During my first year teaching I felt like... well, I felt like I was unstrapped on a roller coster ride, trying desperately to hang on as the coaster flipped me side to side and upside down (and yet there was part of me that could see how it might be fun under different circumstances).
It wasn't until I hit the inevitable February-March teacher burn out, that I remembered that I needed to take the time to breathe and take care of myself. I needed to be more mindful.
Despite being a certified yoga teacher, and mindfulness enthusiast I hardly practiced it myself during my first year teaching (and only made the meekest attempt to teach it to my students).
I was determined to bring it more mindfulness into the classroom on my next go around.
Teachers are always telling students to focus - but never teaching them HOW to focus. Mindfulness is that lesson, and a whole lot more. Plus the benefits of meditation and mindfulness are pretty amazing (holistic) and even better, scientifically supported (more on this later).
But even as a total mindfulness believer and cheerleader myself, I was hesitant to jump into the deep end, which is why I came up with Mindful Mondays. A 5(ish) minute mini-lesson first thing on Mondays to help student focus, center, and prepare for the week ahead.
On the first day of school I start teaching mindfulness by having the class take a couple deep breaths. We continue to do these "mindful moments" everyday throughout the year after right after our "bell ringer" or "do now" activity - just 2-3 deep quiet breaths to get calm, focused, and ready for class.
While these daily moments are great, I don't think they are enough on their own. The students don't understand enough about why we are doing it, or (frankly) care. That's why, every week on Monday, I give my students a mini-lesson, that I call "Mindful Mondays," to teach them more about mindfulness, develop new tools, and provide more (than two breaths) time to practice.
I spent a good portion of my summer vacation reading about, studying, and looking at examples of mindfulness being taught in schools and what I realized is that there is a lot of great content already out there, and that it would have been a huge waste of time and energy (at least in the beginning) to create my own.
Instead I have curated some great content from around the web, and organized it into a year-long comprehensive unit plan. Here is an example of how it looks:
Lesson 1 - Introduction to Mindfulness
Lesson 2 - Living in the Present
Lesson 2 - Look Who Meditates!
Lesson 3 - Scientific Benefit of Mindfulness
Lesson 4 - Focus is Hard - But Can Be Learned!
Lesson 5 - Focus on the Breath Part 1
Lesson 6 - Focus on the Breath Part 2
Lesson 7 - Focus on the Breath Part 3
Lesson 8 - Focus on the Breath Part 4
Lesson 9 - Gratitude is Good for You
Lesson 10 - Focus on the Body Part 1
Lesson 11 - Focus on the Body Part 2
Lesson 12 - Focus on the Body Part 3
Lesson 13 - Holiday Stress
The sequence of the lessons (I've found) is important. The early lessons focus a little bit on what mindfulness is, but more on WHY it is important. These lessons aim to normalize mindfulness for the students, provide scientific data, and show them how it could be used in their lives, in order to convince them to practice genuinely when we do our daily and weekly lessons. Without these early lessons mindfulness might come across as kooky woo-woo hippie stuff, it is important to re-frame it for them in a way they can understand.
(That first year, when I made a weak attempt at implementing mindfulness, I did it without this early buy-in, and was met with so much skepticism and silliness that I eventually gave up. This year, with the early persuasion the students are not only all in, they are excited.)
After they are hooked, the rest of the first semester becomes about creating focus. I ask my students:
"How many of you have been told by a teacher or parent to focus?"
(All hands go up)
"How many of you have been taught HOW to focus?"
(All hands go down - except for the class clown probably who doesn't know what he or she will say until called on, but figure out some way to get the whole class off track and giggling... sigh)
So we practice focusing - first on the breath, then on the body.
At the end of the first semester I throw in a couple of holiday related lessons; gratitude for Thanksgiving, Holiday Stress right before final exams and winter break, and remind them of how they can use mindfulness at home as well.
If you think this might be something you want to try in your classroom - and I strongly urge you to, I have gotten so much positive feedback from my students about it, and it makes me feel like a better teacher and human being too - my next post is about the nuts and bolts of how I implement these lessons.