Happy (Belated) Birthday, Wise Minds!

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August flew by so fast I nearly missed our fourth birthday! Now that my business has to compete with my child for a birthday month, Wise Minds. is getting a little bit of the shaft. Every year, I like to take this time to reflect back. What were my projects from this last year? How have things shifted and evolved? How can this understanding help me move forward?

One of the most present experiences for me is that I wrapped up this year connecting with educators who I had worked with three and four years ago. I don’t often get to know the ways mindfulness has impacted the lives of those I’ve worked with. I don’t usually get to see how they incorporate it into their classrooms and make it their own. I heard from one woman whose daughter’s chronic stress abated after sharing a compassion practice with her. Two teachers who took my course three years ago showed up at a weekly sit I attend, determined to continue on their personal journey. Two others who I was with years ago are now deep into their yearlong certification training with Mindful Schools. Having the opportunity to share stories with these teachers is a tremendous gift, and a reminder of the incredible ripple effect of this practice.

So what happened during the 2018-2019 school year for Wise Minds?

I had the privilege of spending my fourth year at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, this year teaching an integrated yoga and mindfulness elective. I just love the depth that we can find when practicing together for an entire semester. These students are thoughtful, reflective, and fun! One of my biggest takeaways from them this year is that they crave interaction and play! We incorporated a lot of discussions and partner poses in each semester to keep practice alive.

At the other end of the spectrum, I also got to spend some time in November and December with Yarmouth Elementary School’s second, third, and fourth graders. By the end of our six weeks together, there was a palpable shift in some of the rooms where you could tell teachers had continued practicing with their students in my absence. This built on work I had down at their K-1 school the year prior and a workshop I would later do in their high school. Yarmouth has been so committed that I got to lead the superintendent and all the principals and vice principals together in two summer workshops, and the instructional strategists in the spring. It’s impressive to see district-wide initiatives like this that really address the social-emotional needs of the community.

I also continued my work partnered with LincolnHealth, both offering a reboot and recharge session in the fall and spring, and a 6-week course for teachers new to practice. In my third year in this partnership, it is amazing to think of the network that is growing in Lincoln County as more teachers explore this work in their own practice. I have also been able to go directly to teachers and parents, offering introductory workshops around ways of approaching difficult student behaviors and mindful technology use. The organic and continuous nature of the introduction of mindfulness to this county means it has the potential to seep into the cultures of these schools, gradually creating change that make for more easeful classrooms.

I also had the opportunity to spend 6-weeks with Deering High School teachers on, “Teaching Mindfully, Teaching Mindfulness,” as well as other short workshops for 21st Century Learning Initiatives, Deering High School Wellness Days, Wanyflete, AOS 93, Boothbay, Kennebec Montessori, and Westbrook Camp Counselors.

Finally, i was able to partner with the incredible Phoenix Soleil and Katie Byrnes for the fourth annual TIME retreat at Bowdoin College, bringing together educators from across New England to explore mindfulness in their practice. I am always in awe of the connections you can make from a full day together.

Two big writing projects also grew from this year:

Daily Mindful Minis: Tiny Mindfulness Practices for the Fourth Trimester a book in which I documented how mindfulness supported me through the first 12 weeks of my daughter’s life

and

180 Days of Teaching Mindfully: a series of shorts about how mindfulness supports my teaching a blog in which I documented how mindfulness supported my teaching practice

Backing up out the weeds of the moment has been a tremendous gift to consider how many districts in Maine have really embraced taking a more intentional, care-based approach to their work of serving students. We are not alone in our work. We are all deeply interconnected, helping to create shifts and transformations in one another.

May we all find peace.

May we all create peace.

Holiday Anticipation

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One of my high school students came into class today talking about how he just couldn't wait for break, and how the next few days were going to feel so hard. Dude, I hear you.

In fact, as I scroll through social media these days, all of my teacher friends are posting memes and photos reflecting this deep desire to just be done with it. To get to through this week and to those days of sweet freedom. To end this particularly challenging week of giddy children vibrating with the excitement and/or terror of spending so much time away from school and with their families. 

So I abandoned our theme of kindness for the day, and we broke down anticipation. Some students shared how they dreaded the upcoming holidays and what it means to spend that much time with their families. Some reflected on being eager for the break from school.

Either way, I reflected back, our minds get caught up in the wanting or not wanting, and lose track of what is right in front of us. Either way, we suffer. We suffer from wanting it to be break, or not wanting it to be break. In the meantime, we lose the entire week before break to our thoughts. We lose what is actually real. As my teachers Chris McKenna and Megan Cowan say, "It's two sides of the same coin."

So what can we do to experience this week rather than see it as a time that must be endured?


A few tips and tricks that I have found helpful:

1. Observe where you are.

The first thing I find most helpful is just to notice my mind is going there. As Dan Siegel says, "Name it to tame it," so I observe, "I am really wanting to be done. I am really wanting to be drinking egg nog at my mom's house in front of the tree." Just saying it out loud helps take some of the intensity our of my feelings and gives them some space to breathe.


