Mindfulness in the Classroom- A Teacher’s Mindfulness

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School staff stress is at an all time high! Changes in curriculum and testing, children’s behaviour, workload impact and teacher shortages are jeopardising the mental health of teachers on a daily basis. Anxiety, depression and complete mental breakdowns are becoming common place. It becomes a vicious cycle; one that seems impossible to break.

We know the importance of teaching children good mentally healthy strategies and habits. But, how can teaching this to children impact our own well-being?

According to research conducted by Katherine Weare for the .b Mindfulness in Schools Project in association with University of Exeter, in her report named, Impacts on the Wellbeing and Performance of School Staff, identifies that staff that use mindfulness strategies have been shown to:

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Many of the strategies outlined in my previous posts in the Mindfulness in the Classroom series can be practiced just as easily by adults. Refreshing yourself about these mindfulness strategies and trying them yourself will give you a taster for what works best for you.

Mindfulness in the Classroom series

Mindfulness Starts Here

Mindful Colouring

Meditation

Gratitude

Breathing

Starfish Hand Meditation

Mindful Listening

Mindful Walking

Mind Jar Meditation

Yoga

Music

Mindful Eating

Emotional Intelligence

Mindful Doodling

Finger Labyrinths Meditation

I hear you moan, “But, I just don’t have time! “, “I have too many things to do!” or “I have too many things running through my head!”.

STOP! YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS IMPORTANT!

My favourite quote is, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got!” So, if what you are doing is leaving you stressed, anxious or depressed, then you have to do something different NOW!

Can you give yourself 5-10 minutes a day to be mindful?

Are YOU worth a few moments?

In addition to what has been outlined in previous posts, here are some other mindful techniques that can easily fit into your day.

Deep Breathing– This triggers the relaxation response. The key to deep breathing is ensuring the exhale is longer than the inhale. There is a nerve called the Vagus nerve that runs down the diaphragm that tells our brain to slow down the turn down the sympathetic nervous system (that releases stress hormones) and turn up the parasympathetic nervous system that supports the lowering of heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. This then calms us down. Top tip: On the exhale, ensure your shoulders relax.
-100 breathes technique– Breathe deeply 100 times, counting as you go. If this is too much, start off slowly with 10 breathes and add ten more each day or few days.
– 5 minute breathing– Set the timer on your phone and breathe deeply until the timer goes off.

Meditation– Meditation has shown to shrink the brain’s stress centre, the amygdaloid, and thickens the pre-frontal cortex that controls awareness, concentration and decision making. In short, the more you meditate the easier it becomes to meditate and find time for meditation.

Meditation does not require hours of sitting crossed legged while chanting. It does require you to be mindful of one present feeling.
– Everyday Activities– Simple everyday activities can become a meditation as long as you focus on the activity at hand; how it feels, how it smells, the sensations it brings, the sounds it makes. Examples: taking a shower, watching the kettle boil, drinking a cup of coffee/tea, brushing your teeth, sweeping the floor, putting on your clothes. Don’t multi task. Be mindful of the moment and allow other thoughts to float away.
– Guided meditations– There are many free guided meditations online in various lengths and with varying focus. There are also many free apps like Calm and Headspace. 5-10 minutes a day can mean saving hours of needless stress and anxiety that slows your pace.

Practising Gratitude– The act of kindness and gratitude triggers feelings of well-being. Remember, positivity begets positivity. Once you start to consciously show gratitude, it starts to become a good habit that happens naturally as that spiral of happiness feeds the cycle.
– #PositivePostItDay– Participate in things like #PositivePostItDay, Maybe make it your mission to do this everyday or once a week. An explaination can be found here: https://educationsvoice.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/positivepostitday/
– Random Acts of Kindness- This brightens everyone’s day. It doesn’t have to cost.
– ABC Appreciation Meditation– Mentally go through the alphabet and name one thing you are grateful for that starts with that letter; A- air I breathe B- Bobby my son, etc.

Hand/Mind Connection– If you find yourself in a stressful moment and the breathing techniques or simple meditations are not helping, immerse your hand in warm water (or rub your hands together quickly to warm them up). This opens the blood vessels and tricks your brain out of a stressful state.

The key is to find an inner peace that allows you to be the best teacher possible. Mindfulness may be what you are looking for to have a work life balance during these stressful times.

How do you practise mindfulness for your own mental health?

UPDATE:

Having problems meditating?

Read the post : A Teacher’s Mindfulness- I Can’t Stop Thinking! 

