“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.
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.
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.