2. Break it down.

When I think about a whole week before break, I go bananas. But when I focus on the school day in front of me, the class in front of me, the specific moment I am in with a class, it suddenly seems much less daunting. In my classes where things are going well, I get to fully enjoy engaging with them. In my classes where they are tough, I can concentrate on the toughness without the added stress of needing it to end. Because it won't until it does. My needing it to be different doesn't help. So when I catch my mind going there, I visualize the week ahead, breaking down into my day, breaking down into the moment I'm in, as a way of reconnecting and reorienting.

23 Find the joy.

I started my day this morning by prompting, "How can I enjoy today?"  I had challenging moments today, to be sure, and did not enjoy every moment.  But just dropping that question in meant that I was looking for ways to enjoy the day rather than steeping in my own angst. Conveniently, I was leading lessons on gratitude with my elementary school students this afternoon, so I had a chance to remind myself of all the good I get to experience in the moment. Actively looking for and reflecting on the good I have right now helps me stay connected and not get caught up in anticipation.

So happy week before break, all!

May you all find ways of enjoying the right now, even as the pull (or push) of the break ahead is strong.

In gratitude,

Erica

Mindful Moments for K-4

Last week, I started a six week program at Yarmouth Elementary School. After spending last year working with the K-1 school, this year I will be meeting with students grade 2-4. I am delighted to get to see the same group two years in a row. It means we will be able to build on the work we did last year and deepen into some of the practices.

Each week, we spend just fifteen minutes learning a new way of focusing our minds and being kind to ourselves. Teachers are given posters to remind students of the concept we learned and scripts to practice with them. I remind students that the only way they will strengthen their ability to pay attention and be kind is through practice, just like the only way we build strength in our muscles is through working out.

Every program I offer, I start by creating a safe container and defining mindfulness. At this point, there are usually students in the room who know what mindfulness is, so I can build on their understanding. My first lesson is always using our senses as anchors for our attention. I find this is the easiest point of entry for students, and I can offer it later on if students are having trouble with a new anchor point. Sometimes, the breath or body can be uncomfortable, so having sound to come back to means they have a safe space to practice. By building the capacity to focus the mind, students become more adept at ignoring distractions.

Week 1: Supersonic Senses!

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This week’s lesson is based on Andrew Jordan Nance’s mindful arts in the classroom book. Andrew has a great rhyming story in his book about super powers, and how our senses can function like super powers if we pay close attention. With the second and third graders, I tweaked this slightly by asking students to carry I beat while I rapped over the story. This was an easy way to keep students engaged (despite my terrible rapping skills). The story gives a chance to practice focusing on each of the senses before moving on to the next. Because I only had fifteen minutes, I focused primarily on the sense of sight and sound. With the fourth graders, we still focused on the same senses without the story.

Home challenge:

  1. See if you can find something in your house you’ve never noticed before

  2. Practice your mindful listening as a group. See if you can also practice outside and at home.




Bite-sized Mindful Moments, Part VII

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Slow It Down

Photo by  Kumoma Lab  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kumoma Lab on Unsplash

When we are busy, we often start to move more quickly. We rush, and this rushing can exacerbate an already tense nervous system, leading us to feel more frazzled. Half the time when we end up in this state, we lose time by dropping our papers everywhere, spilling our coffee down the front, or forgetting some quintessential item that we have to head back for. See what happens when you intentionally slow down your walking, even the slightest bit. Bring your attention to the feeling of the body moving, the feet hitting the floor. See what happens.

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Spiral Drawing

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This one came from Sarah Carlson at Cascade Brook School: On a blank sheet of paper, have your students draw a spiral from the center of the page outwards, tracing out slightly wider with each line. Invite them to notice what it feels like to press the pencil/pen again the page, the movement of the hand, and to bring all of the awareness to this activity.

Sarah also does this as a back-and-forth between free writing as a way of keeping movement and momentum going for her students. 

 

 

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part VI

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Kind thoughts

Pixabay

Pixabay

This time of year, as students have a harder time staying focused and engaging appropriately, it can be helpful to intentionally remind ourselves of what we truly want for them. Before school, consider a student who has been triggering to you.

Close your eyes and picture that student happy. Remind yourself: They want to be happy, to be healthy, to be safe, to feel loved.

Then, wish them that: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you feel loved. Repeat it a few times. See if you can take a few breaths in and savor any kindness you feel for that student.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: The Snarling Dog

Wiki Commons

Wiki Commons

As students prepare for the end of the year, their nerves often start to fray and they may show less kindness towards one another. We can encourage our students to hold boundaries and speaking up for themselves in the context of compassion for the other person. It can be helpful to remind students that others tend to be cruel when they are hurting, not as an excuse, but to encourage a thoughtful response.

