show you are ready by sitting tall and breathing slow, quiet and relaxing breaths." Even the students who giggle over his follow the directions and will remind me if somehow I skip that step.

Partly inspired by a meeting I had with a psychologist of one of my more anxious students, I also add in some self-talk. So I might say, "Today while I ring the chime, think to yourself, 'I've got this!'" Other phrases I might use are, "My brain is so good at learning," and for one of my more distracted groups, "I am ready to learn something new."

Last week we had a lockdown drill. The 20 kids who use the room that adjoins mine came into the space with me and my two more anxious students. Since we knew to expect this drill, we worked together first to move the tables and chairs out of the way. (This gave ownership of the room and the situation to those students.) Then when the class came in I asked the class teachers if I might use the time to read quietly to the students. Right away out came Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. The children were silent and absorbed it all.
Image result for mindful monkey happy panda

Even when the drill was over they were happy to sit to the end of the book and followed my lead when I closed my eyes at the end and said, "Right now I'm kneeling on this hard floor, I'm sweating because it's so crowded in here and it's pretty uncomfortable, but I'm also breathing gently and telling myself that in this moment, I'm really OK."

I got a note from the parent of one of those anxious children noted above. The child came home and quoted to the mother from the book about how to stay in the present moment. Her mother has been trying to teach her this skill and was grateful I reinforced it.

I've got this.

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