Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Day 13- Tuesday Morning, Tuesday Afternoon

Today was thankfully a typical Tuesday, relatively uneventful, though there was added excitement due to TAA in the morning- TAA is always a more exciting day because the Technology and Applied Arts courses tend to be more interesting to them-  and we were preparing for our field trip tomorrow. Almost all of our students handled everything well, especially as we all sat together for the last hour of the day and discussed the expectations for the next day, including behaviours, rules and the writing assignments we will be doing. In the end, they demonstrated that we are in for an awesome day tomorrow, with the forecast still sunny and 20 degrees, I don't think anyone is more excited than me for our day of writing at The Forks.

But  before we get to tomorrow, there was today and two very different meditations- one in the morning and one in the afternoon.The morning began with my homeroom and after a brief event in the first 30 seconds it was exceptionally quiet.

The day began with the usual housekeeping, letting them know we would be changing the afternoon schedule to accommodate the time to prepare for the field trip and work ahead tomorrow, as well as a more official introduction of our new student to our classroom.

Before I began the meditation Student B confirmed that we would indeed be meditating, and then as I began the student beside him indicated that he no longer felt the need to move away from his friend. He told me they could handle sitting beside him, and I agreed that they've got this. I let them know how far they had come in such a short time, them and everyone.

Student A took a little longer to get settled this morning. He had been drawing-drawing what I hoped would be the start of the Minecraft plan I am hoping he will get going on, as it is the one thing he told me he wished he could learn and do at school, and so I told him to make a plan and I would set him up with the teacher who could give him access at school- but he quickly abandoned it and was in the process of ripping up the paper as we were about to begin the meditation.

Just before I began, he threw the paper in the recycling bin, and as I started he very methodically began putting all his stuff away. I took about 30 seconds and though he was quiet, he was also very deliberate and purposeful and the process wasn't silent. He returned paper into his binder and snapped the rings closed, then he put couple of pencils and his pencil crayons into the pouch and zipped it up. and finally flipped his binder closed and zipped it shut too. The noise was very noticeable because the room was otherwise silent but no one paid much attention but me, or at least they didn't give it any power. I watched without saying anything, curious how far it would go, but once he was done, he folded his arms over his binder, titled his cap over his eyes, put his head down and was still and silent for the rest of the time. He needed to get ready in his own time and make sure I was aware of that, but once he was ready he was good to go. I am okay with that, for now.

As we came to the end of the meditation, I lingered in the silence for just a moment between the end of the music and the cues to bring them back and turning on the lights. It was just a breath or two, but it was lovely. As we ended I told them that and how I felt in the moment, enjoying the peace in our classroom. I thanked them for their efforts and congratulated their skills and growth. Then, as usual, we got on with our day.

I saw my switch class right after lunch, as the morning was TAA, and perhaps as a result they were a little more restless, or maybe it was just Tuesday. Within the first 3-5 minutes, just as we were about to begin, two kids told me they had to go to the bathroom. I said if they really had to leave, of course they could, because I hate questioning a kid's sense of urgency, and I acknowledged to the class that sometimes after lunch it is harder to gauge, so that if it was urgent they can always leave- we have a system where a student writes their name on the board indicating they are out of the room and erases it when they return with 2 people allowed to leave at a time- but that during meditation they should be mindful of everyone else and try not to leave.

I also reminded them that they deserve to give themselves this time, that they are important, more important than anything they have to do, as a couple of boys had their noses in their books, reading by the light of the interior windows. I encouraged them to stop, and reminded them how it could affect their eyes, but they continued reading through the meditation. This is not the first time I have had avid readers, or kids who avoid meditating with books, it usually comes and goes depending on what they are reading and where they are sitting, as some parts of the room are much darker than others. I will see how it goes and if it persists too much, or I feel it is harmful, I will have some quiet conversations and talk about the benefits of balancing all of our good habits and preserving the health of our eyes.

After a couple of minutes, the two who had left the room came back. One boy let the door swing behind him, and I was too far away to catch it before it slammed shut. It was a momentary disturbance, but added to the restlessness already present. The second boy came back, mindfully closing the door behind him, but these things are still noticeable. As soon as he came in, two boys on either side of the room jumped up as if to leave. At that point I realized I needed to spell out what I had meant by urgent, and with only a minute or two left to go, I had had enough. I replaced the number I was counting it a calm but firm, "NO" and shut the revolving door, without missing a beat. "Inhale, 2, 3, NO, hold, 2, exhale 2, 3, 4," and then we finished the meditation.