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Eating

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The key to mindfulness is focusing on the present moment calmly and accepting the feelings and thoughts and bodily sensations. It is our way to taking control of ourselves even when things around us are happening without our control.

In a child’s life, there is little that they have control over. When they get up, what they wear, what they eat, what they watch, etc. controlled or semi-controlled. Then, add the actions and reactions of other children to situations and there is a perfect storm. Our job is to help them realise there are things they can control and giving them strategies be aware and mindful of their minds and bodies; learning how to live in a chaotic world.

Mindful eating is one way that allows a child to become aware of the positive and nurturing foods we eat by using our senses. By using all of our senses in choosing to eat food that supports our bodies growth and development, we are acknowledging the foods we like or dislike without making a fuss about the taste. Additionally, they become aware of signals the body gives us to lets us know we are hungry or we are full. So, in addition to the mindfulness with the eating of foods, we also start to see food in a different way; as nourishment.

As an adult, you may choose to eat an entire meal in a mindful way. However, for children, the process could be very tedious, particularly in the beginning.

Mindful Eating Exercise for the classroom:

(The teacher needs o verbally guide the children through the exercise.)

You can use a raisin, a slice of apple or orange, pomegranate seed, dried fruit or any food you wish. (Be sure your children have no allergies or the food is a chocking hazard.)

1- Have the children LOOK at the food they will be eating. Silent,they are to observe what it looks like? What do you notice?

What colour is it?

Is it small or large?

2- Have the children smell the food.

Does it have a smell?

What does it smell like?

3- Have the children direct their attention to how it feels.

Can You squeeze it?

Is it firm or soft?

Is it smooth, sticky or rough?

Warm or cold?

Does it make any sounds?

4-  Have the children, very slowly, put the piece of food in their mouth but not chew it! Leave it on the tongue.

How does it feel on the tongue?

Can you taste anything?

Does it smell differently in your mouth?

5- Have the children begin to chew slowly; one mindful chew at a time.

Does the taste change?

How does it feel in the mouth?

6- Try to get them notice when they swallow, and see how far you can feel the food into your body.

7- Finally, orally discuss what they felt during the activity or turn on some meditation music and allow them to write about their experience.

Try this with a number of different foods either in one sitting or over a period of time.

In addition, encourage them to mindfully eat their first bite of lunch each day. It is lovely to see the children mindfully eating their food.

How have you developed mindful eating in the classroom?

 

 

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Music

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Some of our earliest memories may be of our mother or father singing to us as a child. It is likely to be one of the earliest memories for our parents having instinctively gone to song to calm a fussy infant down.

Music is very common in most cultures with traditional lullabies being passed down from generation to generation. It is therapeutic for the parent and child alike.

One conclusion made by some mental health clinicians is that the vibrations in music help to release the tension in the cells and organs, thus relaxing the body. Maybe this is why we can hear music in some of the oddest places; elevators/lifts, dentist offices, waiting rooms, etc. They are trying to keep us calm.

So, if music has the ability to support our calmness, then surely this can be used as a simple mindfulness technique used in the classroom. Playing low music in the background as the children transition to a new activity or as they work diligently on their maths problems and writing, might be a way to support behaviour management in the classroom while also supporting children’s learning. Some research even has shown that music can increase the speed at which children do their school work.

So, music in the classroom is something to consider.

If you do decide to use music in your classroom, you must be mindful of how music makes you feel and that some music may not be appropriate; especially music with deep base or high pitch sounds that may actually cause you to feel upset. Trying a variety of musical selections would be best in identifying which ones are best for you and your class. This can be easily achieved via doing a simple search on Youtube for “mindfulness music” or “meditation music”. They come in varying lengths, with some more suitable for children than others.

Some that I have come across on Youtube that children have found soothing are:

1 Hour Yoga Music: Yoga for Kids & Children, Meditation Music, Calming Soft Instrumental Music- https://youtu.be/Zd-ybxrTyvs

Relaxation For Children – Quiet, Music for Learning, Harmony & Positive – CUTE FOALS- https://youtu.be/DBNaIRZ3AIg

RELAXING YOGA MUSIC FOR KIDS In Classroom, Children, Kids Yoga Music & Meditation Music for children- https://youtu.be/jbe6R2lmvwY?list=RDuMyMPb-ix-E

While free can be good, there are some relaxing CDs and compilations that are good to use in the classroom. My favourite is called Yoga & Mindfulness- Music for Buddhist Meditation. But, there are loads out on the market with free samples to listen to so you can gage if they are appropriate.

