(Quite literally… NEXT WEEK! At least here in Canada… :P)
So, let’s get all you Educators out there motivated and ready to practice mindful moments this upcoming school year!
(Future you and your students will thank you for it!)
Are you ready…?
There just never seems to be enough of it.
Especially in a teacher’s day.
“How can I find the time?”
And understandably so…
Teachers have an extensive list of to-do’s!
An extensive, never-ending list…
HOW can we make time for Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is critical for students’ success, emotionalintelligence, and for building life skills.
Mindfulness is essential for teachers’ success, peaceofmind, and to preventburnout.
So, where do we find the time?!
I have the answer for you!
Here are 5 EFFORTLESS Ways to Add Mindfulness into Your Classroom TODAY:
Greet Students at the Door with Gratitude
Many teachers greet their students at the door each morning. Instead of just saying hi… add a fun “Question of the Day” element by asking kids “What are you grateful for?” before entering. Not only is it a fun way to practice mindful gratitude, you’ll also learn more about your students’ lives!
Take a Belly Breath In Between Classes
When switching from Math to Science, or English to Social, take a quick moment to pause for a breath. Have students place their hands on their bellies and take one big deep collective breath together. Remind them they are breathing out the previous activity to make room for the next!
First thing in the morning and at the end of the day, set a 30 second timer and have your students do a quick self check-in. Have students close their eyes (if comfortable) or gaze softly at a spot on the ground. Ask them to pay attention to any thoughts they are having, emotions that come up, or sensations in their body. Remind them not to place judgment on what comes up. Just notice it.
Tapping Before a Test
Before a test or any difficult assignment/activity, take 30-60 seconds to do a little tapping. Tapping is a wonderful way to decrease stress, it helps your students get into the right mindset before any nerve wracking activity. A quick minute is all you need. You can lead it or put on a tapping for kids youtube video! Try tapping in combination with positive affirmations too.
Warm Up for Gym with Yoga or Mindful Stretching
Gym is already part of the curriculum. And we already talk about the importance of stretching with our kids. Moving forward, add the mindful element to your stretching practice before beginning your gym class. Remind kids to stay focused and quiet. To pay attention to their bodies and the sensations from each stretch.
Well, There You Have It!
Some simple ways to sneak mindfulness into your day, everyday!
Time is on your side with these simple classroom mindful moments!
I created this journal with THEM in mind. They were my inspiration.
And it was so fulfilling to be able to present them with my journal and a personal note written to each one of them by me.
They changed my life. They helped me grow. I wanted them to know that before they took off to High School.
That they too, had made an impact on me…
The LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!
That meant more celebrations! We capped off the year with a Talent Show AND MORE dance parties!!
The day began back at my old school to watch the Talent show.
It was inspiring to see all of these kids muster up the courage to expose themselves on the stage in front of the whole school.
Kids are amazing. They surprise me each and ever year.
I got to watch kids of all ages from grades 4-9 display their talent for the whole school to see!
Tears were most definitely shed…
It was a beautiful ending to the crazy first year at this brand new school.
After the talent show, I headed over to our younger sister school for…
ANOTHER DANCE PARTY!!
That my boyfriend DJ’d once again! 😛
(In fact, he’s basically the Edmonton Public School Boards resident volunteer DJ :P)
When my Elementary School – Sherwood – closed down last year, the younger students (Kindergarten-Grade 3) went over to this school.
It was a beautiful reunion!
I spend the afternoon reconnecting with old students and dancing our little hearts out! Again… 😛
It reminded me how much a miss the younger grades…
I felt very grateful to be a part of their special event for the last day of school.
But… The Day Didn’t End There…
After the dance party at the K-3 school, I drove back across the street (good thing these schools are close!) and spent the last hour and a half wandering the halls of my 4-9 school giving out goodbye’s, see you later’s, and big bear hugs!
Some of my students would be returning, when others would not.
It hurts my heart a little not knowing when I’ll see them next (and if I’ll see them next).
