Category: culture and community

Creating A Community of Mindful Learners

Creating A Community of Mindful Learners

Sometimes you teach what you know well, and sometimes you teach what you want to know better. Mindfulness is definitely a skill that is under development and I am learning right along with the students.  As a digital immigrant, my life has transitioned from simple face-to-face interactions and long conversations on the telephone to pop-up notifications and the buzzing dings that demand my attention. For me, mindfulness is not about meditation, it is about awareness; of inhabiting my body and my mind in a healthy and mature way.  As I think about the precious learners in our class, I think about their futures and how they might handle stress and relationships in this digital age that is ever evolving at such a rapid pace, a pace that makes it difficult to manage at times. That is why I wholeheartedly agree that mindfulness is not something you teach kids to “calm them down” but to teach them how to do as part of their daily habits, which I think of as mental hygiene.

Because I feel so strongly that this is a life skill, I have been more consistent in cultivating a practice in our classroom. It all started as experimentation and a curiosity into a line of inquiry (how we learn best) when we began our Who We Are unit, but then, due to the illness and fluctuation in our teaching team, the routine seemed important and necessary to send “well wishes” to people struggling with health issues. I feel quite fortunate because, at my school, I am not seen as the “kooky hippie”, but a fellow practitioner of mindfulness and receive support in teaching lessons. Members of our counseling team come to class 2 times a week to provide support lessons based on the work of the Mindful Schools program.And what I find most interesting was, in our recent student surveys, students put learning about their brain (which is something that I do as a component of the practice) as one of their favorite activities. So clearly, they are curious about how the mind works and want to develop this awareness of themselves and others. In our recent One World Day assembly, classes were invited to present ideas related to the United Nations’ Global Goals. We reflected on the goal of health and well-being and I interviewed a few of our students about mindfulness and who are the people they have compassion for, which I refer to as “well wishes”.  It was a supremely sweet and telling moment when I did this, as I learned a lot about what my students value and care about. You can see the video here in this post.

We also demonstrated a bit of our practice with the audience, as the ringing of the brass bell signaled a moment to breathe and reflect on who or what we want to send well-wishes to. Then we took turns sharing our well-wishes.

One thing that is both wonderful and terrible about mindfulness is that it is never “learned”. You can’t have book knowledge about this topic. It is a practice, a skill, a habit which is ongoing and evolving. I do believe that the residual effects of this practice may not be seen immediately, but I feel hopeful that this intention to have a culture of mindfulness will have a lasting impact. Becoming more mindful, creating space between thoughts, developing focus and awareness, and cultivating compassion for others and oneself is, I believe, something that all our students, young or old, can benefit from and need in order to cope with the transitions and challenges that their future holds.

Perhaps you too have been curious about implementing this sort of habit into your classroom. I strongly encourage you! And if others would like to share their experience in the comments below, I welcome your ideas and suggestions.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you be safe.
May you be healthy.
May you be love.
And my students love to throw in…
May you be smart.
#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

 

Our attitudes steer our decisions and build momentum in everything we do. A space is at its most sublime when it reinforces and encourages desired values. The first step in designing a space to support particular attitudes is to define those attitudes. – From the book, Make Space, by d.School

I have come to realize that our learning space is more like a living breathing organism, which changes and evolves. It’s always going to be a prototype of the changing learning needs of students. In one of our last IMMOOC ,Kayla Delzer, a flexible seating expert, discusses the importance of cultivating “workspaces” that provide students with opportunities to learn best.  Anyone who has worked with me knows that my classroom setup changes at least ten times a year. However, instead of shifting a table or bookcase, I decided to take all of the classroom furniture out of the rooms and start all over to get a fresh start and churn up different energy in the learning space.  I’ve been looking at the student data that I have gotten from surveys and student sketches of their design ideas, as well as reflections on our timetable to get an idea of their interests and feelings towards different grouping strategies. I understand that the data that I get from those surveys and diagrams are just a snapshot because the learning environment will shift as our culture of learning shifts.

