New school year – new mindful challenges

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Each new school year brings challenges and successes. This year I am teaching 7th, 8th & 9th grades. The older middle school students are a new frontier. Certainly, I had an advisory of 7th graders about 3 years ago but I’d gotten used to the younger 6th graders and their cuteness, willingness to please, and infantile energy & imagination. Older middle school 7th & 8th graders are in the midst of hormone changes; exploring their path to independence while keeping one foot planted in childhood as well.

Four weeks into the semester and we are exploring mindfulness activities in all classes: advisory as well as ELA enrichment. Some days I use mindfulness activity cards to stimulate introspection. Other days I take lessons from the Mindful Schools high school curriculum obtained from the “Essentials” course. We’ve explored the “punching bag” and “breath as an anchor”, heartfulness activities, and loving-kindness affirmations while focussing on the breath. All-in-all it is going pretty well considering how many hard-to-settle-down students I have this year.

The new school year started with feelings of anxiety that I had not experienced for a couple years. Was it fear? Uncertainty? Whatever it was, I have awoken often with feelings of anxiety and dread; my mind and heart still firmly planted in summer vacation. As soon as I reach campus, I’m ready to tackle the day.

Today, I explained to a class of 9th graders the reason I teach students mindfulness. I shared my “story” — well, one small chapter of it anyway. I also added that in the summer I spend 5 days in silent meditation with other teachers. “No way. Five days without talking! I would go crazy!” was the reaction of one 9th grader. The mindfulness lesson today was learning to anchor ourselves using the breath so that we can find the space between stimulus and response (avoiding reaction) and the freedom of that space as described by Victor Frankl. I read the 5 act autobiographical poem by Sophia Portia (aka The Black Hole poem). Using sports as a gateway to introspection, I asked, “What is a black hole in sports?” A student replied: “doubt”. When asked what could help to “choose to walk down a different street?”, another student answered, “being aware”. YES! I responded. EXACTLY!

The hardest part of teaching mindfulness to teenagers continues to be for them to close their eyes. Many still keep their eyes open while practicing. I really wish they would try closing their eyes. For me it is so much more relaxing and yet I understand that for others it may not feel safe. So, I give them the choice but ask them to at least try closing their eyes. If they absolutely can’t, I ask them to gaze on a neutral spot, not at other students. This is explained as our safety bubble that we don’t want to be popped by the gaze of another person on us.

Ongoing professional development:

  • Currently enrolled in the 6-week Mindful Schools Mindful Communications online course.
  • Read Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg this summer and applying the concepts in daily interactions.
  • Recently obtained a copy of The Compassionate Classroom by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson.
  • Rediscovered The Buddha in the Classroom by Donna Quesada which I’d read about 4 years ago and rereading with new appreciation.

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