You know what I did instead? I complained, I mean I consulted, with my amazing team of coworkers and then I burned rubber to a yoga class. I promise, while tempting, I did not leave tire tracks in the school parking lot and I strictly abided by the 25 mile an hour school zone traffic rule.
While I tried to get my just-returned-from-summer-break and actually-had-time-to-go-to-yoga mind to focus, I couldn’t stop thinking that most of my at-risk students were not meeting the current trimester reading goal. And, man, did I have a few really mean kids this year! Some children were coming to school with negative energy that they just did not seem to know how to expel. I saw some students as restless and challenged to stay focused, mindful, and in the moment. And, then my mind stopped. Just like that, close to an hour had passed. Aha!
Cue fancy, overpriced University teacher credential program lesson number one: Reflect, reflect reflect.
I had wasted nearly an entire day being negative. As I became mindful I was able to reflect on my best teaching practices and my intentions (or desired outcomes). I was reminded of the mantra; find remedy, not fault. I had shifted my mindset. I had to find an alternative way to guide my students. I wanted them to discover healthy alternatives to training their tiny bodies and active minds to engage joyfully and successfully in the learning process. I wanted to become better at showing them how be kind. Children were not meant to sit still, conform, or naturally collaborate all of the time. I had to find a way to guide them into doing these things. The answer was focus.
I am going to get all researchy for a moment.
The United States Education Department recently allocated nearly $3 million to study mindfulness in 30 high-poverty Chicago schools (Deruy, 2016).
“Compassionate institutions are needed at every level so we can buffer, rather than cement, children's toxic stress.” (Erikson, 2016). And, boy are a lot of our children under unimaginable stress!
You see, this research and our government's willingness to make a financial investment into the idea of mindfulness reinforces the aha moment that I had as I reflected on my yoga mat that day. I began implementing the practice of mindfulness into my pedagogy each day following that epiphany.
Pump the breaks! What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness in the classroom is taking the time to create a sense of calm, community, and validation that teachers are allowing time for the curriculum of me despite what is happening in the students’ lives (Deruy, 2016). Mindfulness is simply taking a few minutes to be still and in the moment; a few moments to reflect and be grateful.
I noticed that as my students increased their skillset in the practice of mindfulness that they began to create their own set of expectations for classroom behavior. Using mantras, students began to remind unfocused to students to, “focus” and to use the, “focus muscle.” Children who were experiencing stress would sit cross-legged, close their eyes and re-focus themselves. The children seemed to like a few minutes each day that focused on their happiness, joy, and health.
After implementing the mindfulness strategy for several weeks, I had noticed a marked increase in kindness. Daily student reading groups allowed me to analyze whether or not my students could read more fluently from the guided reading books following the use of the mindfulness strategy. Not only did their fluency increase, but their overall reading scores climbed! Those at-risk students I fretted about were reading at the benchmark! Some students increased their reading proficiency by two levels and a few by three levels! The practice of mindfulness in my classroom increased social emotional awareness and academic success.
How did I find time to squeeze yet another strategy into our jam-packed world of common core curriculum?
All I did was show my entire class a mindfulness video each day and model, model, model (fancy college lesson two). I pointed out that the video was designed to help them be calm, focused, and happy. They were receptive immediately. In fact, the buy in was profound.
Who LOVES GoNoodle, raise your cyber hand?! GoNoodle is an online, interactive video tool that is FREE! They have three channels focused on mindfulness called Focus, Flow, and Think About It. They are appropriate for all ages. This is the platform that I used to deliver quick lessons in mindfulness. After a while, we did not require the videos as a guide.
Many of my kiddos were having major behavioral issues that were distracting and hard to regulate. The practice of mindfulness increased their success and helped my tiny teachers to find calm and to focus and to give and receive positive affirmations. Mindfulness in the classroom improved self-regulation and confidence in all of my students. I encourage other teachers to strive to meet the academic and social emotional needs of their students by giving mindfulness a try! Your focus muscle will thank you for it.
ReferencesDeruy, E. (2016). Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools? Scholars want to know whether the practice helps young kids of color succeed academically. The Atlantic. Retrieved from www.theatlantic.com
Erikson. (2016). Amanda Moreno, Ph. D joins filmmaker James Redford to discuss toxic stress, learning. Erikson Institute. Retrieved from www.erikson.edu