Mindful Minute

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When I decided to start the journey of mindfulness with my students, I knew that I needed to do more than tell them about it.  I knew that it was going to be important to incorporate it into our every day.  Since I teach middle school, I see my students for a 40 minute class and then they move on to other classes.  I quickly realized from my reading that an ideal situation would be to get other teachers involved to give the students exposure to mindfulness throughout their entire day and not just in my room.  That is now my project for next year.

I started by explaining to the students how their brains work.  I gave them some of the facts from brain research.  I also polled them through their journals to find out if they categorized themselves as “stressed” or “anxious”.  It amazed me to read the results.  So many of the students that I would label as stressed or those whose parents had told us stories of their child’s meltdowns didn’t always identify themselves as stressed.  However, so many other students who seem to have things together day in and day out confessed to being ridden with stress and anxiety for various reasons.  This exercise just solidified the need for this work in my classroom.

After explaining how the brain works and why we tend to feel anxious in different situations, I had them think about situations they have been in where stress and anxiety has taken over.  We identified how our body reacts (how we feel, how we look, etc).  Many students had no problem coming up with the typical symptoms of their heart racing, sweating, shaking, etc.  I then told them that I was going to give them a tool to help them in situations of high stress, but also a tool that will just help to give their brains a break throughout the day.  It is called our “Mindful Minute”.  My goal for the class is to work up to a full minute, but at first a full minute is hard for the students to complete.

There are many websites and apps that you can use to teach meditation to children.  I particularly like the guided meditations.  My favorite site and the one that I chose to use with my students in the beginning is http://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/.  It has a number of guided meditations both longer and shorter in length.  They do a great job of walking the students through concentrating on their breathing and building up their abilities to do it longer and longer.  Remember, mindfulness is the marathon and activities like meditations are the training for the marathon.

Once we have practiced the guided meditations a few times, I tell the students that we are going to do this every day to start class.  Once the bell rings for class to begin, I have the expectation that students be in their seats and ready for our “Mindful Minute”.  Since we do this every day, I have started using an app called Insight Timer .  You can set the timer on the app for one minute (or however long you would like).  You have a choice of different bells or sounds.  Due to the fact that many of my students have a hard time being still for even a few seconds, I have set a few ground rules. One, they have to try their best to be as still as they can for the minute.  They are not allowed to distract anyone else.  Second, they do not have to close their eyes, but can instead just focus downward if they are uncomfortable (for some the act of closing their eyes creates anxiety).  Third, they should focus on the sound of the bell for the entire length of its tone and then focus on their breathing.   Once the bell rings for the second time, they should focus on the tone for its entire length before opening their eyes or looking up.

Now there are many days where it works so well.  I have seen a real change in my students and their ability to get settled after changing classes and to be focused on what we are doing in class.  For years teachers have been giving bell work to get students settled and ready to work. However, it is not often that teachers give students a break to rest their brains and focus.  Then there are the days that I have kids who giggle and try to make one another laugh or who cannot sit still to save their lives.  It is not always going to be perfect and that is OK.  However, I know that it works and that a majority of the students are benefiting from it because if there is a day where for whatever reason we must skip our mindful minute (believe me it does not happen often!) they will collectively moan and ask why?!  I have also had many students request to do a mindful minute before tests and quizzes.  When writing in their daily journals, students have told me how they look forward to my class because that minute is the only time during the day that they get a change to relax.

Recently, I asked my students to write about the times that they have used the mindful minute outside of class.  Many wrote about doing it on their own before a big hockey game or dance recital.  Others have said that they actually focus on their breathing to help them fall asleep at night.  Still others told me about how they try to do it as soon as they feel anxious about something.  I cannot tell you how happy that made me to hear that they were actually applying this skill outside of the classroom.  After all, that is what it is all about!



What is Mindfulness?

“The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole.” – Krishnamurti

If you were to google mindfulness it states that it is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.  For me, mindfulness is learning to live in the present moment and take things one thing at a time.  It is a tool that helps myself and my students to deal with the anxieties that we deal with on a daily basis.  It is a reminder to be grateful for the things that I have and the things that are going right in my life.  For my reading students, it is a tool to help them calm themselves at the beginning of every class period and through our “Mindful Monday” practices, it helps them to train their brains to focus on tasks (something that has helped some of my most struggling readers).

Many believe that mindfulness is meditation.  What I have found through my reading and research is that mindfulness is like the marathon that you train for and meditation is the training that you do for that marathon.  Through meditations, you are able to train your brain to be aware of when you are “off task” and tune back into the moment that you are in.  Being in tune with the present helps us to be more productive, helps us to enjoy the things that we do more, and helps us to deal with our stresses by not worrying about the past or the future.