I’m grateful to have made an impact while I could.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be in some of their lives – even if only for a short while.
I know these kids will do amazing things one day!
If they continue to follow their hearts and live life with kindness in mind.
“How am I supposed to squeeze anything else into my day…?”
Things I hear in Education..
And I get it, Teachers have a lot on their overflowing plates.
They are more than just Teachers – they feed kids when they’re hungry and console them when they’re hurt.
Days become overwhelmed with to-do’s and then suddenly… its JUNE! And we’re cutting it close on deadlines.
But if we invest a little extra time, into the RIGHT things, it is possible to get some teaching time back!
Let’s take a quick peek into our classrooms…
Teacher’s at the front, attempting to get through her math lesson.
Attempting… because we know her lesson is not going according to plan.
We have Johnny in the front, raising his hand every 2 minutes to interject with a concern. Bianca is noisily tapping on her desk, frustrated because she just doesn’t get math. Will snapped his pencil and is this close to flipping his desk if he has to painstakingly sit through another minute of this class…
Classrooms are overrun with interruptions.
Sometimes, as Educators, we feel so short on time, that we push through our lessons and don’t necessarily deal with the underlying issue…
The stress, the frustrations and the anger…
And the truth is… Kids aren’t learning if they are not REGULATED.
To understand that, we need to know how our brains work.
When information enters our brain, either from something external (like a lesson) or from our internal emotions (fear, anger), this information travels from the bottom up.
The Brain Stem, into
Our Limbic System (Emotional brain), and then
The NeoCortex (Thinking brain)
But… when students are disregulated, then information cant travel past our brain stem, our primitive brain…
Think of it as electricity flowing in a circuit. If our regulation “switch” is turned off… no electricity is getting to the “light bulb” part of the brain.
The upper parts of their brains aren’t on.
They can’t use their emotional brain to relate to your lesson… And they most definitely can’t use their thinking brain!
So, what’s the point in stressfully pushing through a lesson if our students wont remember or relate to it…?
We Need Regulation!
And how do we do that?
By taking a little bit of time to mindfully teach regulation strategies!
When our kids become disregulated, but are PREPARED in handing it. We can redirect back to our lesson quicker.
The interruptions become minimal…
And we have a more effective lesson…
All because we invested a little bit of time turning our students brains on.
Here Are Some Easy-Peasy Strategies To Get You Started:
#1: Deep Belly Breathing (and more breathing exercises)
#2: Journalling or Creating Art
#3: Gong for a Walk (even better if it’s outdoors!)
Wishing you the best of luck! (I just know you can do it!)
Well… I can’t give you one simple answer. Because the practice of mindfulness is simple and complex all at once – we’ll save the complex stuff for another post!
Mindfulness is our natural state of being…
…before the world was filled with constant distractions and everyday stressors.
When we focus on the present moment and are mindful in everything we do, it’s like we are connecting back to our roots. Our natural state of being.
Back in the times of our ancestors, our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) was only activated when we were in serious danger. Dangers like being hunted or killed by larger animals.
And even then, when our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ (called our sympathetic nervous system) was triggered, we were still PRESENT. Presently focusing on removing ourselves from danger.Once the danger was removed, we were easily able to switch modes back into our parasympathetic nervous system, where our bodies and minds could ‘rest and relax.’
Nowadays, these stress triggers are everywhere. We stress all day long. About our kids, students or families. About our jobs or the pay we get. We stress over not making it to work on time while sitting in rush hour traffic. Or about how we will do on an exam.
And now with COVID we have additional stressors! We stress about sickness and the health of our friends and family. We stress about when the next shut down might happen. Or if we’ll end up losing our jobs. Or worse.. Our lives or the lives of someone we love.
Sometimes, we’ll even stress about all the bad things that could possibly happen and things that haven’t even come true yet (and most likely, won’t ever come true).
In this day and age, stressors are EVERYWHERE.
