Mindfulness In the Classroom – How my 1st graders taught me that slowing down is good for all of us.

 

“I am aware.   I am safe.  We are connected.   These 3 simple statements had a huge impact on my classroom.  They were proposed by  my school’s climate committee as a way to help all of our students be more mindful. (Not only in the classroom but in the halls, on the playground and in our overcrowded  and very loud cafeteria.)  Social Emotional Learning is already at the heart of my school’s curriculum.  We explicitly teach students how to recognize, understand, and express their emotions.  We give them tools to help them self-regulate.  In every classroom at Queen Anne Elementary you will find calm body spots – spots that students can go to if they need a break. (Not sent to – as a time out) Students have access to noise canceling headphones,  a variety of fidget tools and other materials that help them focus on learning.  We believe that our students have different needs and there is no “one size fits all”  approach.  Our classrooms have flexible seating so that students can pick a space that makes sense for their needs. We give all of our students the power to make decisions that help them learn best.  We have daily classroom meetings run by the students with agendas that include a complement circle and problem solving.  So when our staff decided to make these 3 simple statements a part of our common language I wasn’t sure  they would add that much more.  But they did. They became a kind of mantra in my classroom that helped students become more calm and focused on learning.

It started when one of my students, whose job that week was the Class Breather, (this is a coveted job in my classroom – the student uses a Hoberman sphere to lead us in deep breaths when needed) decided we should say these statements after each breath.

I am aware.   Breath

I am safe.    Breath.

We are connected.   Breath. 

It was an idea that stuck.  And the more I watched my students, and did the same practice myself, I saw  we were all benefiting from this 3 minute activity. My students were more calm.  My most fidgety students were able to focus longer.  And we felt more connected.   But there were other ways I was incorporating mindfulness in the classroom. For the last 2 years I have integrated the mindset for learning strategies so skillfully laid out in Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz’ incredible book called A Mindset for Learning- Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth.  These mindsets – empathy, flexibility, persistence, resilience and optimism,  are taught explicitly and my students use these mindsets throughout the year. I see evidence of it everywhere. They come up during goal setting, in conversations and on sticky notes that are left in  books.

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I also started using Go Noodle.  Go Noodle is a website that features short videos designed to get kids moving. But they also have videos that teach mindfulness, specifically  ways to enhance focus, practice compassion, build self control and manage stress. IMG_1131

I turned to Go Noodle after I realized that my kids were returning to the classroom after lunch (remember the previously mentioned overcrowded lunchroom above?) extremely amped up.  I tried everything –  A class read aloud, a moment of silence, a time to just sit and draw.  Didn’t work.  The energy level was too high.  One day, I turned down the lights, met the students at the door, asked them to find a brain and body spot and when we were ready I would play a Go Noodle mindfulness video. My students just naturally started sitting Criss Cross Applesauce and using the time to shut their eyes and think about their breath.  When all or most of us were ready – they would either continue sitting or standing depending on the video. And again this was 3 minutes of our day that made my kids less stressed and ready to take on the 1 1/2  hour of Math and Science still to come.   And I’ll be honest these brain and body breaks were helping me as well.  I found I was  more calm and was a much better teacher in the afternoons.

All of this had an impact on my personal life as well.  I’m now spending my summer reading about meditation, mindfulness and listening to the 10% Happier Podcast which features so many stories of people who are practicing mindfulness in their own lives and in their very different workplaces.   http://abcnews.go.com/Health/deepdive/10-percent-happier-dan-harris-44036003

I’m excited to hear other stories from educators who are seeing the difference that a few mindful minutes can make in the lives of their students.

~Molly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHAT IF? Inspired by the Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC

What if we believed that every elementary school’s responsibility was to teach social and emotional learning skills as explicitly as we teach reading, writing, math and science.

What if we all believed that developing social-emotional skills in children is critical to their academic success.

What if we gave every student  a voice.