Try offering this story the next time a student feels like getting revenge:

"You are out for a walk when you come across a dog. As you reach out for it, it starts snarling and lunges. You jump back and start yelling at the dog, when you realize its leg is caught in a trap. The dog was reacting out of its own pain and frustration." 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part V

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Body check

Photo by  Richard Jaimes  on  Unsplash

At the end of each class and the school day, take a moment to check in with your body, especially in areas that carry stress like shoulders, jaw, forehead, and stomach. Then, as you inhale train your attention on each individual spot, hold for a count of three, and as you exhale invite that area to release. Notice what the body feels like after that release.

 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Body check

Photo by  Volkan Olmez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Just as we can take these moments for ourselves, we can offer these moments to our students. Invite them, at the beginning or end of class, to close their eyes or gaze down, and notice any sensations in their forehead....jaw...shoulders...and belly. Then, invite them to scan again, this time taking one breath and inviting relaxation at each spot. Finally, have them notice what the body feels like after the release. 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part IV

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Adopt a beginner's mind

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on   

Photo by Aaron Burden on

 

Just for a day, set an intention to approach the world with a beginner's mind. Notice each experience you have throughout the day as if you've never had it before (because, technically, you haven't ever lived each of those specific moments before). Allow your students to delight you. Be curious about your colleagues. Marvel at the weather, the signs of spring, the simple experience of being alive.

Notice how it impacts your day (and perhaps consider setting a similar intention for the next day).

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Best self for a day

Photo by  Andrea Tummons  on  Unsplash

Ask students to consider their best selves. What qualities would they bring forward into their day, regardless of the circumstances? How would they live? How would they treat others? Then, invite them, just for a day, or even a class, to try and make each decision as if they were that best self. 

The next day, or at the end of the period, ask them the ways that they were their best self.

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part III

Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: EAT YOUR LUNCH

One day of the week, make yourself a real lunch that delights you. Even if it is a simple sandwich, or carrots and hummus. Then, when the time comes to eat, do so with your full attention. Not with your computer in front of you, not with your phone out... Pause everything and tune your awareness into your lunch. Notice the texture, the shapes, the sound as you chew. Savor it. Even if you can only take one bite this way, give yourself that one bite to cherish. 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Mindful Listening

Photo by  Cassandra Hamer  on  Unsplash

Offer students one-two minute(s) at the start of class to quiet the mind and take in any sound they can hear. Have them notice sounds outside of the room, inside of the room, maybe even from within the body... Notice if there are any sounds that are pleasant or unpleasant. 

Let students know that if they ever feel overwhelmed by their thoughts, they can come back to anchoring their attention to sound.

Bite-sized Mindful Moments: Part II

Each week we will offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: 5 breath pause

Before getting out of your car, off your bike, or walking up to the school, take a moment to stop. Notice how you feel in the mind and body. Bring your attention to your breath, and follow 5 complete breaths in and out. Check in again with the mind and body. Proceed with your day, knowing you can come back to the breath when the mind gets too busy or emotions get too big.

 

 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: NOTICE the room

Photo by  Nathaniel Shuman  on  Unsplash

In a moment when the room starts to feel chaotic/off task, turn off the lights, stand at the front of the room, and look each student kindly in the eye. Breathe deeply as you maintain your own stability, being ready to note rather than criticize. Wait until the room falls silent and you have their attention. Name what you see and ask for preparedness with getting back to it. (ex-"it felt _____ in here and so I thought we could take a pause to get back on task. Everyone ready?") 

 

Bite-sized Mindful Moments, Part I

Sometimes, when we first get started with a mindfulness practice, even carving out five minutes can feel overwhelming. Ellen Langer, a Harvard Professor of Psychology, does not even think we need the formal practice, but advocates for bringing awareness to our every day moments. 

So how can we infuse mindfulness into our lives and the lives of our students? Each week we will explore this question and offer a few bite-sized mindful moments for you to bring to your life and the lives of your students.

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOU: Tune into senses while commuting

Photo by  Matheus Ferrero  on  Unsplash

While walking, biking, or driving to work in the morning, bring your full awareness to your senses. Take a moment to look up to the sky and take note of the patterns there. Take in the colors of the plants as you pass them by. Listen to the sounds of the cars around you. Feel the weight of your body in the seat and hands on the steering wheel, handlebars, or moving at your sides. Whenever the mind wanders to your To Do List, remind yourself, "Just for this drive, I will be present," and come back to the observing sensations. 

MINDFUL MOMENT FOR YOUR STUDENTS: Take the temperature of the room

Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

At the beginning of class, ask students how they are doing, on scale of 1-5 (1= really struggling, 5 = really happy). They can respond either verbally, or by holding up the number with their fingers. Observe out loud what the trend in the room is, and maybe make a recommendation for how to proceed with that knowledge. (eg- "seems like we are collectively having a rough day, so let's take it easy on one another").