Last week I was talking to a 4th grade teacher about how we might support her in increasing the quality and quantity of student discourse in her class (i.e. getting her kids to talk more about what and how they were learning). Her reaction was about as candid as it gets. “I can’t have my kids talk to each other or collaborate – they’re too rude to each other.”
Before she could take on increasing discourse, she needed to address the classroom culture issue. At this school in particular, the students come to class with a lot on their minds. There is a high percentage of free and reduced lunch and English is the second language for many. They face more challenges than most.
This seemed like a great opportunity to test mindfulness as a way to address classroom culture, improve focus and help develop a strategy for students to calm themselves throughout the day.
The teacher was all in. She was ready to try anything.
Time to Breathe
While I’ve read a bit on mindfulness in schools and practiced meditation in a high school Positive Psychology class I taught years ago, I’m definitely no expert. So I Googled it and found some awesome resources.
We started by showing the video on How I Decide that gives students an entertaining example of how mindfulness helped an animated boy named Jayden, and how it might do the same for them.
As the video played, I scanned the classroom and was surprised to see the students unconsciously taking deep breaths along with the animated character. “Hmm,” I thought, “this might actually work.”
After that we had them close their eyes, get comfortable in their chairs, and listen to the music and my voice as I talked them through this body scan mindfulness activity. At the end I inserted some positive affirmations about respect and creating a safe classroom. The students were surprisingly quiet through the four minute activity, inhaling and exhaling deeply along with me as I encouraged them to focus on their breathing.
When it was over, I asked them to slowly open their eyes. The room was markedly quieter than when they had all rumbled in. I asked if anyone wanted to share how the mindfulness activity had made them feel, and over half of the hands in the room were raised. Their responses ranged from “calm,” “relaxed,” “happy” to “I felt like I was in heaven.” Seriously. Heaven.
The teacher was sold. She spent the next few days researching everything she could about mindfulness and planning ways to implement mindful activities throughout the day. She even bought a chime on Amazon. She’s committed.
I’m excited to see how this will impact her students’ sense of calm, focus, and respectful discourse in the class. More to come. Until then, keep breathing.