What if teachers made their learning space accessible for all learners.

What if we held regular classroom meetings to have meaningful conversations about the way teachers and students work together.

What if we explicitly taught students how their brains work.

What if students used brain science to help them gauge their emotions and then provided them tools to help them regulate themselves so they could get back to work.

What if there was no shame in having a bad day.

What if every classroom had a calm body spot where students could go when they needed a break.

What if  every child knew that mistakes are an important part of learning.

What if every child had a job in your classroom.

What if we lifted expectations for every child.

What if, given this focus on social emotional learning, our children were more successful.

What if, given this focus on social emotional learning, our children  learned empathy is one of life’s most powerful tools.  Because when we connect with others we are compassionate, concerned, citizens of the world.

What if, given this focus on voice in the classroom, our children felt empowered to learn in and out of the classroom.

What if?

~Molly and Alicia

 

 

 

 

 

For Me, The Year Begins With A Dot. #DotDay2016

Our first day of school is Wednesday, September 7th.  This is just 5 school days before International Dot Day on September 15th, 2016.  And for me the timing couldn’t be more perfect.   Dot Day has become an important part of my students first grade year.  It’s the first time, that we think and talk about what is  most important about ourselves and the learning journey that we are about to begin. This day is named for the classic Peter H. Reynolds story called  The Dot. The book shares the story of a girl named Vashti, who begins a journey of self-discovery after a teacher challenges her to “make her mark.”   This will be just the third year that I have joined thousands of other educators around the world who are asking their own students to make their mark.  And this one question is the perfect way to start a new year.

During the 1st week of school we will have read the book several times and have had many conversations about Vashti and her teacher.  But on Dot Day, it truly is a question that I pose for the first time to my brand new 1st graders – “How will YOU make your mark?” Then I will hand them a  single piece of paper, a paint brush and some watercolor paints.  I ask them not only  to make their mark but to write a word or two to go with it.  I explain that these will hang in our classroom for the 170- some days to come.  I’m always delighted with the outcome.

Every student’s dot is original and I’m always amazed by how these simple works of art inspire us as our year goes on.   We refer  to them when we are stuck,  last year, Carl’s dot reminded us to try.  During projects, Ruby’s dot gave us permission to explore.  When we were struggling, Noah’s dot told us to be brave.  And finally, Olivia’s dot lets us know that it’s always okay to follow your heart.  Important life lessons.  Other dots reminded us to work hard, to make new friends and to play.   And each one inspired me, as their teacher,  to take risks and know that my 6 and 7 year old students would rise to the challenge.  IMG_3917

2015-16 was a great year filled with challenges including  a teacher’s strike that delayed the start of our school year and meant that we did Dot Day 10 days late.  And that’s one of the reasons why Dot Day 2016 is scheduled for September 15th ~ish .  Dot Day is not about a  certain day.  It’s about a question that we as teachers need to ask students again and again.   “How will you make your mark and how can I help you make it?”  Here’s the link – It’s not to late to sign up.  http://www.thedotclub.org/dotday/

~Molly

 

 

 

Flexible Seating, A Reflection 5 years In

It seems like flexible seating is everywhere on social media and it makes my heart happy.  Last year Molly wrote about not having chairs in our classrooms and how our classrooms function without chairs. I would refer back to this article if you are curious about how it looks. Why We Don’t Have Chairs

When I came to Queen Anne Elementary and saw Molly didn’t have chairs in her classroom, I immediately said “ I don’t want chairs either” and I haven’t looked back. What’s funny, is five years ago it seems really progressive to me to not have chairs in a classroom and I remember getting plenty of strange looks from my teacher friends at other schools. “But where will they sit?” “How do you know they won’t just wander around all day?” “What if they sit/stand on the tables?” ( gasp! Something I’ve been known to do a time or two). Now I come into my classroom and it just seems normal to not have chairs. I still get asked from time to time “But why don’t you have chairs?” There is a variety of reasons but what always strikes me in our research driven school environment, is where is the data that shows students are more engaged sitting in chairs? Or the data that shows it’s healthy to have students sit in chairs for hours upon hours? There isn’t any  research that I know of that suggests that a more traditional classroom with students sitting in chairs for hours is engaging or healthy for students. What I’m reading is more and more research about the benefits of standing tables and low tables, both for engagement and health purposes.