But there are 2 crucial differences about these stressors than what we’ve experienced in the past:
Our sympathetic nervous system is basically running on overdrive! When we are regularly stressed, our body is living in this constant state of fight, flight or freeze. There is no time for our parasympathetic system to kick in (our rest & relax mode) and so our body is unable to conserve the energy it needs to function properly. Our body systems are working hard to get us out of this perceived danger, which never really seems to go away… This can have serious detrimental effects for us in the long term.
The majority of these new stress triggers aren’t even happening in the present moment! They are things that are going on in our heads!! Like I said earlier, we give too much attention to the things that have not yet happened, and may not even happen. Yes, some of the things we think about are important to consider in terms of planning our lives, however, when we are non-stop thinking about our stress, it completely takes us out of the present moment. We are stuck living within our heads. Not mindful at all. And not our natural state of being.
Now, the wonderful thing about understanding all of this is that it makes us aware. Aware of the problem, so we can also be aware of the solution.
And in returning back to our natural state of being- Living and breathing mindfulness, we can reverse some of the long term effects that stress and anxiety can have on our minds and our bodies. We can extend our lives and improve our health!
Of course, it’s never too late to practice mindfulness!
But, I am an avid promoter of the “get ‘em started young” philosophy!
Why, you might ask?
Well, for one, kids are SPONGES! They are the best kind of learners because they hold onto new information quite easily. Especially if that information is engaging! And even more so, if they see the adults in their lives MODEL it well!
And second, even though it’s never too late for anyone to practice mindfulness and improve their health, when we teach mindfulness to kids, we are better able to set them up for a successful path in life. We can teach them strategies BEFORE stressful events happen and they will better know how to deal with them when the time comes.
Ever heard of the mastery rule of 10,000 hours?
Well, Michael Gladwell speaks about it in his book “Outliers.” He states that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve a level of mastery in a particular skill.
In the case of mindfulness, bringing awareness and teaching this skill to kids at a younger age, allows them to achieve this level of mastery even before they become adults.
This is why I am so ‘gung-ho’ about practicing mindfulness to kids. By practicing mindfulness throughout their younger years, living in the present moment becomes a natural part of their subconscious. They develop mastery level to this skill before their teen and adult years – some of the most stressful years of their lives.
Being a master at mindfulness before they get into those stressful years, will allow them to utilize strategies for dealing with stress in the future.
We are setting them up for success in a terribly stressful world.
Imagine a world where we can all get out of our own heads and into the present moment?
A world where we don’t have to be constantly living in fight, flight or freeze.
I believe THAT world begins with our kids.
Stay tuned for more posts on how mindfulness works and how it improves, not only our thoughts, but our overall health!
Let’s have a chat about IMPACT for a second.. The impact we have on those around us.
I want to know…
What sort of impact do you want to have on the world? On your kids? On your students?
What legacy do you want to leave behind? What do you want to be remembered for?
Speaking from an educator stand point, I, of course, wanted to have a positive impact on my students. To leave them better off than before they met me. To shape them into kind-hearted human beings who could accomplish anything they set their minds to.
But sometimes, having such high expectations leads to discouragement.
We try our hardest, day in and day out, to guide our students into doing the right things and accomplishing the right things. And sometimes (quite often even), things do not go as planned. Sometimes, we fall short.
A student is dishonest with you, or your class forgets the concepts you’ve been working so hard to solidify in their minds. OR, even worse, one student hurts another with their words, or their actions… after we spent so long trying to instill a sense of compassion and integrity within our classroom…
It makes us question our efforts.
“Does what I do actually matter?…”
Trust me.. I’ve had more bad days than I can count. And many times when I’ve asked myself this very same question.
But I want to share a story with you. A story that hopefully will inspire you and remind you that ALL of your efforts really DO matter. They may not matter all in one day, or one week, or even in one school year.
But over time, the little bits of impact are compounded! And great things begin to happen…
I worked at Sherwood Elementary for 6 years, all years spent working in our Special Needs Adaptability Program. Which means, I was lucky enough to establish some amazing relationships with some amazing kids. Many of these students were in my class for multiple years.