So then I’ve decided to think about how I could use our classroom as a provocation and context of our current Sharing the Planet unit. I’ve been working on “natural vs man-made” and wondering how I can elevate their love of nature and our environment. In one classroom, I took as much of the plastic and industrial looking furniture and replaced it with wooden furniture that we use for outdoor seating in our corridors.  However, I left one of our classroom spaces with all the normal school furniture in it. I wanted to see how the students responded to the change of environment.

This is our first prototype, but it has been fun to see how the students behave and respond to the changes, even if they cannot articulate it. I have to say that is incredibly hard to take the “man-made” out of our learning environment and so this idea will have to continue to grow and be refined. But when I think back to the original quote from the book Make Space, I want the next prototype to really support the value and love of our environment–what makes our Blue Planet worth appreciating and how can we still be “human”, with our deep desire towards progress and yet honor the other conscious living organisms and their plight to survive? In our IB programmes, we have a strong emphasis on how humans must negotiate our roles and responsibilities in sharing finite resources with other living things.

The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. -From, What is an IB Education

I wonder how I might continue to create this awareness in our students and how I can use our classroom environment as the context to develop this appreciation. Although this is the first prototype, taking cues from the flexible seating playbook is helpful, but trying to bring nature back into the classroom is not an easy task, yet this challenge is a fun one. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I am keenly open to it, as collaboration really helps to make an idea stronger. So I welcome your comments below.

Student Voice: Taking Interest so We Can Facilitate Action

Student Voice: Taking Interest so We Can Facilitate Action

As we begin to reflect on community spaces,  we did a deep dive into our community space of our classroom. In one of my previous posts, A Journey Into Design Thinking To Tackle Classroom Challenges, I confessed that I needed to go back to the “drawing board” and collect more ideas from the students so I can transform the challenge of”managing them” and more on empowering them with our learning environment. This is definitely a shift from my former thinking as a classroom teacher as I work on developing my student-centered learning environment and an “innovator’s mindset”.

Innovation starts not by providing answers but by asking questions.

-George Curous- #Innovator’s Mindset

So, I created a provocation with a Google Slide presentation of different interesting classroom spaces that I found from the internet and also included some environments from our own school. Then I asked the students to draw sketches of what they thought our learning space should look like. Yes, there were some students who wanted to put in a nerf gun obstacle course and jumping castle inside our classroom–they are 1st graders with lovely imaginations– but through questioning and dialogue, I was able to determine what elements of the learning space were important to them. I was also able to get some formative assessement of what their understanding of our central idea is, Community spaces provide opportunities to connect, as it related to our community of learning.

It was delightful to discuss with them what they felt we needed for our learning spaces and why they personally needed them. Some of the conversations made me laugh, others surprised me with their insight and awareness, while others made me feel a bit disappointed. Here are some of the ideas that came up during my interviews:

  • Have a space for relaxation so that students should take a rest. (3 votes for hammocks!)
  • Big whiteboards that we (the students) can write on.
  • Have our ‘own space’ and an ‘everyone space’
  • A place for some free choice.
  • We can eat inside the classroom.
  • A space just for computers.
  • A ‘mini’ makerspace.
  • More artwork displayed in our class.
  • Students should teach more.
  • A tent as a meeting area.
  • Pleasant smelling flowers. Plants in the room.

As I reflect on these conversations,  two things stood out to me: firstly, a desire to be trusted and given “space”, and how their ideas closely mirrored the elements of a learning space that are suggested from The Space: A Guide for Educators: spaces for collaboration, creation, showcasing learning, and quiet.

Image from the book: The Space: A Guide for Educators 

So as we move forward on this journey, I really want to facilitate students’ initiative to take ownership of their learning space and cultivate their interest in co-designing it. As I tune into their ideas, I will continue to collect data from them, finding out what’s essential for them to feel comfortable and confident. While this is just a beginning, there is something that is exciting about making changes to our classrooms, especially as I think about the cultural shift that is occurring through this process. I feel hopeful that when our students really feel listened to and their ideas valued, becoming more responsible for the classroom and our learning community is a natural outcome and not something that must be “taught” or “managed”.  I believe that when we, as teachers, show through our actions and words that we trust students, they rise to the challenge and have a desire to be co-designers and collaborators in their own learning.

