The Mindful Classroom

by Connie Morris

From my days as a student, to a long-time educator, I will never outgrow the first day of school excitement. Our back-to-school is a week out, and I have restless nights, to-do lists, shopping lists (which comes with a price tag) and felt the summer days slip away. I spend time setting up the class environment to be welcoming, warm and stress-free. I am not alone; I am surrounded by teachers doing the same thing. And even before one student walks through our doors, we need to remind ourselves of the words we hear prior to take-off when flying:

In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”

Secure your mask first. We do travel with children every day. If you want to create a mindful classroom, encompassing social emotional learning, you need to take time for self-care. Studies have supported adult stress can affect children’s stress levels. It is important we model the behaviors we are hoping to develop. We are managing students, the learning process, health, behavior and emotions. That is stressful! Don’t forget to use these hints for school in your own life.

Take a few breaths. Deep breathing can quiet our minds. It will release stress, anger, and frustration. Neuroscience explains focusing on and changing your breath also changes the chemicals in your brain. It is an exciting lesson for older students teaching how we, as humans, have this ability. Deep breathing is a great tool when addressing the Social Emotional Learning component of managing emotions.Join your students in starting each day with mindful minutes. Start small and add time as you all grow in this skill. Take a slow breath in while counting to four, then slowly breath out to the count of four as you exhale. Give verbal reminders throughout the day to students when they can transfer this skill as they need it.

Take breaks. Stress happens! Teaching children to take a break, walk or go get a sip of water is a coping skill that can last a lifetime. Go on a mindful walk when the class seems to need a bit of quiet time. Look for season changes, four-leaf clovers or search for nature items. You and your students will return learning-ready!

Move! Mindful movement binds the body and mind. You can create space and time for this in your schedule or for individual needs. Yoga mats are helpful boundaries, but any space will do. Using visuals will help everyone stretch, twist and balance. Studies support mindful movement increases focus, academics, self-management and social skills.

Practice mindfulness. Allow the students to sit comfortably. Play quiet music and dim the lights. Take a thorough body scan, from head to toe, releasing any stress or tension they are aware of. This is a great time to offer lotion for their hands. Instruct them to rub their hands together quickly and then cup their hands on either side of their face and take a deep breath. Try this for three breaths, not only is it relaxing, but your room will smell great!

Be grateful. In even the most challenging situations, gratitude changes our outlook on things. By practicing gratitude, we rewire our brains to see the positive. What better skill could we hope for in our students. Our attitude is contagious! Help students recognize and verbalize each other’s strengths. Your room will become a warm and nurturing environment naturally.

At the end of your day, when your head hits the pillow, allow yourself to relax and reflect. Be thankful for your career, for your students and for the difference you make. Take a few breaths, scan your body and let go of any stress, and most of all, be positive. You are special!

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