Top Tip: I use the soothing music while children are coming into assembly. Once everyone is seated, I have all the children close their eyes and do deep breathing; there favourite is snake breathes. For those that have problems with the idea of closing their eyes, I have a soothing scene projected on the large screen to focus on while breathing. Then, at the end of the assembly, I do the same again as each class leaves the hall. Assemblies are calmer and more in control.

How do you use music in the classroom?

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Yoga

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For some people, Yoga and Mindfulness are synonymous. However, one can practise mindfulness without doing Yoga. But, Yoga can add a different dimension to your mindfulness practice.

UK expert in social and emotional learning, Professor Katherine Weare (key contributor to the UK schools SEAL programme), stated in The Mindfulness In Schools Project paper in association with the University of Exeter, “Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People”, that:

“Well conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people who take part.”                     “Mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory, and enhance planning, problem solving, and reasoning skills.”

Yoga helps children to slow down, chill out, relax their minds and exercise their bodies. It also lowers their heart rate, and creates self-discipline and control. In Yoga, they practise self-regulation of breathing that is a natural relaxation response in humans.

You don’t have to be a Yoga master to include Yoga into the day. All you need to know is the basic Yoga poses which can easily be found free on Youtube. But, other good resources are:

  • Yoga Pretzel cards– These can be bought online. Just do an online search and find the best deal. This includes cards that show breathing techniques, games, Yoga poses and relaxation techniques.

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The cards show the pose/technique/game on one side and an explanation of how to do it on the other side.YP2

How can you integrate Yoga into the school day?

  1. Start each day doing the Sun Salutation in class.
  2. Use Yoga as part of your warm up or cool down sessions in PE.
  3. Teach one Yoga pose a week and use it as part of your transition routine (When they come to the carpet for a lesson or a story, they have to do the pose of the week.).
  4. Have a special signal, possibly the mindful bell, which is used when the children get a bit squirmy. When that signal is given, they stand up, breathe deeply, do the Yoga pose for a set amount of time and then they sit, breathe deeply and get back to work.
  5. Play Yoga games- Once the children learn a few, encourage them to do them outside during break time/recess.
    1. “Yogi Says”- Similar to “Simon Says”
    2. Body Part Yoga- Choose a leader and they give the rest of the group two body parts they can use and only those two body parts can touch the ground. (Example: One knee, one hand)

Remember, the best things are usually the simplest things! Have your children create their own Yoga routines, poses and games.

You just must remember that the key is on concentrating on the breathing and the task at hand. Focus is the key to supporting the use of Yoga in mindfulness.

How do you use Yoga in the classroom?

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mind Jar Meditation

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An important part of teaching children mindfulness strategies is the understanding, identifying and accepting of emotions by the child. We all have emotions and they can range from blissfully happy to desperate despair to full blown anger. These and other emotions that come between can be just as mystifying and hard to control.

How many times have you told a child to, “Calm Down!”? You tell them to breathe. But, sometimes the emotions are far to scary. The fight or flight reflex is strong and being able to identify the emotions they feel can be very difficult. They need to and want to understand their emotions. It is once they can identify what they are feeling that they can independently identify the mindful strategy that will work for them in that moment.

This is where the Mind Jar comes in! You may have seen it called different names: calm jar, mind bottle, stress bottle,etc. It really is a simple idea and easy to make.

How to make a Mind Jar:
(There are many useful guides online to show you how to make this. I will share what I have done.)

1- Find a clean jar or a small drinks bottle.
2- Fill the jar/bottle 3/4 full with warm water. (Not hot!)
3- Add a few drops of food colouring of your choice.
4- Add the glitter. I like using the finest glitter I can find and use a combination of glitter glue and loose glitter. The warm water helps to dilute the glue but the glue also thickens the water; allowing the glitter to stay suspended for a little longer.
5- Add water to fill the jar/bottle and close tightly.
6- Give it a good shake and watch the glitter swirl around the bottle and slowly settle.

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Another version that works well:

1- Find a clean jar or a small drinks bottle.
2- Fill the jar/bottle 3/4 full with warm water. (Not hot!)
3- Add approximately 2 tablespoons of glitter paint.
4- Add another tablespoon of glitter. The warm water helps to dilute the glue but the glue also thickens the water; allowing the glitter to stay suspended for a little longer.
5- Add water to fill the jar/bottle and close tightly.
6- Give it a good shake and watch the glitter swirl around the bottle and slowly settle.

How to use a Mind Jar:

1- Shake the jar and then set it down.
2- As you watch the glitter swirling, do deep belly breathes; allowing yourself to calm and settle as the glitter calms and settles.
3- Repeat as needed.