What experience do you have with this? I’d love to hear your ideas and gain your insights! Please make a comment.

 

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

I was recently reading Dave Burgess’ blog about how change is built and not announced. He used this beautiful analogy of building a snowball that really resonated with me and how I think about innovation:

No matter what your position, you can create change. If you are struggling to do so, maybe you’re trying to pick up all the snow at once. Just grab a handful, pack it tight, and then start pushing. Change is a lot easier when you’re rolling snowballs downhill.

-Dave Burgess-

In this week’s IMMOOC, we are exploring our definitions of innovation and what they can look like in our school’s context. Change is an inherent part of innovation. In the book, Innovator’s Mindset, George Curous shares some of the challenges he faced with defining it as he took on his role as the Divisional Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning. He contemplated Simon Sinek’s ideas on leadership, ruminating on how impactful organizations are when they dig into and articulate a clear “why” behind their existence and then move toward changing the what and designing their system of how to match their cultural values. Cultivating an innovative culture doesn’t require transformation -it requires information on what is ideal for our unique group of learners and school context, refining the current practices and classroom spaces so that it is optimal for learning. “Change for the sake of change” is not the point of innovation. George explains that “Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better“, as we consider what would help spur the intellectual and emotional growth of our learners. When we keep the focus on the kids, innovation happens organically and with purpose.Anytime teachers think differently about.png

As I step into the classroom this week, I have the intention to think differently about our learning community and find the opportunities for innovation. If I think back to Dave’s snowball analogy, I’ll need to keep my awareness on the “small handfuls of snow” that I can pick up and build upon so that I can create some momentum with the innovative ideas that will best serve our students.

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

Design thinking isn’t a subject, topic or class. It’s more of a way of solving problems that encourage positive risk-taking and creativity.

-From LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani-

I am not proud to say this but I am really struggling with our school’s initiative to tear down classroom walls and combine classes to increase collaboration. I’m usually keen to try out new ideas but it’s made me question so many things about what is trending in education and has really made me “sharpen my stone” when it comes to classroom management.  But here’s the thing, I don’t want to ‘manage’ the students, I want to empower them. So I wonder what I am missing –how can I use this structure and type of learning to fulfill the needs of our 21st-century learners? How will this better prepare them for their future?  George Curous says “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“. So I’ve taken on my innovator’s mindset and have begun to apply design-thinking to build a better functioning learning environment.

In Design Thinking, initially, you seek to understand your “audience” or the “user” and define the problems that they may have.  Currently, we have two perspectives to consider: our students and our team of teachers. Collectively we are a community of learners, but it’s important to put the needs of the children first–they are the reason why we are here anyway, right?!  But as teachers, we are the facilitators of this change, so I think our focus will ultimately be on the big WE, and cannot carve ourselves out of the equation when developing a flourishing community of learning.

user experience.jpg
The journey begins! What does our community of learners need? Why? How does it make them feel?!

Because this is the research and discovery phase, I am really digging into books and articles to find ways to make this work–not that we survive but to thrive in such an environment, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

So I’ve begun to approach our situation through the lens of curiosity and ask questions about the challenges that are most immediate and pressing. As teachers, we have three main areas of concern: time for learning, the organization of the learning space, and conducting effective and engaging classroom discussion (in the large group and in small groups with our noisy space). Here is a list of just some of the questions I have begun to formulate about our collaborating Grade 1 classes:

  1. How can we structure our timetable to ensure that we have enough stand-alone literacy, maths and then transdisciplinary unit time?
  2. Of those transdisciplinary subject areas, how best do we need to develop the knowledge and skills in that areas?-in the “large group” (both classes combined) or in “split groups” (separated grade 1 classes) or through a carousel of activities.
  3. How do individual voices get heard in all the “noise”? What tools and strategies do we need to employ to make sure that there is a diversity of ideas being shared, especially our English Language Learners?
  4. How can we use our space to design areas, not just for literacy and maths, but for genuine collaboration, creativity, and quiet?
  5. What gets the kids not just “doing stuff” but actually thinking and reflecting?
  6. And how do we develop strong relationships with our students, knowing about who they are and how they learn best? What feedback systems can we create to help them go from learning passively to actively engaging and ultimately being empowered?