The whole concept of mindfulness really resonated with me after hearing about it at the workshop earlier this year.  I am a self-confessed worry wart.  I have always been.  Anxiety and the need to please have burdened me all of my life.  Add on the role of being a mother and the anxiety and mommy guilt has been enough to put me over the edge!  However, when I started to read the journals that I ask my students to keep daily, I began to realize that my anxiety at age 40 was nothing in comparison to what some of these 11 and 12-year-old boys and girls are dealing.  I could not believe how anxious they were and how so many of them were desperate to find  some tool to help them.  It made me really start to think about what may happen to some of them if they did not learn to handle the stresses that they are feeling at this point in their life.

As a teacher and a mom, I worry about what kids are doing to relieve stress.  We hear all of the time about drug abuse, bullying, and suicide.  It all scares me to death.  While it seems that every generation has their new and different things that stress them out, it seems to me like a tool like mindfulness is exactly what all generations could use to help them to relieve anxiety and live a happier life.

With the age of less and less recess in schools and technology distracting us from everything, I truly believe that mindfulness is a tool that everyone needs to learn, especially our children.  It used to be a badge of honor to be able to say you could multi-task like no one else.  However, there is more and more research to say that our brains are not meant to multi-task.  The part of our brain that was meant to activate for fight or flight for a short amount of time is now activating for longer and longer periods of time with no rest.  None of this is good!

As I mentioned in my first post, my goal is to simply share what I am doing to introduce mindfulness to my students and how it is helping me in my own life.  In a very short time, I have seen such an amazing change in some of my students.  Some have even written me letters to tell me how much it has helped them and how they have seen it help their friends as well.  I truly believe that mindfulness needs to be woven into every classroom!





My Mindful Mission

I am a middle school teacher.  I teach reading to 11 and 12 year old boys and girls.  Often when I tell people what age level I work with, they say the same thing…”ugh, what a terrible age”.  The truth is, sometimes it is a tough age to work with.  The students that I have are starting a new chapter in their lives (middle school) and they usually enter as babies and within a few months start acting like teenagers.  They fluctuate between wanting independence and wanting their mom.  They are full of hormones and anxiety.

What I have noticed the most in the last 16 years at this level is the ever increasing amount of anxiety that my students have.  I know that kids this age have always been worried about friends, homework, sports, etc.  However, when I talk to my students now, they are full of all kinds of anxieties that I thought were saved for adults.  I have students who cannot even make it to school on a regular basis because their fears and stresses prevent them from even getting out of bed.  During parent conferences, I have had more and more parents burst into tears because they do not know what to do to help their anxiety ridden children.  They talk of sleepless nights and meltdowns that rival a toddler.  It has been more than eye opening to see how this trend is getting worse and worse.

Not only do I see students with anxiety on a daily basis, but I am surrounded by colleagues and friends that are more stressed than ever.  At work, my colleagues are dealing with everything that we have always dealt with as teachers, but are now juggling APPR, new state regulations, more data collection than ever, and the media scrutiny that blames us for the demise of society.

Enter Mindfulness!  Earlier this year, I attended a workshop that was promoted as something that would help me to help my students who suffer from anxiety. I was very interested in the topic and was thrilled to be getting to leave the classroom to learn something new (we don’t get these opportunities often anymore).  What I got out of the workshop was so much more than I could have expected.  Not only did I leave with many activities and ideas for activities with my students, I left with many ways to better myself.  I began reading every book I could get my hands on regarding mindfulness.  I also downloaded every app, looked for every class, and researched whatever I could find.

I immediately began incorporating mindfulness into my classroom even before I had done all of the reading and research.  This was very new for me since I tend to be someone who is very thorough and overthinks everything before I start anything.  Most importantly, I began incorporating mindfulness into my everyday life.  Within the first week, my husband was already complimenting me on the changes that it was making in me as a wife and mother.  You know how things happen for a reason and happen at a specific time for a reason, well this is one of those things for me.  It has happened at the perfect time for me!

I have started this blog to document the ways that I am sharing mindfulness with my students as well as how I am using it in my day to day life.  I am NOT an expert and will never claim to be.  Instead, I am learning about mindfulness every day and finding ways to share it with everyone that I can.  For me it has been life changing.  I don’t know if anyone will read what I have to say, but I hope if someone does, they will see the great benefits of mindfulness and look to add it to their life as well!