Blog-Publications

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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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.