Although I know that we have already begun a rough “prototype” with how we tackle these challenge areas, I recognize that we need more time to understand our learners, our constraints and what the research says about developing more collaborative learning environments, which some have dubbed as Modern Learning Environments (MLE). 

desing evolved
From the wonderful website: http://corbercreative.com/the-ux-process/

So as I layer the designer mindset to frame our challenges, I recognize that we will need to actually get more data. If I am to rewind and start again, then our discovery phase requires a deeper analysis into the complexities of our learners and the needs of our community. Other than our co-planning meetings and daily reflections, I have 2 other ideas for mining some data:

  1. Student survey: we need to find other ways to include their student ideas so they are co-designers of our learning community. In the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators  , the authors encourage including student voice to create a purpose for the learning spaces and cultivate behaviors that support their emotional and mental growth. I am thinking of using the formative assessment app Plickers for a general climate survey and then work on interviewing students either individually or in small groups to get their feedback and input on how we can improve the learning.
  2. Fly on the Wall-I would like to ask some staff members, including administrators, to just pop in and make objective observations. I am thinking about making a questionnaire as a framework for their drop-ins, but I’m also really curious about them just capturing some conversations that they hear–what is the “talk” in the classroom?

As I begin to dive into our data, I will be sure to share some of the results. Truthfully, I’ve always thought about design thinking as something that you introduce when doing project-based learning and never thought to use it in this context, so I’m exploring new territory.  I am really keen to hear other people’s stories and ideas about how I can go deeper. What am I missing? What suggestions do you have?

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

I have a desire to be the teacher that I always wish I had and to have a classroom whose energy and enthusiasm for learning is palpable. I don’t care if my students remember me when they are older but I certainly wish that who they became as writers might be because of me.

This week was the first full week of school and like many classrooms, the early days of learning are full of cultivating our learning culture and assessing children. However, since we are a PYP (Primary Years Programme) school, we are also trying to determine what they know about our central idea Our choices and actions as individuals define who we become as a community while looking through our lines of inquiry:

  • Ourselves as learners (reflection)
  • How our mindset impacts our behavior (change)

So this week, as we inquired why people write, students examined old exemplars of writing. And when I say old, I mean REALLY old, as in ancient, such as these.

ancient

We did the See, Think, Wonder Visible Thinking routine, and the students came up with lots of wonderful ideas like “words are like codes that have secret messages”, “old humans had different things that they wrote about”, “writing looks different today”. Then their questions began to emerge, with the most poignant being  “what message do they want to tell us”. From there, we decided to create a “message” about something that is important to them. They could write about anything, which would help me assess a bit into the line of inquiry-who we are as learners, and most importantly, who we are as writers. What ideas do they have? Would they use pictures AND words to express their ideas? What words would they use?

So with no other prompt, they began to “write”. All of them drew pictures, none of them wrote words beyond their name on top of the paper. I thought this was very interesting and it was great data. At that point, I decided to stop the class, and have them share their pictures with a buddy. While they partnered up, the partner who drew the picture was silent while the other described what they thought the picture was about. Then they switched roles. When we did a whole group reflection, the students began to articulate what they needed to add to their picture so that its message was clearer: more details in the picture, more color, and add WORDS! Then they set off to work on their writing and the words started to come onto the page naturally. This showed me that they were beginning to understand the purpose of words in our writing and motivated them to use labels and captions.

