Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teachers, students bring mindfulness to the classroom

Teachers, students bring mindfulness to the classroom

 Two dozen teachers sat in a circle, their backs straight and eyes closed, as soft music played. A voice walked them through steps to clear their minds.

“Take a slow, deep breath in, and slowly exhale.”

This guided meditation was part of a recent training on mindfulness, led by and made for San Juan Unified teachers.

“You focus on the here and now,” explained Phe Bach, a chemistry teacher at Mira Loma High School who facilitated the training. “Self-cultivation and self-observation of what’s going on around you, and within you.”

Educators explored resources to develop their own mindfulness, as well as activities and strategies to help students practice mindfulness.

Sharan Kaur is a first-grade teacher at Charles Peck Elementary, a Title 1 school with many high-needs students. It can be a stressful environment, she said, and as a third-year teacher she set a personal goal this year of staying positive.

“It’s being present in whatever I’m doing. Paying attention to what I’m doing now, and not being reactive,” she said. “Just thinking and taking a second before responding when something happens in the classroom. That mindset helped a lot.”

On a recent Friday, she sat crossed-legged on the floor with her students in a circle. The children were asked to pass a ball to one another, pausing to look at each person in the eye.

“What are we noticing about their eyes?” Kaur asked. “Hailey?”

“How they’re looking...feeling,” the girl responded.

This morning exercise has helped students focus and sets a tone in her classroom, Kaur said. “We all need acknowledgment. They take that home and start to really look at What are they feeling? What kind of morning did they have? You’re acknowledging that the person is present and you’re seeing them.”

Kaur is also beginning to teach her students meditation using a small bell.

“There’s going to be 10,000 things we’ve got to cover in the day,” she said. “It’s taking the time to move through it and dig deep.”

Bach hopes that as more teachers embrace mindfulness, there will be a positive effect on school culture.

He has been practicing mindfulness for decades, but began to study meditation more intensively while completing his doctorate in education two years ago. He also leads statewide mindfulness trainings for the California Teachers Association. Bach and his co-facilitator, Teresa Tolbert, met as Instructional Leadership Corps members.

Tolbert teaches English at Rio Americano High School and praises the effects of mindful breathing exercises in her classroom — ranging from 60 seconds to three minutes.

“At my school, they’re high-performing students. They tell me of their high stress and anxiety levels. A lot of them are sleeping four or five hours a night,” she said. “When I implemented mindful breathing before tests, a lot of kids gave me positive feedback.”

In an increasingly fast-paced world, she hopes that learning these techniques early will have a lasting impact.

“I think it’s a life skill for them. Kids can learn early to help them cope with the stresses of college and the workforce.”

An advanced training on mindful leadership for teachers will be offered in October. Click here for more information.

Source: San Juan Unified School District's website.

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