Great article in the Huffington Post. One of my goals this year is to get stakeholders to understand the impact a few moments of mindfulness can make.
This past week, our building welcomed a group of teachers from other buildings to spend the day with us, to learn about our students and to find out about what we do to support them. This visit is part of a program we call “Teachers on Tour”. It all started during the summer of 2015 when a group of us had the opportunity to go to Washington DC for two days to participate in the “Teach to Lead” Summit sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. During that time, we roughed out the bones to the program itself. Basically, the idea was to help foster a community of learners among teachers in different buildings by providing teachers with the opportunity to visit one another, observe teaching and learning taking place, and reflect upon what they saw.
Last spring, teachers visited their first school; one in an affluent part of town. The building itself was only five years, old, LEED certified, open and airy and absolutely beautiful! In addition, staff members did an excellent job of fostering a total school program, and provided students with enrichment and remediation during the school day through an alternating first period. This chunk of time was actually one of the models we used to develop the advisory period in my own building.
Teachers visiting our building this week had a completely different experience; which was actually by design. Our building is built in the late ’70s and is showing its age. In addition, classroom windows are few and far between. Our students are a challenge, and staff have to draw from a deep toolbox of strategies to ensure they are helping them to grow. And they do! Once again, I feel the visiting teachers saw a good depiction of how a teacher’s day looks in a challenging environment. While I fully expected to hear how the visiting teachers appreciated their experience, I had forgotten how powerful an experience this could be for our teachers who were playing host this time.
The hosting teachers were the “Tour Guides” to the groups; taking them from class to class and explaining what was being observed throughout the school day. Not only did our teachers see the value in observing in other buildings; they also saw value in what was going on in their own building. I have to wonder why we don’t give teachers more opportunities to observe in their own school. It is something we normally extend to new teachers; but rarely to our more veteran teachers, who are the ones who are better equipped to help one another.
Reflecting on how this program is going so far, I feel we now need to harness the experiences of our teacher participants and channel them back into our own building. On the flip side, I don’t want to give them “one more thing” to have to do during the school day. Definitely something I have to think on a little more.
One of the schools I had the pleasure of working in had implemented a mindfulness initiative during the 15-16 school year. This school was in an affluent part of town, and including a mindfulness component to the school day seemed appropriate to address the needs of their students. Expectations were extremely high; and the pressure of achieving academic excellence came at students from all directions. Obtaining high school credit for some courses was the norm and a coveted slot in one of the division’s high school specialty centers was the goal. I remember thinking to myself, “of course these kids need to learn how to practice mindfulness. They are so incredibly stressed out!”
What Exactly is Mindfulness? Mindful.org defines mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”. Practicing mindfulness can range from performing simple breathing techniques to completely adjusting your lifestyle. While it seems as we have been hearing more about the concept of mindfulness in the past few years, the context of the practice actually dates back to the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism (think BC).
Why Haven’t We Done This Before? Practicing mindfulness can also address the issue of trauma, which is more of a reality for students in the community which I now serve. The concept of using the practice for this purpose is actually a relatively new one, and little research has been done to support this. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs have seen promising results when introducing the practice of mindfulness to those suffering from PTSD. It is not unusual for our students to have so much more to worry about besides getting good grades, or actively contributing to an athletic team or club. Given the results schools in our division have seen, I have to wonder why we haven’t been practicing mindfulness all along? Having witnessed the energy level of students who just witnessed a fight in the hallway or cafeteria, the very last thing students have in mind once they are corralled back into a classroom is their schoolwork. Imagine if all teachers were suitably trained in this practice, and that they could take a few mindful moments to shift students’ minds away from the trauma they just witnessed (yes, a hallway fight can be pretty traumatic) to the learning before them.
Mind The Adults. Teachers and staff serving high need communities handle a whole different type of stress. In addition to dealing with the stress taking place in their own lives, they come to work everyday bombarded with pressure from students, parents, administrators, and central office personnel. Teachers, just like their students don’t always perform to their highest potential when exposed to stress and trauma on a regular basis. Unlike the students who have little control over their environment, teachers have a choice in the environment in which they work; and if not provided with supports of their own, will go and work at a different school. While the school division must step up and help through providing proper training, resources, and supports; teachers and staff can reach out to one another to provide a different level of reinforcement through teamwork and collegiality. Teaching is a tough job on the best of days, and no one should ever feel they are doing alone.
Last, Keep In Mind… While the practice of mindfulness can positively impact students who are affected by trauma, anxiety or stress; this is only a component of the supports schools and divisions should have in place. As difficult as it can be sometimes, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” intervention; and it often takes a multi-tiered approach to help those in need.
At the beginning of the school year, I made the commitment to record my thoughts on a consistent basis; basically once a week. As I get deeper in the school year, the creative side of me tends to get overwhelmed by all the stress and crazy that takes place in an “at-risk” environment. We all know stress inhibits creativity. This week has been one of those creativity squashing weeks. A 2015 article in The Boston Globe reminds us creativity can also reduce stress.
One of the ways I reduce stress is through enjoying the creativity of others. So, whenever I’m too stressed to get my creative juices flowing this school year, I’ll share some sites which showcase the creativity of others! This time, I’ll share some pretty FABULOUS blogs:
Cult of Pedagogy – Author Jennifer Gonzalez is a self-proclaimed education nerd who shares her thoughts about education and has created an amazing forum for educators from all walks of life, all over the world, to learn and grow from one another.
Cool Cat Teacher – In addition to reflecting upon her own experiences, Vicki Davis also takes the time to review a variety of works centered around best educational practices and frameworks which have been tested and proven within classrooms.
Math Coach’s Corner – Currently, I am the administrator supervising math instruction within my building. I have to credit the vast majority of our progress to our amazing math coach. Donna Boucher’s thoughts on math instruction are forward thinking, yet easily digestible
Blogging has become such an important part of my personal and professional growth as an educator. Even if I hadn’t made the commitment to blog on a regular basis, I would continue to seek out information through this amazing outlet.The above blogs only scrape the surface of educational insight; and I encourage you not only to skim through these, but to also find some of your own favorites as well!
Once again, if we aren’t teaching students these skills, we are doing them a GREAT disservice.