October: A Month of Mindfulness

A few months ago I began taking online mindfulness courses offered by Mindful Schools. These courses have positively influenced how I interact with others and how I manage my classroom. I feel noticeably less stressed and am better equipped to handle  challenges that normally would have ruined my day in the past. I feel more peace in my relationships with my partner, my colleagues, and my students. I really wish I knew about these courses years ago when I first began my teaching career!!

I was given the opportunity to lead a professional development session about mindfulness to about half of our teaching staff when school began in August. I received a lot of supportive feedback and have since received a lot of questions from colleagues asking for tips or tricks to better incorporate mindfulness in their classrooms.  So, to honor my own desire to be a more consistent blogger and to honor my colleagues’ requests for assistance, I am going to post one mindfulness strategy per week for the month of October.  October can be an especially difficult month for teachers because it is usually the longest month of the fall semester and not every school gets “Columbus Day” of “Fall Fair Day” off.

I hope these strategies prove to be beneficial, and I welcome any feedback you might have.

OCTOBER 1-7th:

Mindfulness helps to create more awareness to the present moment. In order to be more aware this week, practice the following strategies:

  1. Take a deep breath. Pay attention to where you draw your breath from and where you feel it the most. Is it your stomach? Your chest? Your nose? Your mouth? Wherever it is strongest for you, consider this place the anchor of your breath.
  2. As you go through your week, take time to just notice how your body physiologically reacts to difficult feelings like anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, and so on. Does your face get hot? Does your heart rate increase? Do your shoulders tense? Do your eyes start to water or begin to scowl? Do you have the urge to immediately lash out? Do you immediately begin to raise your voice? Consider writing how your body reacts down on a notepad or in a journal.
  3. As the week continues, when you notice these difficult feelings and reactions taking place, pause and focus on the anchor for your breath. Breathe. Then decide how you will respond to the difficult feeling instead of reacting to it. In your classroom, your response might look like deciding not to yell at a class that still hasn’t followed your instructions. Maybe you calmly talk to them and tell them what you are feeling (anger, frustration, impatience), and ask for them to try again. Outside of class, your response might look like deciding not to honk at every unskilled driver that cuts you off in traffic. Maybe you notice your body starting to tighten so you return to your breath, breathe, and just continue driving.                          **Please know mindfulness does not excuse inappropriate behavior or disrespectful actions. It simply creates the space to allow you to think about how you will respond instead of impulsively reacting (or overreacting) to difficult situations, so that you can be more present and experience more peace.

 

 

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Flexible Classroom: Updated, Courtesy of #DonorsChoose

For this fall semester project, we asked for additional portable tables, heavy duty folding chairs, video game chairs and a standing desk. Just like last year’s flexible seating project, these donated materials have significantly increased student engagement and our sense of community.

The durable folding chairs allow students to easily move from table to table, group to group. Because of the number of tables I now have in my room, I was able to get rid of the bulkier, heavier traditional student desks. The portable folding tables allow us to quickly rearrange the room as needed. Sometimes we clear the floor space for whole class circle discussions, sometimes we move it to make room for smaller groups, and of course, we can push them together for projects that require more table space.

From my experience last year and the past few months, I am convinced that having a flexible classroom is greatly beneficial to my students. They truly enjoy walking in the door knowing that they have a choice of where to sit and that at any given time they will either be working independently or collaboratively with their classmates.

Having a standing desk in class has been nice because I can see my students easier when I have to use my computer, I am not constantly getting up and down from a chair, and I have even noticed less neck and back pain. A couple of students have even used the area to draft papers and they really like the option of standing as well.

My largest class has 31 students, and having flexible space allows everyone to find their own space without being crammed into rows or sections of desks.  We are even able to have “gallery walks” where students walk around to view projects, and Socratic Seminars, which involves moving everyone into large circles.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a traditional classroom again.  I do know that my students and I are incredibly grateful for the donations we have received!