During our next lesson, students explored books with the learning intention of determining what the author was trying to tell us–what was their message. When the students came back and shared, the purpose of writing began to come into focus: to entertain or to inform us about a certain topic. Then I gave them back their original sample of writing, I asked them if they were “done” with this idea of if they needed more paper to explain what happened before and after the page that I had in my hand. All of them agreed that they had more work to do, and within 30 minutes, their books began to emerge. Students ideas for book making began to spill out and they started to think about their purpose of writing: “When I am done with this book, I want to write about mermaids”, “Next time Batman is going to fight another bad guy.”, “I want to do a different kind of I-Spy book”.  Later students asked when it was writing time and if they could take their books out on break so they could share them with a friend. But my happiest moment of this week came when a student who felt overwhelmed and exasperated about reading came to me and asked if he could do more writing during our classroom ‘personal inquiry time”. I couldn’t help but beam with my joy–Yes!, I thought, they will become genuine writers!

I firmly believe that when students get the “why” of writing and the “how” will come naturally because they are motivated to do the heavy lifting in their learning. So as we work through this unit of inquiry, I intend to find mentor texts to help support them and to “tune into” their voice so they develop their skills as writers.

I am wondering what others have done that has sparked a love of writing. What strategies and provocations have you used that got students motivated and energized about their work? Please share because it elevates teaching, not just in my classroom, but in other’s who read this blog. Sharing is caring! (:

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When I arrived at Vientiane International School, the primary school classroom walls were taken down either altogether or partially during the summer. This left no choice for teachers to figure out how they might manage this open concept idea. Would teachers coexist, cooperate or collaborate? How would they approach this new initiative by admin and how would they manage this new relationship to sharing their “teacher territory” with their peers? These were looming questions that began our teacher prep week at VIS and the context for the ideas I share.

Let’s be clear, there is a big difference between “coexisting”, “cooperating” and “collaboration”,  so I’d like to dissect these terms.

collaborateCoexisting in a space means that you both “live” there and tolerate each other and are friendly, but you are doing your own thing. Cooperating means that you are developing a relationship with another person because it is mutually beneficial to do so;  on occasion, you plan something together or share resources on a needs-based basis. Collaborating means that you co-labor together, working together toward a common goal, which could be done in parallel with each other, in supporting roles or as a tag team. It is a very powerful model for learning but it’s not an easy one to pull off and takes some time to develop a strong working relationship with the team of teachers.

According to the work of Ochan and Bill Powell,  there are 6 things that need to be considered and agreed upon before teachers begin to embark upon this professional journey:

  1. Roles and responsibilities: Figure out who is going to take the lead in what learning area. What systems and routines do you want to use in the classroom?
  2. Attitudes:  Assess what philosophies and practices you share in common. What can you agree upon?  How can you share joint-ownership for the students and the learning space?
  3. Planning: What are you going to plan together? What are you going to plan on your own? How will you share your planning with each other?
  4. Delivery of Instruction: How is the learning going to look? Will it be done in large or small groups? What will the groupings be based upon and what model of collaboration will you employ?
  5. Assessment of Student Learning: What tools and procedures will be in place to evaluate student progress? Who is assessing what students and how frequently will this be done? Where will these assessments be kept and how can team members access them?
  6. Evaluation and Reflection on the Learning:  How can teachers provide feedback on the effectiveness of the learning? How frequently will this be done and in what format? What norms must be established so that feedback is seen as a positive habit of reflection?

Looking at these 6 areas for collaboration, you can imagine the level of candidness and trust that is involved with teachers. You have to think collaboratively so you must find ways in which your ideas intersect with one another in order for mutual respect to be developed. You may not agree with everything but if you can articulate what is non-negotiable and develop shared values, then your team can rally around that.  You have to find the opportunities to connect and identify with each other so that a positive working relationship can start to form, as you begin to see the classroom as “ours” and not “my”.

