Between now and June 19th our school calendar has only 8 weeks left. Just thinking about that makes my heart palpitate with a bit of excitement and anxiety. Many people are always counting down, crossing out the days and weeks on their schedules and wishing away the time but I think it is critical to slow down and savor these moments. These moments after all are what make up our precious lives.
Jon Kabot-ZInn defines ‘Mindfulness’ as being aware in the present moment, paying attention in a particular way without judgement. This takes mental effort every day. Honestly, I understand the desire to race towards the summer months, where we have weeks off with our families. It’s hard not to fantasize and romanticize about spending time with our family and friends, wherever home may be.
This week my intention is simply to create more space in my head, my heart and in my life to be more present in the moment.
I aim to ask myself these questions every day and to work on a daily reflection at night.
What worked today?
What did you do that kept you in the present moment?
Were you aware of your breath?
What didn’t work?
What distracted you?
What is your ultimate heartfelt desire?
What is your intention for tomorrow?
What is your next step forward?
Strive to stay in the now, be aware of your breath, go easy on yourself.
A mindful teacher offers his/her students time daily to breathe and connect to sensations and feelings. It truly only takes five minutes to do so.
One of my teaching partners, Paul Johnson, offers his students five-minute mindfulness breaks throughout the day. They have full autonomy over when, where, and how they take these breaks. The only time that the students cannot access their five-minute mindfulness break is during those crucial times when whole class instructions are being delivered. Other than those times, the students are totally free to choose when they want to take their mindfulness breaks.
Here is a list of just some of the choices available to them:
All that Mr. Johnson requires is that the students use the sign up sheet beside the door to record their name, the time they took their mindfulness break, and how they feel going out and how they feel coming back in. There are stopwatches available for the students to use to keep track of time. Once they grab these stopwatches, they are free to go.
Upon their return, they record the time and assess how they are feeling or how emotions may have changed. At any point in the day, they can take advantage of these breaks whenever they feel the need. They are encouraged to use these mindfulness breaks both wisely and responsibly for there is no real limit on how many times they can use them.
As I have taught on the grade 4 team all year, I can say with full certainty that I have seen these mindfulness breaks have a very positive impact on the students. Here are just a few responses from the students themselves regarding the mindfulness break option.
"It is a great opportunity to feel more awake and refreshed."
If you try this out with your students let me know how it goes. I assure you that it they will love the freedom to choose when and how they need to take their breaks.
Strive to connect, release control, and be present.
This past weekend my husband, Andy, and my eldest son, Eli, traveled to the city of Suzhou in eastern China, about 220 kilometers from us here in Nanjing. The reason being that Eli was participating in his first track and field meet.This meant that Tai, my youngest, and I had quality time together for the day. We lingered in our pajamas in the morning, Tai had hot chocolate and I had strong coffee respectively and then headed off to soccer practice at 11:00.
“You know Mom, there is a boy in my class who doesn’t have any friends,” Tai reported as we shared lunch together. “He talks kind of slow and says words differently but he’s really polite.” Tai then went on to say, “Maybe I’ll help him more, umm you know like, once he didn’t really understand what we had to do in class so I explained it to him.” What a compassionate little guy my son is. This moment warmed me and made me smile.
When Tai was sharing this story with me I had slouched over the table to get down to his level, and I was looking right into his eyes, I reminded myself to remain fully present. My eyes were solely focused on the color of his gorgeous hazel eyes. Wow, it had occurred to me that I hadn’t genuinely looked into his eyes very much this week at all. I noticed I was calm and grateful that we were sharing a lovely Saturday lunch, eating Japanese food, his very favorite and it was just the two of us.
‘Drishti' is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly into ‘focused gaze’ the technique is used to develop concentration and aims to tether you to the present moment. I’ve specifically used drishit in yoga balancing postures, to keep my mind engaged and focused. These focal points have always helped me maintain better balance while holding challenging yoga postures for several breaths. Personally, I think of it as a way to center myself by deleting the distractions around me so that I can work on the postures. I was reminded of drishti as I was looking into Tai’s sweet eyes.
As my students come into the classroom each morning, I try to greet them by looking into their eyes and say hello. If they don’t look at me, I ask them to pause to look up so we can make eye contact and share a smile as I say their name with a morning salutation. The reason that I do this is to let my students know that I am present and available for them and I want them to know that I care for them.
One of the exercises that I do with my students during our drama sessions together is called a circle gaze.
We begin by splitting the class into two groups and form two concentric circles.
The students who line the inner circle face the outer circle and the outer circle students face the inner circle. Each person has a partner that they are facing and the goal is to gaze as deeply into their eyes as possible. Before we begin, I ask the students to resist the urge to look away, laugh or make funny faces. It takes a lot of focus and is an excellent activity to practice.
I ask the students to linger with their eyes and remain present with awareness of their breath. I’ve done this practice with and without music. It truly is up to each teacher to make this choice.
To reflect we offer up how the experience was in a whole group circle, I will usually ask each person to share how they felt. The option to pass is always available.
Last time, I did this with a grade 5 class one student reflected “that was awkward but it made me realize how we don’t make eye contact often enough.”
So for my #MindsetMonday, the point of focus this week is to connect with intentional eye contact with all of my students, colleagues, friends and family members. It will allow me an additional reminder to strive to be present in the moment with kindness and curiosity.
A couple of pointers here if you aim to do this Monday mindset with your own students:
If you aren’t comfortable trying it out right away with your students, aim to do it with your loved ones and pay close attention to how it feels.
Don’t strain your eyes or freak anybody out by staring a little too aggressively.
The muscles around the eyes should be soft and at ease.
Bring your attention to your breath and each time you do, let it be a big spacious breath throughout the torso.
Strive to be present with kindness, connect with others and breathe fully,
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily