Blog-Publications

Spring semester 2019 notes:

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  1. Classroom lesson about changing patterns & response.

We started with a mindfulness discussion about the freedom to pause before responding using Victor Frankl’s quote Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Then students visualized a situation in which there was a stimulus that led to an automatic reaction. Students rewound the scene to the moment right before the reaction and visualized their body sensations, facial expression, emotions and practiced seeing the situation as an observer. Students did an anchor breathing practice while they visualized how they might respond if there had paused beforehand.

The poem “Autobiography in Five Chapter by Portia Nelson” was read to students and they were asked to discuss with a partner the metaphor of the “hole in the sidewalk”.

Then, we did a ball-throwing activity to show how changing patterns can change the energy of a situation. The activity is called “group juggle“. The objective is to throw the ball to each student and then to remember the pattern afterward. We first used one ball and then tried to add a couple more. The second and third balls are juggled in the same way so that there are several patterns going on at the same time. Students in one middle school class couldn’t add the second pattern so we just did several patterns with one ball. The older class was able to do two simultaneous patterns successfully. When a third ball (pattern) was added it became too hard and the patterns fell apart (couldn’t remember who threw to whom).

We discussed what this felt like, why it was so hard to add another pattern, to remember the patterns, to focus, and what the metaphor of changing patterns is about. Students then wrote a timed journal writing about what today’s activities.

2. In a high school class, the topic of the lesson was mind wandering and distractions. A TedTalk video, How to Tame Your Wandering Mind” by Amishi Jha, was shown which explains how mindfulness practice can help us learn to focus under pressure and limit mind wandering. Then, two article were read by students on the topics of multi-tasking or task switching. (Kent State University and Stanford News) In these article, results of different studies indicated that our mind can only really focus on one task at at time and that multi-tasking actually impairs our mind’s memory. Students discussed the articles together and then wrote a journal writing reflecting on the topics.

3. From Heart of Teaching Mindfulness workshop in May at Mountain Cloud Zen Center: group cluster activity where we wander or amble around silently in mindful walking. Someone stops and another person stops next to the first person. Pretty soon several people stop and organically, silently form either a circle, lines or clump. Then, someone decides to start walking again and others follow until the next person decides to stop and so forth. This is a really interesting activity because of the group communicating in silence. Apparently it can be used with youth and I’m excited to try in my classrooms.

4. Also from the May workshop, a triad conversation to practice active listening and observing. Instead of the traditional diad conversation, the triad style is where one person speaks for up to 5 minutes while the 2nd person listens silently and the 3rd person observes the speaker and listener. Next step is the active listener comments on what he/she heard the speaker explain (5 minutes) and the final step is the observer comments on what was observed of the other 2 people (3 minutes). The addition of the “observer” is an interesting twist because there is the opportunity for the speaker and listener to get feedback on what the observer noticed or experienced.

5. During this semester, I found myself more strict about closing eyes. I really wanted students to try it and I felt that if I focused on it, encouraging them to try it for part of the practice, that they would realize it is safe. Next year I will mention it but I won’t force it. This semester was also challenging in that I got 3 new students mid-year and they did not have the prior practice in mindfulness that the rest of the class had and they disrupted the flow of things. I also found myself getting upset and aggitated by these new students. Next year I will model using mindfulness at random times when I sense my heightened mood so that students will see in “in action.”

Expanding beyond my classroom?

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An invitation to share a mindful practice in another teacher’s classroom this week.

In Student Success Lab (off day computer lab for online curriculum work), a small group of students are learning about how to navigate Math anxiety. The teacher calls this group Eustress Math.

I have been invited to share how deep breathing can help calm feelings of anxiety. The 30-minute activity starts with this video and then an explanation of the physiology of the brain and how deep breathing affects the 10,000-year-old human brain.

Then the chime is rung and I lead the group in slow breathing: 4 counts in, 2 counts hold, 6 counts out. After a few guided breaths the students count for themselves. Finally, we imagine that we are holding a cup of hot cocoa: breathe in the flavor; hold while admiring the cocoa; breathe out the mouth to “cool off” the cocoa. After a few hot-cocoa breaths the chime is rung to mark the end of the practice.

I could definitely sense the students had relaxed. Out of the 4 students, one had not been in a class with me before so this was her first exposure to mindfulness. She expressed that closing her eyes was uncomfortable for her so I explained how this is common for new students of mindfulness as it is related to the prehistoric origins of our brains. A discussion about fear of being attacked by a tiger ensued and I explained that it takes time and practice to retrain the brain.

A successful and enjoyable way to expand mindfulness into other teachers’ classrooms feeds gratitude to be on this adventure.

Mindful Communications

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I completed this course in September which was taught by Oren Jay Sofer. I really enjoyed following this course which combined tools from Non-Violent Communication and Mindfulness. I had previously read Marshall Rosenberg’s classic book on Non-Violent Communication before knowing that this communication course would be incorporating ideas and skills from NVC.

 

The foundations of Mindful Communications are:

  • Presence: ground awareness in the body
  • Intention: cultivate an orientation in heart
  • Attention: train to focus on specific areas

After the course, I was offered a copy of Oren’s first book entitled “Say What You Want” – a mindful approach to nonviolent communication. In this book, the author digs deeper into the concepts and skills introduced in the MC course. It’s a very good supplemental resource to the course and I’m glad to have acquired a copy.

Fall 2018 semester notes

img_1134I incorporated mindfulness practice is all classes including advisory & enrichment. I either started class with a mindful practice, a check-in question or a mindful visualization. In afternoon advisory class I sometimes alternated between a mindful practice and a yoga movement check-out activity. Some days I would ask students to vote on which activity they wanted to practice. Towards the end of the semester, I started having students alternate between facing in and facing out for the practice. It seemed that this allowed students to create their own personal space and I felt that the overall atmosphere became quieter when they weren’t all facing in the same direction. At the middle school level, I also allowed students to choose whether to sit in a chair, on the floor or even to lay down. I didn’t offer this choice to high school students. Maybe this is something to offer next semester and see how students choose their mindful position.

My students were 7th, 8th & 9th graders. For the most part, everyone participated willingly. There were a couple 8th-grade boys who openly expressed not wanting to do the practice. However, most students complied and willingly participated. I used a variety of card sets that incorporated mindful activities, yoga postures, EQ questions, intention-setting questions, and social-emotional activities & questions. Some days, students signed up to choose what we would do to start class. Most days, I chose because students were uncomfortable coming up with their own activity/question. The sets of cards were made available to the students who had signed up to lead our check-in/practice.

I did not ask for much sharing after mindful practice. When the check-in was question-based, students were encouraged to participate, of course, since this is the intent. However, after a mindfulness practice activity (sitting, visualization, breath awareness), I gently allowed for sharing and I found that students preferred not to. Last year I had more sharing from students. This semester I suppose I decided to allow for more introspection / personal reflection instead.

Feel/See Mindful Activity

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This week’s classroom (and staff) mindfulness activity entailed the senses of feeling and seeing. I asked students to close their eyes, focus on their breath, put their hands out and ground themselves. Then, I placed a shell fragment in their hands. I had collected these shell pieces on a trip to Northern California & Southern Oregon. There were a large variety of shapes and kinds of shells. Some were larger than others. After passing them out, I led the students (and staff later in the week) in a practice of first feeling the object in their hands. I asked them to keep their eyes closed and just really feel the object as if they were blind. I also shared an anecdote of my godmother’s husband, Jimmy Woodlee, who was a blind chiropractor who used only the sense of feel to heal his patients. I explained that our fingers are very sensitive and observant. After a minute or so of feeling the objects, I asked them to open their eyes, and still without speaking, to see the object in detail. The directions included observing the object completely and intimately.

Using a three-tone chime, I used a different tone for each part of the activity. One tone was to indicate closed eyed observation with just the fingers, whereas another tone corresponded to opening the eyes and looking mindfully at the object. I alternated back and forth with these tones (activities) and before finishing up with a breath awareness practice I asked students while their eyes were closed to visualize a scene where this shell could be: a beach, in the ocean, floating on a wave. Finally, the practice ended with the third tone of the chime, which indicates the end of our mindfulness activity.

I found that this activity really caught the attention of all groups (middle school, high school, and teachers). I plan to repeat the activity and adding more to it. For example, after the mindfulness feeling/seeing practice, I would ask students to draw the scene they envisioned for the shell. Then, taking the visual scene, they would write either a story or a few paragraphs describing the scene.