As I start to begin this process with an unfamiliar group of teachers, it does seem a bit daunting to “nail this” straightaway. Our PYP Coordinator, Chad Walsh,  has really challenged us to examine our willingness towards collaboration. Just today my Grade 1 partner reminded me to not call one side of our space as “my” and “your” room and instead refer to it as “literacy” area and “maths” area.  I appreciated this gesture but it made me very aware that my thinking and language will definitely need to refine as we undergo this transformation. But the willingness and eagerness to try something new are shared by all the members, which makes this effort so much easier. As long as we work on these 6 areas, I know that we will reach the highest levels of collaboration.

What do you think is the most important area to focus on first as you develop collaboration between staff?

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

I’ve long held a suspicion that there is a difference between an administrator and a leader, but now I know it is the truth. My current school has suffered through major changes several times since I’ve been here and now it looks to restructure again with its expanded campus. Needless to say, this has provided a lot of fodder for me to consider what is my role at the school and made me reflect on what is the distinction between someone who sees themselves as a someone who “ticks off the boxes”, my definition of an administrator,  or someone who is in fact in command of the school, my definition of a leader. As I see, you can’t lead people who don’t want to follow you, but you still can be an administrator who manages things lovelessly.

Music Genre

And the difference between the two is what are the values of the person in charge: completing paperwork or developing trust. Whether or not someone at the top is an administrator or is a leader, they influence the culture of a school, but the outcomes of their decisions permeate all areas of school life. The perspectives they hold about education plays a major part in how school policies and procedures are shaped and implemented.

Some of the fault in exercising power comes from the fact that the higher you climb in a hierarchical structure (which most schools ascribe to), the more you are the target of criticism and complaints. How you handle being the target of these remarks and gossip makes a huge difference. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to be liked or do I want to be trusted. The nuances in this perspective cannot be underscored enough. To put simply, if you think of your title like winning a popularity contest then you will always be defending your title. If you think of your title as earning a vote of confidence, then you continue to work toward maintaining and developing the strengths of your organization.  When you are in a “title”, there is hubris and then there is humility that becomes the norms of a school.  You get to decide which will define your use of power.  Douglas MacArthur said it best:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

As I wrap up my school year and prepare to move to another school, I will store away the memories of these experiences. Although I will not be in a leadership title next year, I have come to understand that “words without actions” are meaningless, so I feel strongly that titles without real leadership qualities are void of any value. I am a bit disenchanted with any grabs at power at the moment because I have witnesseleadershipd first hand at how detrimental it can be when people thirst to be given power or maintain control over others. I have come to feel relief in taking some time to redefine what I am and how I can best serve my new school community and the field of education at large. Alas, that will be my new focus–out beyond the 4 walls of my school–and look to how I might contribute to making a difference, not just in the International Baccalaureate, but in the larger conversation that is taking place in education: What really matters for our learners as we look to the future?

What about you? What are your thoughts about school leadership? What perspectives am I missing?

Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

I think most of us can barely remember a time in which computers and the internet weren’t a part of our lives. We would have to go to libraries and read encyclopedias to gain knowledge on a topic. When internet search engines first appeared, information was at the tip of our fingertips, and I believe most of us have witnessed how the internet has become the go-to place for fact finding, replacing book learning at an alarming rate. However, for our digital natives, they don’t really know where the information ends and an opinion begins, as I have written about in Critical Consumption, however, there is a value of expressing an opinion as a source of identity and purpose for our students. In particular, how constructing less myopic viewpoints and developing broader perspectives are a becoming a necessity as we evolve in the workforce, of which education is supposed to prepare students for.

Listening to all the voices around them, streams of opinion. not information overload but opinion overload-that’s what social media has brought us. Everyone has a point of view and everyone gets a vote in my life.