You should explain to children that the swirling glitter is like what happens in our heads when we are upset, mad, angry, anxious, etc. The thoughts swirling about all are mixed, moving quickly in and out of our mind. Breathing allows us to calm those thoughts, focusing our mind only on the glitter as it slows and settles, like our thoughts; so we can identify the emotions we are having and make the right choices on what to do next.

Here is a lovely video on the same idea that you may want to share with children.
Mind in a jar- Planting Seeds- The Power of Mindfulness for Children
http://youtu.be/QNmMH6tqiMc

Does it work?

Yes it does work for both children and adults!

In classrooms, I see the children thoughtfully choosing the mind jar when they are upset, giving it a good shake and breathing deeply. For some children it takes a few shakes, but I see their shoulders relax and they breathing steady. They may then continue on to do other mindfulness strategies. But, they have recognised their emotions and are choosing to calm themselves down.

For adults, it works in a similar way. I have a mind jar on my desk. As a Principal, I have staff come to speak to me for many different things, some are very emotional. Not one adult has been able to resist grabbing the bottle and giving it a good shake and take a few moments to watch the glitter settle. It is a good visual reminder to help calm the mind of the swirling thoughts.

One small mindfulness strategy can make the world of difference!

I would love to hear about your successes with the mind jar.

#PositivePostItDay

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Have you heard of Positive Post It Day? Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. That is ok.

A few years ago, a young lady in Canada called Caitlin Haacke, decided to take a stand against bullying. She tells her story On Tedx here: http://youtu.be/cElB84gf6uc.

She single handily has started a movement of positivity that is sweeping the world. Her belief that positivity begets positivity that began as an anti-bullying campaign, has led to children and adults alike considering their words carefully and filling the world with kindness, love and appreciation.

The impact of this young lady’s simple idea can be seen in this news report, http://youtu.be/0zLteIn7IS0 and this compilation video of the positive post it notes written in one day, http://youtu.be/87RC1NQgPzQ.

I have been left in awe by the inspiring, clearly mindful activity of gratitude, that has begun. It fits very clearly within my Mindfulness in the Classroom series, particularly Gratitude. These little Random Acts of Kindness can spark a change and belief in the compassion of humankind.

In schools, this is a perfect circle time, PHSCE lesson or Mindfulness activity. In work places, it is a mindful activity that encourages good mental health and well being.

Thus, I purpose we all join Caitlin in her a Positive Post Its and declare together, Tuesday 29th March 2016, #PositivePostItDay .

How can you participate?

1- Share this post with others and tweet, Face Book, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc letting others know about the day. Get it out there! Let me know you are joining us.

2- On the day, no matter where you are (schools, work, businesses, home, online, etc), create and share Positive Post It Notes (Be sure to watch the videos if you want some ideas.). Stick the notes on the walls, windows, books, online social media feeds, ANYWHERE!

3- If you share them online, make sure you tag them as #PositivePostItDay. Let’s paper the world in positivity one post it note at a time!

Time to stock up on Post It notes!

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Walking

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Sometime during the first year and a half of life, most of us pulled ourselves up on unsteady legs and took our first steps. During those tentative first steps, our minds were truly mindful of the position of our feet, the feel of the floor and the movement of our body. Concentration on walking and only walking happened with a clear deliberate mind. Later, as we became more proficient in walking, the act of walking became natural. There now is no thought to what we are doing. We want to get from point A to point B; we just walk.

Mindful walking is not about a destination; it is simply about each step and breathing. Being mindful in the moment!

It seems right that we would practise Mindful Walking, particularly with children. This strategy is useful when your class has become restless due to concentration levels, when they have been inside for a while or because the sun is shining!

Basic Mindful Walking for Children
(This should happen in a space large enough to accommodate your class. So, at the least a hall/gym. However, walking outside, particularly where there is nature around, can be the most rewarding.)

1- Have the children stand and take several belly breathes; allowing their bodies to relax from their head to their toes.
2- They are to soften their eyes and fix their gaze on the ground about 8 feet ahead.
3- Tell the children to smile slightly. Smiling signals the brain that what is happening is pleasant.
4- As they walk, have the children focus on the step of each foot as it rises up and then comes back down to the ground.
5- Periodically, have the children stop and notice one object (flower, stone, stick, leaf, etc) or sound (bird chirping, water trickling, car passing, etc) and spend a few moments appreciating that one moment.

To give it added purpose, consider attaching it to a topic of study. Take a few minutes on a class trip to do a mindful walk or consider your local community areas for a moment to practice their mindful walking skills.

What have you tried on your mindful walks? Please share in the comments below.