After speaking with Erin Woo today (mindfulness teacher at Brown University and contributing teacher in the year-long Mindfulness School teacher training course), I could add on to this activity by alternating between writing and then sitting quietly, observing the shell more each time. She said that this leads to even more awareness and descriptive writing.

The staff activity took place before a PD meeting. Instead of an EQ check-in, I led the staff in this feel/see mindful activity using the shell. It was short and abbreviated, and I explained to them after we’d spent a minute or two feeling and seeing the shell pieces how I had used the activity in class.

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.

Difficult Emotions

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During the 2017-18 school year, I encountered my first student who experienced difficult emotions during mindfulness practice. This was in the 9th grade ELA Enrichment class. The student had lost his/her dad the past school year and it is my gut feeling that he/she had not done any grief therapy.

This student was in class with a good friend who also experienced difficult emotions during our mindfulness “check-in” practice. This student’s life is/was challenging because of family alcoholism. The student lives with a grandmother. This student is often angry and projects anger towards adults (teacher in this case).

During our group sharing, these two students would either not share out or would say that mindfulness practice “did nothing” for them. At the same time, they would say that it brought up “negative” emotions or thoughts that were negative. One of the students was so uncomfortable that he/she asked to be removed from my ELA class with about 3 weeks left of the semester. The student said I reminded him/her of the deceased dad’s family with whom he/she did not get along. Wow! Talk about projection!

At first, I took this personally. Why would a student “take it out on me?” Mindfulness is a positive activity. It isn’t supposed to make a person uncomfortable. Little did I know at the time that people who have experienced trauma or grief AND have not done any personal work to get through the emotions can be triggered by mindfulness or any quiet personal time.

This experience has turned into a learning opportunity. I am taking an online course this summer through MindfulSchools entitled “Difficult Emotions”. How opportune!

The Mindful Journey

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Teaching youth mindfulness is a way to create a more mindful future for our society and communities, with special emphasis on the youth.

THE BACKGROUND STORY

In 2016, I started exploring meditation/visualizations with my English classes. It was a way for me to inspire my students in creative writing while at the same time teach them meditation techniques that would help them relax.

In 2017, my school experienced 3 suicides in the span of 6 months. This, compounded by having reread some key childhood diaries in which teenage angst figured prominently, triggered PTSD symptoms that lead to depression. At the same time, the staff at the school was grieving and instead of focussing on our needs, we targeted students without “putting our own oxygen masks on”. Through EMDR therapy, I discovered that what I needed was to resurrect my meditation practice and that maybe this would also benefit my students. I got an app (calm.com) on my iPhone and started by exploring the free content. Eventually, I subscribed to the full version because I realized the benefit of meditation for me and my students. One of my high school students told me her mom had downloaded the app and they were using it at home…

In March 2017 I attended my first Heart of Teaching (HOT) mindfulness workshop for educators at the Zen Mountain Meditation Center in Santa Fe, NM. I realized just how powerful mindfulness could be in the classroom. As a result of this exploration and networking at the workshop, I decided to take an online course through Mindful Schools (Mindful Essentials) that would provide me with the curriculum for middle & high school. Furthermore, I got a scholarship to attend an educator’s meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Refuge which deepened my resolve to embed mindfulness practice in the classroom. All of this showed me there was a movement afoot for incorporating mindfulness in the classroom and that it was the opportune time for me to join in.

The 2017-18 school year proved especially empowering as I attended 2 more HOT workshops and was invited to present my classroom model and experiences to the New Mexico Mindfulness Leaders Conference in a break-out session on Mindfulness in the Classroom.

Also, in the 2017-18 school year, I was invited to be part of our school-wide EQ/staff leadership development project using “Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” We used the book and workbook to create a staff team-building initiative. As I was one of 4 members of our staff EQ committee, I became a leader in the program, leading many of the meetings and organizing as well as supporting staff in the development of the team-building program. Often, the staff meetings would start with a mindfulness practice which I led; staff members have expressed their appreciation of how this helped them relax at the end of a busy day.

I also have experimented with new discipline management procedures that incorporate some mindfulness skills (STOP card) as well as a stress-management mindfulness activity for staff.

Looking forward to the 2018-19 school year, I plan to continue leading the team-building program while incorporating more mindfulness practice into staff meetings as well as student gathering (such as morning announcements “mindful minute”).  The possibility of using my STOP card and stress-reduction activity with students at the all-school level is in the idea stage.