Greg McKweon, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you can harken back to a time in which the main influences on our children were limited to mostlythe listener our families and close-knit members of our community, primarily in schools, churches, and other organizations that families participated in. In the past, they just had to manage the pressure and influences of a smaller group of people, but now that has really expanded to include so many ideas of pop culture. Nowadays the World Wide Web has the opportunity to expose students to a variety of ideas and theories, particularly on social media, in which ideas are narrowed into sound bites and memes; it’s easy for kids to get swept away by the flood of emotion and beliefs. I think it’s not so much finding our voice but hearing our voice in the midst of the deluge of ideologies and our culture’s status quo. They are being drawn into belonging to the larger world in which students might find themselves acting in ways in ways that are not really true to their nature. In other words, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with this onslaught of energy and emotion that is bombarding them, in the physical world and in the virtual world that they experience in their on-screen life. So we must help them to calm their minds and begin to trust their intuition, instead of impulsive reactions. But in order to do that, students must begin to develop habits of mental hygiene, in which they are clearing up the debris left behind from an experience (on or off-screen) or a conversation with a teacher, family member or friend, and the resulting feeling from that interaction.

Mindfulness in schools is one of those movements that are empowering students to create that space in their thoughts and in their emotions which can really make a positive impact over time. It is like “brushing one’s teeth” for the mind, and there have been several documentaries made about the transformation of students when they engage in this practice. Some schools are replacing detention with meditation and dramatic shifts are taking place in the culture of those schools. It’s like an emotional reset button and a powerful tool to use in our classroom. The 15 minutes you spend on watching this video below will really help you recognize why mindfulness is so vital and critical to bringing into our classrooms.

As someone who practices mindfulness and can speak first hand to its benefits, I know that it takes courage and effort to bring it into schools. There are a lot of myths about it, however, it is becoming less fringe and more mainstream in our cultures.

There are 5 main areas in which our attention can be focused upon which will yield the neurological benefits of mindfulness practice. You can do one or more of these in a session with students, and it can take anywhere from 2-20 minutes, depending on age and your willingness to develop these habits with students.

Concentrating on:

  1. Our breath: where we are breathing and the quality of that breath.
  2. Sensations in body parts: scanning our body, finding areas of tension and relaxation.
  3. Sensations of our emotion: where our emotion arises from and how does it make us feel.
  4. Thoughts:  our thought based on time, so is the thought that we are thinking on from a moment in the past or a possibility of what will happen in the future.
  5. Attention to details: noticing and appreciating smells, sounds, and sights.

Full disclosure here: I’d like to tell you that I fully implement daily meditation practice with my students, but I only do it half-heartedly for a myriad of reasons, least being the amount of interruption that I get from having my classroom be a hallway for others.  (Yes, my classroom is a hallway.) However, I do try to incorporate mindful acts in our day with brief moments of focus on our bodies, minds, and thoughts. I usually do 3 belly breaths, a mindful stretch when we line up, and a reflective question of the day. Sometimes we go on “listening walks”, and lately we’ve been trying to look more closely at nature in order to find patterns.  I’d like to do more, but that is where I am at in my journey to create mindfulness in my classroom. I do make attempts at carving out mindful moments in my day in a variety of ways, and I think this is a good first step.

As an IB educator, there is a desire to develop mindfulness and wellbeing in our students. As the Primary Years Programme (PYP) begins to embrace the ATLs (Approaches to Learning) that we see in Middle Years Programme (MYP), I know that more schools will begin integrating mindfulness into their school communities. Next year, I’ve been thinking about how I might do a proper routine incorporating mindfulness so I can make an earnest effort in this movement. I’ve been thinking about making a simple tool like a spinner that shows our emotions and having students rate how they feel before we begin our exercise and how we feel afterward by moving the hand of the spinner. Focusing in on our current state of emotion and evaluating where we are at the beginning of this journey and where we end up at the end of the practice is so important because it cultivates self-reflection and provides personal feedback of our experience.

I don’t know how others might have experimented with mindfulness and meditation in their classrooms, but I’d love to hear stories and share experiences. I know that these skills are actually as important, if not more important, than academic skills that we teach our students. And I think if more of us shared our struggles, then that could increase the willingness of other educators to try to create “an oasis of calm” and a culture of compassion in our schools and in the lives of our students.

I encourage you to leave a comment.  I’d love to hear how you teach “mental hygiene” to students.  Also feel free to connect with me @judyimamudeen or through this website.