There are students from that school and that program whom I will never forget. But one in particular who stands out in my mind. We shared a moment at the end of the 2020/2021 school year that made all those years of struggle worth it for me.
His name is Fadi.
Fadi* is a child on the spectrum. He started in my class when he was in grade 2 and I worked with him on and off until our school closed when he was in grade 5.
Fadi has a twin brother, also on the spectrum, but because of his more aggressive tendencies, was placed in a different adaptability program. Fadi, on the other hand, is quiet, kind, and sensitive.
I was drawn to Fadi right from the get-go because of his love of reading and his calm demeanor. He also became an avid attender of my Mindfulness Club.
Almost every single day that Mindfulness Club was ‘open for business’, he was there. Always the first in line.
He became one of my ‘Mindfulness Leaders.’
Quite often, I’d find Fadi alone out in the playground or in the field with a book in his hand, calmly holding a Yoga pose. Tree pose is a favorite of his.
Sometimes, with my adaptability students, it was tricky to tell if Mindfulness helped them in the ways I hoped. It was tougher to assess- because each day with these guys was different from the last.
But on our very last day of school (last day for the staff anyways, our students finished the day before), we all proceeded out of our schools front doors to have our final staff meeting farewell near the playground.
On my way out of those doors, I noticed Fadi, standing there with his Mom and brother. They seemed to be waiting to hand out year-end gifts for his classroom teachers.
Looking as handsome and grown up as ever, he proceeded to walk towards me, clutching something in his hand.
I was confused.
“I’m not his classroom EA this year… Why would he be coming to see me? Why would he be dropping off something for me?”
Because our school was closing, Fadi was making the move to a new school for the following year, and he was here to express his gratitude to the educators who made a difference in his years at Sherwood.
“Miss T, I have this for you..” He handed me an envelope. His mom standing behind him, tearing up, proud of her little man and what he’d become.
I opened it. And it read:
I felt instant tears stream down my face. I understood exactly what his Mom felt, because, I too, was so proud of the boy he became.
And in this one instant, I understood that all my efforts actually did make a difference.
Regardless of how hard and trying some days were, how challenging some kids were. I wouldn’t take back any part of it. Not a single day.
Because all of those hard days led up to this one moment.
And so, before you begin questioning all of your efforts and asking yourself if what you do really matters, I challenge you to think of just one kiddo… One kiddo you know that has crossed your path and left for the better…
Would you take back all of your efforts just because you only helped one kiddo?
Hell no you wouldn’t! You do what you do because you want to have an impact, you are here to help.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the influence we have on others, but I’m here to remind you that:
You DO make a difference.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s only 1 kid, or 10 kids.
At the end of the day, you made someone’s life better just by being in it.
And that, my friends, is a beautiful impact to have on the world..
*Student name changed to protect identity
The Starfish Story By: Loren Eiseley
In my first year at Sherwood Elementary, our principal shared this beautiful story with our staff. It serves as a beautiful reminder about how even the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference… to someone...
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.
Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”
“Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die,” the boy replied.
The man laughed to himself and said, “Do you realize there are miles of miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference.”
After listening politely, the boy bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the surf. Then, he smiled at the man and said, “I made a difference to that one.”
This is the phrase I scribbled onto the school pavement at Sherwood Elementary each September.
Every year, on the first day of school, a handful of teachers and I would go out onto the school grounds, where we would greet our new students and write out inspirational messages before they arrived. ‘You do YOU’ became my ritual to signal the start of a new school year.
Heck yeah, it’s a catchy phrase! But to me, it’s much more than that…
It was my wish for our whole school community. For them to embrace who they are, and all of the differences that make them, them.
And I meant it, truly. With my whole heart…
All I ever wanted for my kiddos was for them to be themselves- to allow their uniqueness and individuality to shine brightly!
You do you – be your truest, most authentic self.
