Month of Mindfulness: Part 3

Last week’s practices focused on mindful listening.  This week, the focus shifts to MINDFUL THINKING.  

OCTOBER 15th-21st

In order to be more present at work, school, or even at home or in daily conversations, try these exercises:

  1. When your mind begins to wander–which is totally natural and okay–try to label your thoughts past, present, or future.  A lot of times we allow ourselves to stress over things that are completely out of our control, and more often than not these stressors have either already happened or haven’t even happened yet.  For instance, while sitting in a meeting after work, you might begin thinking about an email you received earlier in the day that just got under your skin.  Maybe it was the subject or the tone, but whatever it is, you feel bothered by it.  Instead of being “present” at the meeting, your mind starts to wander to this email and maybe you begin to recall what you wrote back.  These thoughts would be considered past thoughts.  You can’t do anything to change the fact that you received the email, and there’s not much you can do about the response you sent (if you did send one) because each occurred in the past.  On the same note, if you didn’t send a response yet, thinking about the email you plan to send after you get out of the meeting is considered a future thought.  Again, there is nothing you can do about an email you haven’t even written yet, and letting your mind wander and worry about the future takes you away from the present moment.
  2. When you find yourself focusing on a thought labeled past or present, ask yourself what you can do to draw attention to what needs to be done right now.  What are you able to do in the present moment that actually is in your control?  It may be as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths and drawing attention to how your body is feeling in the current moment.  If you find a past or future thought upsetting, it might cause your body heat to rise or your heart rate to increase.  Instead of allowing yourself to remain upset, focusing on your breath and drawing attention back to the present can actually help decrease your heart rate and lessen your body heat; mindful thinking can help change how our body reacts to negative stimulus.

Obviously, just labeling your thoughts past, present, or future will not magically make you feel less stressed.  However, labeling your thoughts in this way can create the space to allow you to choose how you will respond when you do find yourself reacting to something from the past or the future.  Are you going to get upset and annoyed?  Or will you remember to focus only on your present self?

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Month of Mindfulness: Part 2

Last week I posted a few strategies about noticing your body’s reaction to difficult emotions like anger, frustration, guilt, etc.

This week, the mindfulness strategy to practice is MINDFUL LISTENING.

October 8-14th:

Remember that mindfulness helps to create more awareness in the present moment. There are so many different ways to listen mindfully, but I am sharing two specific practices you can attempt throughout your week:

  1.  Take a walk outside or sit in your classroom (or bedroom, office, etc.).  Focus only on what you hear.  It might be the sound of your breath, cars passing by, people talking, or any number of things.  As you focus on sound only, try being mindful of how your body reacts. Do you feel your breath slowing down or speeding up? Do you feel relaxed or anxious?  If your thoughts start to wander, what sound(s) can you focus on instead to be more present?  Sometimes in order to feel present, we need to focus on only one thing at a time.  Mindful listening helps to focus our attention.
  2. When speaking with others throughout your week, practice not interrupting.  Be mindful of allowing the other person to completely finish talking before you respond.  Notice how it feels to focus only on the other person’s voice and what they are saying.  Do you notice any reactions in your own body?  Is what they are telling you easy or difficult to hear?  Do you feel your lungs constrict or your heartbeat start to quicken?  Or maybe your thoughts begin to wander?  Try to focus only on the sound of the other person’s voice and what they are telling you.  Pause before responding and be mindful of what you say.  Be aware that there is a significant difference between giving attention and giving advice.   Mindful listening involves giving attention

**Remember that mindfulness creates the space to allow you to think about how you will respond instead of impulsively reacting so that you can be more present and experience more peace.

**One literature resource to check out:  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

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.

 

 

THE BEGINNINGS OF A MINDFUL CLASSROOM

My goodness this semester passed by in a blink of an eye!  I have so many notes that say MUST BLOG ABOUT THIS, but a lack of posts to show for it.