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How to Escape the Trauma of a Door Closing (#IMMOOC)

How to Escape the Trauma of a Door Closing (#IMMOOC)

The door has closed. It was the last Twitter Chat for the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). A part of me feels empty while at the same time incredibly full. I learned a lot through our engagement online and was surprised at how much fun it was to do a “virtual book study”, all the while improving upon my consistency with my blog, using Twitter to connect with like-minded professionals and expanding my horizon when it comes to thinking about innovation in schools.  It wasn’t like any other professional development that I have ever done, which in and of itself was innovative–how genius!

Final thoughts on #IMMOC. So much shared and supported in the process.
As someone who teaches internationally, I live in an expat bubble in which most of our schools are incredibly competitive in our area. Contact with other educators outside my school is very limited and rarely inspiring–not that educators at other schools aren’t doing great things, but the collaboration relies on face to face interactions and maybe some email tag.  Outside of attending workshops, I go onto forums, read and comment on blogs and go onto FaceBook groups, but the level of responsiveness and interaction is limited. If you challenge or question someone’s idea, for example, they can ignore you rather than respond, which kind of defeats the point of posting things online–if you didn’t want to share and engage with others, than why did you bothering posting in the first place? (Just sayn’)

Innovation (and enjoyment) flourishes when teachers collaborate to learn and practice new strategies. Isolation is often the enemy of innovation. George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset

Up until now, it’s been a lonely process-especially when you go into leadership (more judgment/less support) -and sometimes it often feels like I’m peddling uphill. I’ve really felt limited by my circumstances so it’s easy to make an excuse and shrug off growth.  It was fantastic to be with other educators who were willing to struggle and could maintain the level of commitment that was demanded in our engagement. When George asked us to “innovate inside the box”, it was a relief to feel okay with where we were at, not just in our professional journeys but also where our school was in the bigger scheme of things. Collectively we had a common purpose: we questioned, we tried, we reflected and we were vulnerable. We were learners. As something that happened virtually, it sure felt real and authentic. But, sigh, it’s over now. I will miss these shared challenges with fellow educators, but does it have to end? How will I manage the trauma I feel when a special experience like this comes to an end?

Well, truth be told, it doesn’t have to be over!  It is my choice to let the journey begin rather than end. I can consolidate the changes in my mindset and yet continue to build upon this new perspective. I can stay connected with these fellow IMMOOCers in our FB group and on Twitter. I have become followers of them on Twitter and I’ve subscribed to many of their blogs so I can continue to engage with their ideas and continue to encourage their great work. The support doesn’t have to end just because the MOOC did. And I hope that they too stay connected to me and continue to challenge my effort and ideas. I’d love that! Because, as George Couros reminds us, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“.

The desire to be innovative and awesome at what we do is likely right under our noises.
And if there is one change that I’ve made throughout these past 5 weeks, it is recognizing that I am not really destitute and languishing.  I don’t need permission to be innovative. I can start where I am, and honor that people may be at other stages in their willingness to innovate.  Moreover, instead of seeing my “box” as a closed door to opportunity, I need to find those windows in which I can crawl through–to reach and inspire my students and support the teachers who I know want to be the best version of themselves. There’s a lot of great stuff that may seem hidden from plain view but it’s there, and for the next 2 months, I can do the best I can and finish the year strong.

So with that in mind, I decided to stay committed to the process and signed up for a 6-month course with AJ Juliani in his Innovative Teaching Academy (#ita17). I’m so excited to go deeper and really put this mindset to work–sharpen the stone, sort of speaking. I know that there are other IMMOOCers who are along the journey with me, which makes it even more exciting.

I don’t know where you are at as an educator right now, but I swear to you that you are not alone and if you are diligent and patient, your tribe will emerge. You can jump on this crazy train if you like. I invite you to connect with me @judyimamudeen or shoot me an email. There is no need to wait for tomorrow to be awesome today.

One last parting quote from George Couros Innovator’s Mindset:

We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.

Let’s stay curious, find the YES in the no, and be problem solvers. Together we can be the change that we wish to see in education.

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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