I believe we made great strides when we took our desks out of rows. But we stopped moving forward when we simply rearranged the furniture putting students into desk/table groups. We need to continue to strive to make the best learning environment possible for our students and that includes flexible seating choice.

One issue I’ve seen floating around social media from teachers interested in flexible seating is how to give up control when you ditch the chairs. My response? Chairs don’t give you control nor do they engage students. So it’s not really giving up any control. It might be challenging to your sense of order as a teacher,  however engaging teaching and strong classroom management does more to create a positive learning environment than chairs ever have. If you are on the fence about flexible seating this year, I urge you to give it a go. I am so thankful that Molly challenged my thinking on seating in the classroom five years ago. Losing chairs inspired me to create more engaging content, sharpen my classroom management skills and gave my students more choice within their classroom.

My Why -Making a Difference in the Lives of My Students

Every summer I look forward to more time for exercise and usually that means a daily walk with something playing in my ear.  Last week, it was Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action.  This talk is not specifically about education but  as usual, as I was listening , my brain started thinking about school.  In his talk, Sinek  explains what he believes make organizations  and leadership successful.  He says that the great leaders and organizations in the world are motivated, by what he calls, the golden circle or the why, how and what.  And as he explained this theory, I was already applying it to what I have learned about teaching.   In  our job, we all know what we are supposed to do -educate students.   And we are usually given the how – curriculum, supplies, professional development.  But Sinek would argue that for most, it’s the why  that  is unclear.  He says that very few people and organizations in the world know why they do what they do.   What’s  your purpose,  your cause or belief, he asks.  Why do any of us get up in the morning?    Why do we teach?

I know why.  And it’s more than just wanting to make sure my students are academically proficient.   I want my 1st grade students to know how to learn, to ask questions,  to collaborate with each other, to be able to solve problems and to push themselves to learn more.  I want them be  concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world.

Alicia and I are lucky enough to  work at an elementary school that was built on the foundation of 5 pillars. These pillars not only guide our students ( K-5) but they provide the framework for our teaching.    These pillars are “my why.”

We are self-directed learners

We encourage each other to think critically and learn more

We are concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world

We earn everywhere, we learn together

We are creative

In my classroom, students are learning to read, write, and work with numbers.  They are doing projects and using technology to connect, capture and create new learning.  But I know now that it’s the work we do around these pillars that drive my instruction and their learning.  There is so much pressure around test scores and academics and yet very few administrators seem to care how we are teaching students these 21st century skills.   I have learned that it’s these skills that push my students to think critically and learn more.  It’s our daily classroom meetings that build community and help us work together to solve problems.  It’s a mindset for learning that is explicitly taught.

We start the year by learning step by step what it means to be a self directed learner.  Then we do the same to define what it means to be a critical thinker.  And every day of the year we practice persistence, optimism, empathy, and resilience. This is why my students and my fellow teachers at Queen Anne Elementary are successful.  It’s why I love my job, and why I look forward to getting to school each morning.   I would love to hear your why.   And of course, here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk.

 

~Molly

 

 

 

 

Learning With Our Twitter Buddies

We are very lucky at our school to have a math specialist. Ms. Francisco is known throughout the school as a math lover and this year, she created math challenges that brought her love of math to all students in the school. I am going to link her website complete with all the challenges she created at the bottom of this blog post. I highly recommend checking out her site.