I think this message is extremely important for kids these days (also an important thing for us to keep in mind). It’s easy to get lost in a crowd and to conform to the actions of others around us, but that is not allowing us to be who we really are.
This is one of the biggest challenges I faced while working within the typical school system…
More often than not, school focuses too much on improving weaknesses instead of capitalizing on strengths. They try to squeeze each individual kid into the same exact box as the other kids around them – expecting them to all learn the same way, behave the same way, think the same way…
I’ve seen it happen. Even teachers who care and have wonderful intentions are not given the environment, curriculum, or resources they need in order to help their students see real success.
And you know, our kids see it as well. They may even be more observant than some of the adults around them…
…Because observation is how they are wired to learn.
And they observe so well. They take what they see from the classroom and apply it even on their own – in the playground or during after school activities.
And because we focus so much effort on improving weaknesses and lacking skills, kids begin to notice other kids are lacking certain skills and they create their own boxes that they believe their friends should fit into.
Kids conform, not just to our educational standards, but even to meet the standards of their peers.
It’s been a tough thing to watch over the years. Children not being their authentic selves just to “fit in”…
And while it’s still important to be constantly improving and setting goals for ourselves and our kids, SOLELY FOCUSING ON WEAKNESSES does not allow individuality to thrive.
Instead, we expect all of our students to reach all the same benchmarks, as if they are all the same anyways. And come from the same backgrounds and share similar experiences.
This is just not the case.
Every child (and adult- because lets be real here for a moment, we were all children once too) has a unique background. They come with different types of baggage from their different life experiences. And as a result, they’ve acquired different sets of strengths and weaknesses than the other children around them.
And so I wonder, who are we to decide that their individual life experiences aren’t good enough learning grounds for their future?
Instead of working hard to make up for what skills they lack, can we not embrace their strength and their interests in order to mold a successful child?
By not enhancing our kids’ strengths, we aren’t allowing them to reach their fullest unique potential. I believe it’s a wasted opportunity!
As an educator, we have good intentions. We get into this field to help kids succeed and because we care. But I believe that intention gets side swiped by all of the targets that educators are forced to complete by the end of each school year. Teachers have certain topics to teach and grades to mark and so these targets tend to be the priority.
It is by no means a teacher’s fault. They have a LOT on their plates. Many shoes to fill and many hats to wear. (I applaud all of you!)
This is when we need to take a look at our current system and ask:
“Is this working? How can we make it better?”
This school system is an old model of thinking that needs to be revisited. We are training our kids to be and do the same. We are training them the same way we’d train individuals to work in a factory during the industrial revolution.
But the reality of the world has changed! And so, our school systems need to change.
We need to focus more on fostering the skills, experiences and interests of our children. Letting their unique identity guide the way to their own education.
We need to embrace their strengths, to foster curiosity and growth.
Imagine what the world would look like, and our school grounds would look like if we all embraced the “you do YOU” philosophy… Educators, parents and kids alike!
I see a beautifully different world, filled with so much uniqueness. A world where people don’t knock down others because of their differences, but instead, lift them up BECAUSE they’re different. A world where differences are strengths and are embraced.
Can you see it too?
I’ll end off with a quick reminder, in case no one has told you yet today…
You might be wondering WHY I chose to do what I do. Why I chose the path of educator, and now, am choosing the path of a writer..
Well, part of the story might be a bit of a fluke, or maybe the universe meant for it to work out exactly the way it did. Depends on your perspective, of course, but I feel like things happen for a reason.
And so, this story is MY story nonetheless.
When I was 18, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I had no ideas, no direction.
There was a lot of pressure from teachers, family, and friends for me to pick a career path, get into university, and do the ‘typical’ highschool-university-career timeline. I felt like one moment, I was just a kid, and the next moment, people were shoving me off a cliff unprepared to fly into the world of adulthood..
This left me in a real funk…
Maybe you’ve already read this in my previous posts, but I am not someone who likes to feel defeated or stay defeated. I think this part of me comes from my competitiveness that I got from playing team sports as a kid.