As soon as we did and I turned on the lights, I let the two people who wanted to leave know that now they could, and though I wasn't surprised I was still relieved when neither jumped up to leave the room as I sat down to talk to them. I spoke about the idea of planning and urgency. They do have all of lunch hour, and if it is suddenly urgent at one, unless they are sick, then they also needed to go before and to be sure that they do. I emphasized the impact it has on others, as well as the attention the need to pay to the door if they absolutely must leave the room. As I finished, I also let them know I wasn't at all angry or upset with anyone, or anything they had done, that it was all part of our learning and it was simply important to be aware of themselves and others. Then we moved on to our class en Francais and the rest of the afternoon.

And now I am back to looking forward to tomorrow. Sunny and 20, hoping for the best. Hope you have an awesome Wednesday too.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Day 12- A Better Monday

The beginning of the last week in September and we are hitting our stride. Today was a much better Monday. It was also a Day 3 and it made for an interesting day, an early meditation, a late meditation and a moment to breathe in between.

I began with my switch class for LA.To clarify for a few who have asked, I share two classes with my teaching partner Mr. Y. My class is my homeroom class and his class is my switch class, because we switch classes for certain subjects. He teaches Math and Science, I teach English Language Arts (ELA or just LA) and basic French, and we co-teach Social Studies, bringing both our classes together. We set our schedule at the beginning of the year, based on the timetable we were given by administration and provincial guidelines for curriculum and hours of instruction per subject.

Day 3 is the day I don't see my class on their own until the last period of the day. I began with my switch for LA. As I introduced the day, I noted it was the beginning of the last week in September, and along with the sunny forecast for our field trip on Wednesday, we were coming to the end of the inhale, 2, 3, 4 for the entire meditation. I let them know that next week we would be beginning different meditations, opening our potential to work with our breath in different ways, now that they had gained experienced with their breathing and know how to meditate.

Then we began our meditation. It was clearly Monday morning as the room got very quiet, very quickly, especially for this class. Almost everyone put their heads down, including the boys who like to work and draw, and the girls who like to try to carry on their conversations, without any actual words. One girl, who likes to look around, did, and the other boy who looks at me made eye contact once and then put his head down. I guess everyone needed to rest, and it seemed to reenergize.

When we were done, we rearranged the desks and they got into small groups to share their Six Word Memoirs. Everyone had something to share and everyone participated. They weren't entirely enthusiastic about the written component, responding to peers memoirs, but that will come as they gain experience and stamina. Overall, the small group sharing went very well.

Speaking of stamina, after the sharing, but before the class ended and we moved into Social Studies, I warned them that I wasn't certain if we would meditate again in Social Studies, and if we did meditate I wasn't sure when we would do it, but it would probably be at the end of the class. I told them that when I plan our classes, I leave some parts very flexible, so I can measure how things go and how everybody feels, so I don't always know how things will go or how long discussions will take.

Our topic was our continuing discussion of the meaning of the words, Society, Culture and Stereotypes and the connection to Orange Shirt Day coming up this Friday, September 30. Orange Shirt Day is for Every Child Matters, part of the movement towards Reconciliation. It honours the children of the Residential School System, both survivors and those who perished. It was inspired by the story of a girl named Phyllis who was stripped of her orange shirt, as well as her dignity, culture and family in Residential School. For more information, check out http://www.orangeshirtday.org/ or google it.

 Then just before break, I told them whatever happened in the class, I knew they would do their best and be their awesome selves.

In the previous class Mr. Y had already rearranged the desks and so getting back into their groups from the previous class went very smoothly. I told them we were going to get into some serious discussion, and reiterated what I had said to the other class. Then before we started, I told them we weren't going to do a full meditation, but we would instead take a moment to prepare for the hour or so ahead. I felt everyone was already ready to go and this was a natural moment- we didn't need more.

Mr. Y offered to turn off the lights, but I didn't even feel like that was necessary. I wanted everyone to be more alert and I wanted it all to be on the spot, without having to do anything at all, because that is the beauty of these moments. I told everyone, wherever they were sitting, to relax in their seats, straightening their backs as much as possible.  Mr. Y's room is a large science lab. While everyone was sitting in groups they were all facing the front, where I was standing, behind the large desk, which is slightly raised. I stood up straight, leaning naturally on the desk, and when I told everyone to close their eyes, I closed my eyes too.

I said we would all take three deep breaths together and I took three long, deep breaths which were likely audible, even in the back, but not forced or loud. Again, in that split second at the start, I was a little worried, could they do it? Would they keep it together? Would someone ruin it?

But in those three deep breaths I listened to the silence, somewhat amazed, yet not really surprised, and totally grateful. Those breaths didn't last very long, and I couldn't see Student A, who had been carefully placed in the middle of the room, with space around him to fidget and draw (or rip up the paper into a thousand pieces, which at least he cleaned up as he left), or Student B, who had risen the challenge when placed in a strong group of students and was sitting at the back, but they too were silent. It was a glorious 3 breaths.

