I recently had the opportunity to present a Teacher Self Care workshop to colleagues. It was a fabulous way to (try to) take those seemingly endless hours of personal development, all undertaken in the pursuit of finding my happy place, and put it all into some kind of organised thought. As it turned out, I was unable to run the workshop as ironically, I wasn’t well enough; I am fortunate however, to have the opportunity to share a little of what I had prepared with our SMILE Teachers community!
As teachers we are switched on seemingly all the time; be it physically, mentally, or both. And when we aren’t actually at school we are often working on preparation, or assessment, or reporting, or shooting the ‘teacher look’ at the naughty kid on the escalators…We’re pretty much always playing our role, which we love, as much as it’s often mentally draining.
Many of us (know we should?) prioritise our physical health and head to the gym, play a weekly sport, walk the dog, or engage in other forms of physicality.
Mindfulness is another way to allow ourselves to switch off for a while, in order to start prioritising our mental health as a focus in our day to day being.
So, what’s the difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?
There are many wonderful forms of meditation, including contemplation and visualization, but mindfulness is the practice of bringing your full mind to an object, sound or particular thought.
Mindfulness is relaxation and self-awareness. It is the simple practice of being present; you’ll often hear mindfulness referred to as being ‘in the moment’.
With time and with regular practice, you might find that practicing mindfulness can assist you to experience less stress, anxiety and worry. But, like a sport or exercise, you actually have to allocate some time and apply some regular training to make it work. Just like any new skill, the acquisition of true mindfulness will take time – but the more you do it the more you’ll want to keep doing it. Finding time will be hard some days – but the more you practice being mindful, the more you’ll want to keep practicing and the easier it will become. Yes, you will possibly fall asleep – but in the right place, at the right time, that might be exactly what you need!
I recommend you start with the Smiling Mind app – sign up, it’s free, it’s Australian (yay) and you can access it on your phone or laptop. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted, turn off that bloody phone and open your mind…
As teachers, we are always on the lookout for quick, practical and realistic methods of relaxation.
What is Mindfulness? (2 minutes)
Paying attention to what is happening rather than what you think is happening.
One minute exercise (3 minutes, 41 seconds)
For before you get out of the car, before the kids come back inside from recess…
Mindful Mindset (4min, 04sec)
Daily Commute and Digital Detox
Explore and find what’s right for you.
Try as many or as few as you like – there are no rules!
Mindfulness in Schools
I’m sure many of you are already using mindful techniques in daily classroom practice. Now, bear in mind that I teach primary school; of late it has been mainly junior school however variations of these techniques have worked well in the upper school also. This practice is easily introduced during the first week or so together, as we get to know our class protocols. If the expectation is there then it doesn’t take long for it to become the norm.
Early on, have the lights low and some ‘lala music’ playing as students enter the room; setting the mood if you like. I always say to students that the reason we line up outside the classroom prior to going inside, is to tell our bodies that the time for running around and playing is finished and we’re now getting ready for learning. Once students come inside, they are well practiced in coming straight to the floor, sitting comfortably and ‘feeling our bodies being calm and quiet.’
Apply the old positive praise for students who are able to come straight to the floor and remind the class about the importance of looking after our bodies and minds by speaking calmly and indirectly. I generally say something along the lines of…
“Well done to those children who are sitting quietly on the floor… they’re feeling their body being calm and quiet and soon their mind will be too…it’s ok to close your eyes, that way you aren’t being distracted by anything going on around you…you only have one job now and that’s to breathe, slowly and calmly…in gently through your nose and out through your mouth…in…two…three… (hold for one count)…out...two…three… (hold for one count)…(gradually slow down the counting/breathing)…now when you feel ready, open your eyes and be ready for learning by showing whole body listening.”
Another practice I use with Foundation to Grade 6, is some gentle stretching; again with the intention of “Feeling your body being calm and quiet.” Students sit cross legged on the floor (or in chairs for older students.) Once slow, gentle breathing has been established, ask them to gently lift their faces upwards, breathing in as they go. “Breath in gently through your nose…one, two, three… and out through your mouth” as they touch their chin to their chest. Repeat, emphasising that the actions should be gentle stretches.
Continue with this method of controlled breathing with the turning of heads to the left (breathe gently in through the nose) then back to centre (breathe out through the mouth) and to the right (breathe gently in through the nose) and back to centre (breathe out through the mouth). Repeat.
Finally, ask students to… “Stretch your arms forwards, pushing like you are closing a door with the tips of your fingers. You should feel from the top of your shoulders, right down through your fingertips. Push, then turn your hands over and make a fist (palm side up). Squeeze your fists tight, now bring your elbows backwards. Squeeze muscles tight and push forwards again, feeling from your shoulders down to your fingertips. Turn your palms up, make a fist and pull your elbows backwards. Now, gently shake your arms by your sides. Nod your head if you can feel your arms tingling…feeling calm and quiet…”
I have always said “calm and quiet”, I’m not even sure why, it just seems to work for me. Some schools have a preferred phrase; the Berry Street Education Model, for example, uses the term “Feeling present, centred and grounded.” For mine, I say use what works for you and your kids. Did you actually try this stretching as you were reading? How did you go? Let me know if you have a go with your class! I’d love to hear more about what you are using in your classrooms! Please leave some comments so we can all have a bit of a share J.
Once your kids are used to this method of becoming calm and quiet and ready for learning, they will start to manage the process independently. That’s when you can talk to them about the concept of self-regulation. I just say that we can hear when a car’s engine is very noisy, and that’s because it’s running too quickly instead of at its regular speed. Like a car engine, we work best when our body is operating at a regular pace, and that is what we call regulation. When we feel like we are running too quickly, we are able to practice self-regulation. Our gentle breathing and stretching is a great way to self-regulate, and so is practicing Mindfulness.
Applying Mindfulness in Classrooms
Now for some more formal classroom practices. As always there are many great (and unfortunately some not so great) programs, apps and approaches available to utilise in our classrooms. Here are the ones I really like…
Mindfulness is a skill that can build the foundations for optimal student concentration and attention. A regular mindfulness practise can have positive benefits on both students and educator engagement.
The Mindfulness Curriculum is something I would love to bring into regular practice at my school. It’s based around 20 topics which have been mapped to the Australian Curriculum and supports students in Year 1 to Year 6 to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social management skills.
The mindfulness based lessons and practices provide a consistent and practical approach to teaching and exploring these topics with students, as well as providing students with an opportunity to develop practical skills and strategies which support good mental health and wellbeing.
Fun ones for kids, especially when learning Mindfulness techniques.
Guided Mindfulness Meditations
The Bubble Journey – The Land of Mindfulness (7min 40sec)
A Longer Bubble Journey (9min 35sec)
Being mindful, actively practicing mindfulness, is something worth making the time to do. For me, I take about one minute at the end of my shower each morning. I let the hot water flow over my neck and I concentrate on the comforting warmth and sense of calm that it brings. I use that time every morning to practice gratitude; ever thankful for the beautiful, fresh hot water that I am able to enjoy every morning, in a world where many walk for miles to just get water at all. We are blessed in this country and I am thankful every day.
And though it may not be Mindfulness per se, every morning, I start my day feeling gratitude for my family, the roof over our heads, the food on our table and the fact that I spend my day with children. How can I not smile with such rich blessings?
Have a great week everyone.