In an effort to catch up on what’s been going on in my teacher world, I decided to begin with my journey into creating a more mindful classroom for both my students and for myself.  I first experienced mindful practices at #SXSWEdu in March and I could not wait to get back to school to try out what I had learned.

Before we took our big state test in April, I tried an activity called 5-4-3-2-1.  I started this practice by inviting students to sit quietly in their chairs, with their feet planted on the ground and their hands on their knees.  I asked them if they were not going to participate to honor those that were by sitting quietly and to not distract others.  I asked everyone to be mindful of the silence we were creating together, and that their voices were not needed for this activity but their minds were.  First, I asked them to look for 5 colors within their field of vision.  Then, they tried to notice 4 different sensations, whether it’s the coolness in the air from the AC, their body temperature, or maybe their hands tingling.  For the third step, students listened for 3 different sounds.  Then I asked them to take 2 deep breaths, and finally think of 1 positive thought that makes them feel good.  At the end of this activity, I had students in every class tell me how calming yet energizing it was for them.  One student said it was “the most relaxed he had felt in days.”  I knew I was on to something.

After some research, I easily found a ton of online resources like CASEL and Mindful Schools.  These sites provide not only different strategies teachers can use, but they also provide the brain research associated with practicing mindfulness.  I’ve been teaching  high school for a while now, but the unpredictability of teenagers never ceases to amaze me.  I know reading more of the brain research will help me to better understand my students.  Likewise, just from the few mindfulness activities we have tried, I believe students will better understand themselves.  So far, my favorite practice is called a “body scan” that I took from this site.

After our daily reading time, I invited students to make the decision of whether or not they wanted to participate in another mindfulness activity.  If they did not want to participate, I asked them to return to their seat and sit quietly.  If they did want to join, I told them to find a space on the floor and sit down in a comfortable seated position, but to make sure there was enough room around them to lay down.  I followed the steps suggested on the site but added my own words as well.  I dimmed the lights and told students to slowly lay back in the space they chose.  The body scan begins by focusing on your head and then moving your focus to your feet, so I instructed them to squeeze their eyes shut, scrunch their nose, make fists, and finally, to tighten their legs and toes.  As they did this, I had students think of anything that was stressing them out:  major grades due this week for my class or others.  Upcoming AP tests.  Babysitting.  Having to work after school.  I said to keep holding everything that bothered them in this tension, and then to take a deep breath and let it all go.  I told them to actually let it go by relaxing their face and spreading their fingers as wide as possible.  Then I invited them to either place their hands by their side or to place one hand on their heart and one on their stomach.  I asked them to pay attention to their heartbeat and their breath, and to try to slow down each as we remained in silence.  I used an ocean-sounds playlist I found on Spotify to allow them about a minute and a half to concentrate on what they were feeling.  After a couple of minutes, I told them to wiggle their fingers and turn on their side in order to add energy back to their bodies.  Then I asked them to sit up slowly and take one more final breath, while thinking of something positive to focus on.

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Above: Taken at the end of the “body scan”.  Some students are still focusing on their breath.

After the activity, I asked students to give me feedback in order to show my administrators since I plan to incorporate more  mindful strategies next year.  But honestly, I didn’t need written feedback.  They were very vocal about how much they enjoyed it and I could feel the difference in the room.  Everything felt much more relaxed and my students told each other how much more ready they felt to do the work we had to do.

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Student feedback 

This summer I plan to take a course in Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development offered by the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools.  I am so excited to know more about how to help my students navigate the daily stress and anxiety they experience on top of the assignments I give them.  In order to better serve my students, I must understand how to help them understand what it is they’re feeling so they can find ways to manage the stress of being a teenager.   I’m currently reading a young adult novel called He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz and a line by one of the main characters validated having a mindful classroom:

“You are the adults.  I’m the kid.  And yet it’s my job to understand you. But it’s not your job to understand me.”

 

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