As they ended, I guided them through 3 more breaths, suggesting they prepare for the class ahead, to visualize their focus, listening, participation, and most importantly taking care of themselves. We took two more silent breaths and then we got into some amazing discussion of Society and Culture and ultimately, colonization or one society taking over another's culture, leading to Residential Schools and Orange Shirt Day.

Whether it was the moments to breathe, or our awesome students, or the combination, it was an amazing class. Students were respectful and engaged, to the point that we rarely had to ask for attention, even when I was doing a lot of talking.

The most remarkable moment occurred during our movement break. Sitting for such a long time is impossible, or at least not desirable to me, and so we build a break into our class. At about the halfway mark, we stopped for 5 minutes and I set the timer, asking they be back in their seats when the chime sounded. As we counted down the last 5 seconds, everyone was already seated and ready to go. These are the moments that count the most for me, and I always make sure I tell them,

After lunch, I saw my switch class for French, then everyone was off to gym and Band/Exploratory (exactly what it sounds like- the class for non-band (it's a choice) students where we do all sorts of things- art, building projects, social games, being active, researching topics- exploring stuff), and finally they came back to me at the end of the day for French.

They were all sitting down, and as I began in French, I almost forgot that we hadn't meditated that day. But I didn't, and as I let them know I had remembered we had to meditate, there was a lot more joy than dismay-even Student B cheered a little.

Student A was out of the room and everyone else settled in quickly, and though they were quiet, the meditation was not without distractions. I began everything as usual, also noting with this group that we are already coming to the end of September, and as we began, on girl had to leave them room. She got up silently, closing the door behind her. Then an EA had to come in and get something for my new, new student, the student I received in exchange for my new student, who was not finding his place in the busyness and noise of my classroom, and both classes working together, and was switched to another room. My new, new student has different needs due to visual impairment, and so had to leave before she could join our meditation today, but has already told me she loves meditating. She is also almost as loud as I am, so we are a good fit, and I am happy to have her, but during today's meditation the result was people coming in and out of the room.

After the first student came back in and sat down, all quietly, another boy had to leave. We made eye contact and the look in his face made it clear that we was concerned that he had to leave, but he had to go. He tried to be very quiet as he left, but sometimes that makes even more noise, which happened today, and he demonstrated was not his intention, but caused heads to turn and a slight giggle. With one gentle redirection, the room became silent again and the meditation continued, even as he returned a short while later.

After the meditation ended I congratulated all of them on their power, both those meditating and those who had to go, but did so with the most respect they could. I let them know sometimes things happen and our power is in how we respond and how we take care of ourselves. If they were going in and out in the middle of meditations every day, we would be having a different conversation, but sometimes we have to go and then I want them to do what they need to do, as respectfully as possible. Just like they did today.

Then I told them two stories about kids who didn't do that, both over ten years ago. One student was so concerned about being at school he came when he should have stayed home. Right in the middle of the morning meditation, he puked all over his desk. It was gross. Another time, a girl didn't want to interrupt, but I noticed something happening with her and her friend. I went over and asked what was wrong and her friend told me she was having an asthma attack and didn't want to interrupt to get her inhaler. I told them that not being able to breathe is a good reason to interrupt and to make sure they did, because some days are like that. I let them know I was also thankful that wasn't today. Then we wrapped up the day with some games in French.

Some days are better than others- I am grateful today was a good day.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Day 11- More Loving-Kindness on a Friday

Day 2 is my best day and when it falls on a Friday it is even better. I was at the university last week, because, of course, that fell on Day 2, and the next two Day 2s fall on the High Holy Days, so my substitute will benefit from the relaxed flow of the day, so today I was especially happy that it was Day 2 and that it was Friday.

It was my first Day 2 with my students and what I realized was, that though it was indeed relaxed, it  is going to be an even weirder than Day 3. I really didn't see my students much at all. The day began with Band/Exploratory and then went into choir. This is an optional class, but over half of my students participate. Those who remained passed the period playing board games, reading or drawing as they chose. Jenga was a popular choice, with 3 different matches happening at one point, and Students A and B managed to join in the games, without annoying each other or anybody else. It was a nice way to start the morning.

After break, my class went to Math and my switch class joined me for ELA- English Language Arts. After our meditation, they too would have time to finish their Six Word Memoirs, which we will share next week. Before we got to work, I introduced Peace Days and reminded them about METTA meditations. Three girls sat together at a table meant for two and were a little chatty as I was beginning, so I challenged them to show me they could handle the configuration, or else I would ask one of them to move to one of the empty spots. I also told them that would be their only warning and it was all they needed. I didn't have to talk to them again at all. 