And so… I read books, watched documentaries, and dedicated tons of time to learn more about depression and anxiety, how it affects our biology, AND what we can do to overcome it.
I love learning! Learning is what saved me.
It was because of this knowledge, and more importantly, the practical implication of this knowledge, that I was able to get out of this serious funk and find some direction in my life.
Yes, I am aware that I’m not perfect – I still have my moments where anxiety takes over, and still have a lot of learning and self development to do, BUT awareness helped me persevere. It helped me get better.
Long story short, I managed to get out of my funk and move on with my life.
I applied as an Educational Assistant for Edmonton Public Schools- not because it was my “calling” by any means. In fact, if I’m being honest, the real reason why I applied was because my Mom was an EA, and well, I was a tad jealous of all her vacation time throughout the years…
(…I know, my motive was not ideal, but like I said, I believe everything happens for a reason!)
Shortly after applying, I got the job!
I felt blessed to be able to shape little minds and have a positive impact on little lives. But, it did open up my eyes to more sadness in the world. Kiddos whose families didn’t have enough money for lunches, kiddos being shuffled in and out of foster care, kiddos whose families weren’t supportive or not completely able to care for them in the ways they deserved. There were many kids who saw more sadness in their short lives than I ever did in my 23 years of life.
It put a lot of things into perspective for me..
In creating Mindfulness Club, I hoped my previous struggles and my lessons learned could be used for good.. to help these kids. So they didn’t have to do it all alone, like I did. So they didn’t have to feel alone, like I did.
I saw the practice of Mindfulness work wonders in my years at Sherwood Elementary, hosting my little club and through living and breathing mindfulness each moment!
But then, 2020 rolled in…
And life changed… Drastically…
For many people, the year 2020 turned worlds upside down.
For me, 2020 was a pivotal moment.
Yes, I felt the stressful effects (and still do). Like the seclusion from friends and family.. And all the time spent in my head ruminating over the question if this world was ever going to return to ‘normal’ again (I can’t even remember what normal is anymore)..
But more than ANYTHING, from this darkness, I was able to see the light.
Yes, there was suffering in the world, maybe more suffering now than the world had seen in a while, but there was also an opportunity, MY OPPORTUNITY, for growth, change and inspiration.
I spent the previous few years helping a small number of students in a very small part of the world stay mindful and care for their well-being. 2020 allowed me to think BIGGER. To help more people on a WAY BIGGER scale!
I felt like I had a lot to say and plenty of experiences to share that could help people struggling in the world. And so, I started by helping the teachers at my school.
I created a presentation about building resiliency in our students and in ourselves- through the practice of mindfulness to cultivate some coherence in our bodies and minds. I gave the presentation at a staff meeting at the beginning of October 2020.
First off, I feel like I need to mention that I’ve always had a HUGE fear of public speaking! When I was in Elementary school myself, I used to ask my mom to call in sick for me whenever I had to speak in front of the class (Shh, don’t tell my teachers!).
Never did I ever imagine that I would be WILLINGLY standing in front of a group of 20+ people giving a presentation.
But I did. And it changed me!
My presentation was a hit! Staff members were inspired to take care of themselves more. They understood the link between our thoughts and our overall health. My principal raved about my presentation and sent it to a few of his colleagues.
And well, one thing led to another… and soon, I was speaking my truth to other groups within Edmonton Public Schools… and then to other educators in Western Canada… and finally, to educators around the globe!!
Because of the shift in the world and the abundance of online opportunities after 2020, I was able to get my message out there, my experiences and lessons out to a larger population!
All I ever wanted to do was help the kiddos at my school cope. But 2020 opened my eyes to the fact that I was capable of helping so many others. Especially in such a time of need, a time of struggle.
Speaking and writing has allowed me to do just that.
I want to continue to speak my truth… To use my writing and speaking to share my experiences with those who could benefit. For those who maybe can relate. For those who just need a little bit of help and guidance.
I’m here to remind you that it’s okay to need help, and okay to ask for it.