It is hard to believe that 2018 is over and that we are in the second half of the 2018-2019 school year. If time keeps moving at this speed we will be to summer before we know it. While on one hand that sounds pretty good as we prepare for a snow storm, I have so much I want to accomplish with the remainder of the school year. I can concentrate on what hasn’t gotten done yet and my dislike of cold weather or I can choose to focus on all the things I am grateful for.
Why would I choose to focus on gratitude? Well, because it positively impacts my health, improves my relationships and leads to enjoying life more. Psychology Today posted an article in 2015 listing seven ways life is improved by focusing on gratitude. So how does one get better focusing on gratitude?
Keep a gratitude journal: Have a notepad near you where you can daily write 3 things you are grateful for. They can be big things but a goal should be small things. This helps you notice more of them. (Picture above: Gratitude journal of one of my elementary students.)
Write, text or give a verbal thank you daily: Spread the joy of gratitude by sharing it with others. As humans we love to feel appreciated so make sure to let others know that you appreciate them.
Mindfulness meditation: As you take a few focused breaths in the morning set a daily intention of being grateful. It will help you focus more on the good of your day rather than on your struggles and/or frustrations.
“The best part of my day was….”: When you gather for a meal with your family have dinner conversation be about the best part of the day. Again, it doesn’t have to be big, it just needs to be positive. My husband and I do this with our own children every evening. Sometimes it can take longer when it has been a rough day but it helps to realize good things no matter how small matter and shifts our thinking. As an educator you could also do this at the end of the day when students are packing up to leave.
When you as the educator, coach, and/or parent practice gratitude two very important things happen. You experience the benefits of gratitude and you model a life changing behavior for young people. I call that a win/win!
A butterscotch candy and geode may not seem to be that big of a deal unless a third grader gave them to you right after doing a mindfulness exercise on generosity. I have joined another elementary classroom for weekly mindfulness practice and I continue to see and hear how it is making a positive impact in their lives. Today we began our session by discussing how they had used their mindfulness “superpowers” over Thanksgiving break. Many hands went up and students told me how they used their anchor breathing to fall asleep at night and how they were mindful of their negative emotions when interacting with a sibling so they chose to walk away rather than yell or hit.
Our exercise for the day was focused on generosity and how it makes us feel. I had them close their eyes as I read different scenarios where they imagined doing something nice for another person and then how that felt. One of my favorite descriptions from a student of how giving feels went like this, “Giving feels like when you take a loaf of fresh banana bread out of the oven”. I could not of described it any better!
Going to our elementary to do mindfulness with different classes takes time. Today it was especially cold going to and from my car. However, sharing mindfulness with my elementary friends and their teachers makes my heart feel like it is bursting with joy. In giving I am the one who is receiving the most.
My challenge for you this week is to look for ways to be generous. It doesn’t take money, smiles and high fives are free. All it takes is love and concern for your fellow human. I know twenty-five nine and ten year olds who can model it for you!
I have shared a lot about my experiences of bringing mindfulness to the classroom in my blog. As I visited my 9 and 10 year old friends again today my belief in the power of mindfulness to change lives for the better is solidified. However, in today’s blog I want to share a few ideas I have used in both elementary and high school classrooms. I remember when I started out I appreciated not having to reinvent the wheel and having a variety of exercises for teachers to choose from based on what was happening in their space. Note: You really must teach both mindful sit and mindful breath before doing other mindfulness exercises.
Making Space: 3 Senses Exercise
The 10 Count
I used this mindfulness exercise with students in a written class as they began their research paper. The teacher said that students in the past had struggled with sustained attention during periods of work time. In this exercise, rather than focusing just on your breath, you close your eyes and focus your attention on slowly counting to ten. One breath is made up of an inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders from the focus on your breath you acknowledge the thought without judgment and begin counting again starting with one.
After getting students into their mindful sit ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is not only fun and gets the kids excited about sharing their experiences with others, but really helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions. (Source: mindbodygreen.com)
As I look out my window at the beautiful Fall day I am reminded of the importance of purposefully focusing on the present moment. Before we know it the gorgeous colorful leaves will be gone along with the smell of fresh cut grass. My challenge to you this week is to take a mindfulness moment to notice the beauty of the season.
Last week I got to visit two new classrooms and share the power of mindfulness. I started Tuesday morning in a multiage 3/4 classroom where we started our journey by practicing the mindfulness of sound. As a high school teacher it was such a different experience to work with 9 and 10 year olds. Unlike high school students who are often skeptical, my elementary friends are more open to diving into a new experience and are just thrilled to have a visitor to their classroom. They have been practicing over the last week and I look forward to see their growth when I visit again tomorrow to practice mindful breathing.
Later that Tuesday afternoon I was visiting a sophomore writing class who was preparing to begin the research paper process. The teacher had mentioned that students seem to struggle with extended work time more and more each year and was hoping mindfulness could help with sustained attention. The good news is that research is showing that it does. My approach with adolescents always begins with relevance and a little neuroscience before we get to an exercise. This is actually totally normal for this age group. They need to know how it will impact their life and proof that it works. After sharing this important information we did an exercise known as the 10 second count. The exercise really does two important things. It makes you aware that you have lost focus and then helps you refocus on the present moment. The following day my colleague did the exercise again with her students at the beginning of the period and sent me a note saying, “I am seeing the results already and am so excited to have an actual strategy for them to use to refocus.” However, we also learned that if you don’t continue the practice it does lose its effectiveness. Habits do take at least 21 days to form!
Two different classrooms with two different groups of students. Two different experiences but both empowering young people to be self-aware so that they can maximize their potential. I am lucky to be doing such work!