This year, we participated in the primary blogging community and connected with another first grade classroom outside of Toronto. We enjoyed blogging back and forth greatly but what was most impactful in our classroom throughout the year, was our tweets back and forth. One day, we were working on the math challenge as a class and my class tweeted how engaging but hard the challenge was this week. Our buddy classroom instantly tweeted back “What math challenge?” We explained and shared the math challenge site with our buddies for the upcoming week. Usually,we worked on the math challenges on Friday’s however, our buddy classroom began tweeting at us on Monday morning–they were so excited by it and couldn’t wait to share their work! The challenge that week was to design the new gym our school will be building in a few years using 60 cubes/squares on graph paper, taking into account what type space makes a good gym. We quickly got out the cubes, iPads, and graph paper and went to work. What amazed me the most were the thoughtful conversations students were having as they designed. While they quickly realized a long, narrow 3 x 20 gym would not be ideal for many activities, they thought it could be fun do timed sprints in! One other thing we did while we shared our answers with our buddy classroom through twitter, we also projected student work up on the project through AirServer. AirServer is one of the more powerful tools we have access to–showcasing different student thinking/work, drives all of our students to create and produce more. Below are some examples of student work, students collaborating and a picture of the great work displayed up on our AirServer.

 

By using Twitter to share our learning with our buddies and receiving feedback from them, student work was elevated and so was engagement. My students are always excited to work on the math challenge, but when they had another, audience to share their work with, their engaged soared. I am excited to for next year’s math challenges and to share our learning with other authentic audiences through Twitter.

 

Ms. Francisco’s blog complete with math challenges! http://qaeacademic-support.weebly.com/math-challenges.html

 

 

Math Challenge -Sometimes You Just Have To Start Again

I’m just going to say it , straight out,  Math is hard to teach, even in first grade.  Students seem to love it or hate it – not many fall in between.  You have those kids who struggle and  you have those kids who seem to know everything.  This school year, our schools math specialist started a bi- weekly math challenge.  Just the word challenge seemed to motivate my students and so we did it, regularly, every 2 weeks.  My students did well,  (getting the answers)  but what I did better as a teacher  was to ask ask more questions.  How do you know that’s the right answer?  Could there be a different answer?  Show me your thinking!  So by the time we got to Math Challenge 12 , I was really on auto pilot.  It was the first Monday after spring break and I have to say I grabbed the math challenge  and thought “perfect,  an already planned lesson.  Let’s go! ”  I put the problem on the overhead,  read it, heard my students  say “this will be an easy one” and they grabbed their pencils and went to work.  And then, as usual, I watched my “high” math students finish quickly and one by one the rest finished too. We moved on with our day.   It wasn’t until that afternoon that I went over their work.  And while shocked may  be a bit of an overstatement – it really was close to what I was feeling when I realized that all of my students but two, got the problem wrong.

  
Hmm.  What did I do wrong?  In my classroom we have spent the year talking about doing our best, persisting through hard tasks and rising to a challenge. The book, A Mindset for Learning by   Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz  has helped my students learn that growing our brains is going to make us more successful in life.  So the next day – this was the morning message that greeted my students. 

But first we would practice a new brain grower-  Resilience, “When you have trouble, you bounce back and try again.”   During this conversation, my students admitted that the challenge was hard and they too were tired after spring break.  They promised to  start again  and when they finished , they would grab the 2nd challenge as well  ( There is always 2 challenges – Level A and Level B) . And of course, they would show their thinking.  This time they grabbed their pencils, math manipulatives  and went to work.   

 And one hour later, students were still working. 

 And by working I mean real work.  The answers didn’t come easy and no one was copying anyone else’s work.  Soon  the students who were struggling the most were working in groups and I got out my phone to ask a few how they were feeling.

  
Today, I’m looking over their work once again  before sending it on to our Math Specialist.  She will pick a “winner” for our primary and our  3,4,5 students.  

 
   I believe we proved that we are persistent and resilient in @MsMecksClass even if all that  math thinking comes with a price.   

~Molly