Challenge for the week: Read an article on mindfulness and contemplate how it might help you and/or your students.
At the beginning of the school year, before students come back for classes, our district puts on two days of professional development for the staff and all 40 sessions are led by staff members. It is so awesome to see colleagues embrace new leadership roles and the number of sessions offers so much choice. One of the sessions that I led involved bringing mindfulness into the classroom. I had colleagues from every building level in attendance. My session involved discussing what mindfulness is and what it is not. I spoke about the neuroscience behind mindfulness and even shared how mindfulness may have been part of the Thai soccer team surviving being trapped in the cave for two weeks. The last part of my session allowed attendees to experience a mindfulness exercise.
At the end of the session I had multiple teachers, at all levels, approach me about visiting their classrooms and leading mindfulness exercises with their students. I was fired up to say the least. Now, fast forward to this past Friday. My colleague who teaches Essentials of Communication in which students give several speeches had me come into three of her classes to explain mindfulness, how it could help with stage fright and to offer a mindfulness breathing experience. The students were so receptive. One talked with me after class about how helpful mindfulness had been for him and that schools should start this much earlier. The good news is that we are starting earlier.
At the end of the day I was headed to our elementary building to discuss bringing mindfulness into a 3/4 multiage room. Our first three sessions are planned with the door open to more in the future. I can’t wait to have this experience with some of our younger students. If I could have been empowered at a younger age to “anchor” myself through mindfulness practice I can’t imagine some of the storms I could have weathered in a more positive way.
Next time I will share my experience but in the mean time my challenge to you is to try to give one minute, just one minute per day, to your own mindfulness practice. It takes twenty-one days to form a habit. Let this week be your first seven!!
Where did summer go? It seemed to fly by faster than ever most of the time. I say most because as I took another mindfulness course I did practice being intentionally present multiple times and that allowed me to slow down time, even if it was just my perception. I spent more time at school this summer than ever before but when I went to the pool once a week with my daughter or traveled to Colorado on family vacation I made sure to practice the tenets of mindfulness and it made ALL the difference. I also did a better job of having a mindful sit each morning, sometimes even with my husband. In a society that goes nonstop and creates chaos, I was able to slow it down and get more out of each moment! Does it sound like something you would like to be able to do?
The course I took this summer was pretty amazing! I learned more about the science of mindfulness and its history. I also got an awesome curriculum to use with my own students and with students throughout our district at all grade levels. One of the weekly assignments was to practice lessons from the curriculum. For better or for worse my own children were recipients of the practice. One lesson I did with my 10 year old daughter dealt with reaction vs. response. It focused on how mindfulness could give you back control in an emotional situation. We focused on using your breath as your anchor. The cool thing is she got it! She understood how mindfulness gives you the pause to determine your response instead of falling to a knee jerk reaction. A 10 year old totally got it!!
Tomorrow I will facilitate a session on mindfulness with several of my colleagues as part of professional development. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous but my belief in the power of mindfulness propels me forward. Mindfulness is about empowering people. I am about empowering people so with a few butterflies in my stomach I look forward to sharing mindfulness with others in the hope that it will improve their quality of life as it has mine.
If you are interested in bringing mindfulness to your space feel free to contact me.
So you might be wondering if I fell off the edge of the Earth since it has been so long since I last posted. The answer is no but I did feel like I was at the vortex of a tornado as I wrapped up the end of the school year, my son’s baseball season began, daughter’s dance recitals took place and on and on! Things seem to have settled down a bit and I have been able to focus again on my mindfulness journey. What I did realize through the whirlwind is how my growing mindfulness practice allowed me to calm my mind in the craziness and be fully present for the experience. Now, I would not be truthful if I said I did this all the time because I didn’t. There were times when I was so busy thinking two steps ahead that I missed out. However, I am getting better at it with practice. Isn’t that what really works for everything, more practice?!
My practice continues with a new course from mindfulschools.org. I am in week #1 of Educator Essentials where we begin by making sure that we can explain in our own words what mindfulness is and the goals of practicing it. We are to practice our explanation on a few people so why not practice with my readers. Here it goes:
Mindfulness is bringing awareness to your experience. You do this on purpose, focusing on the present moment and doing so non-judgmentally. By making yourself more aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, with no judgment call but rather just acknowledgment, a few good things happen. First, you become more self-aware with thoughts like, “Wow, I didn’t know I really felt that way when this happened”. In realizing and naming the emotion you are better able to regulate it. That moment of focusing on the present moment gave you just enough pause between the stimulus and your response to think and thus control your knee-jerk impulse. By practicing mindfulness you get better at focusing your thinking making you more able to control your attention and become more aware of when your mind begins to wander.
So, what do you think? Does my explanation help you better understand what mindfulness is and how you can benefit by its practice? Might you want to make time in your day, even 5 minutes, to experience it? Do you want this for your students? I sure hope so!! I am currently reading Marching Off the Map by Tim Elmore. I highly recommend it! It is a book about Generation Z and how to inspire them. In the first part of the book Tim gets the reader acquainted with this generation. While they have many talents, they are also dealing with some real tough stuff. He states that according to Dr. Michael Leahy, “Today’s typical high school student endures the same anxiety levels as a psychiatric patient did in the early 1950’s.” Could mindfulness practices help them?
Over the next few weeks I will be learning a lot about mindfulness in the classroom and will also be practicing mindfulness myself. I will share my learning and insights. In the mean time:
This week’s challenge is to take something you do daily and bring mindfulness into it. Focus your attention on the experience in the moment without judgment, just acknowledgment, and see what you notice. I would love for you to post your experience so we can all learn from each other!