I went over much of what I said yesterday, with an emphasis on the idea that by focusing on compassion, caring and positive emotions and thinking of others, we can increase our level of compassion and grow our positive emotions. As we prepared to begin, I also reminded them of the disruption movement brings, even if it is not actual noise. I demonstrated how fidgeting with a bottle or binder, flipping pencils and other subtle movements can actually be quite obvious, especially during meditation. I reminded them that they were more important than anything they had to do, and challenged them to put everything away, especially the boys who had been working on their pieces from the moment they sat down. When it was clear they were going to remain focused on their drawings, I told them I didn't mind as long as they chose one pencil and didn't fidget and make noise choosing pencils. Then I started the music and turned off the lights, and everyone else settled into the meditation,

Most of the students put their heads down. A few were sitting straight, eyes closed, and a couple were sitting straight with their eyes open. Neither were calling attention to themselves, nor did they seem to be looking anywhere in particular, for the most part- they were just sort of looking around. At one point, on of the girls became, or caused, a silent distraction with the girl beside her, but moving to their proximity and eye contact stopped it from escalating.

At one point, I noticed one of the boys who had kept his eyes open watching me very closely. When I saw him looking at me, and we made eye contact, I just smiled at him, but I really couldn't read his big eyes or intentions. I was uncertain whether he wanted attention, was very curious, or is just very accustomed to following his teachers' moves, which he does in class, as well as actively participating. At some point I am sure I will ask him, especially if it continues, as it is certainly interesting to me and I would love to know what he was thinking.

The meditation, though longer than usual, went quickly, as it generally does. The minute of silent gratitude began more or less at the same time as it did yesterday and with this class I was more concerned someone would break the complete silence between track, as more students were alert, seemingly more anxious for it to be over. They did a good job remembering I had told them I would let them know in advance when it was done, and though their awkwardness was palpable, my smiles must have helped a little, because they didn't disrupt the silence or take away from anyone else's experience. 

Like yesterday, when we finished I mentioned the same information about the brain, the benefits and our ability to affect our brain's development and grow compassion, as I did yesterday. This class was less engaged in discussion and questions, but still respectful and interested as they listened. It didn't take long, and then we were off to work.

Then a funny thing happened in the afternoon. I completely forgot we hadn't meditated that day. I did what I did as a natural part of what I do, and only remembered we didn't do a formal meditation when I was chatting with my mom about writing this blog after school. Though I technically forgot, meditation is a natural part of what I do, and the mini-meditation, which came as a spontaneous and intrinsic part of my teaching, seemed to do the trick. It is weird to me that I forgot, yet at the same time not surprising at all, and something I will have to note for future Day 2s. But for today, it all worked and I am grateful.

Right after lunch, we had prep time as our students went to TAA, Technology and Applied Arts, after which we ended the day with our joint library time, through which we plan to foster independent work time, access to computers, academic choice and self regulation. After debating how we would use the time, and whether both classes could be in the library together- it's big, but not that big- and successfully get work done on a Friday afternoon, we decided we would set the expectations we want to achieve and give them the opportunity to reach them. Mr. Y needed to talk to his class for a few minutes and so I brought my class in first and his joined us a short time later.

As I got my class settled in the library, I told them what we expected during our the time there- that they had the choice to work on anything they wanted as long as they are working on something. I outlined their choices on the board by priority of due dates, the memoirs and Science due on Monday if they hadn't finished in class, their ongoing novel studies, Math and some options for Math computer games- plenty to choose from. At this point in the afternoon I had still completely forgotten that we hadn't seen each other to meditate that day and told them we weren't going to do a full meditation. Instead I told them we would just take a moment, and suggested they get comfortable in their chairs and close their eyes. Then we took a few deep breaths and I told them to visualize their choices- to set a plan in their heads and imagine their actions and carrying them out. Then we took a few more deep breaths, all in all maybe 2 minutes, and we got to work.

Before we had begun, I gave them advance warning that I was going to give them some information, they would get to work, and when Mr. Y's class came in I was going to stop their work, give both classes more information that both classes needed but I didn't want to repeat, and then they would have to get back to the flow of their work. When that happened about 10 minutes later, my class was able to come back, listen to the information- most new, with a little repetition- and then go back to work again. Student A got some computer time, played some Math games, some other games and didn't bother anyone else. Student B was "reading" on the beanbag chairs with a couple of his friends. Whether they actually read 1 page or 10, they interacted appropriately, didn't call attention or get in trouble, and hopefully felt good about themselves and their learning. Everyone else was engaged in a variety of work and activities, from working out Math problems on the whiteboard, to finishing homework, while I got a bunch of students set up on Edmodo, which I tell kids is Facebook for school. It was a very successful and productive couple of periods in our library.

It was a really wonderful way to end the week. It is especially rewarding to see some of the routines become routine and expectations being met, at least most of the time. Even though it could all go out the window again on Monday, I am grateful for this Friday, this day 2 and especially this weekend to come.

I hope you all enjoy too. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. 

Day 10- Growing Loving-Kindness for Peace Days

That Winnipeg is coming up on the end of Peace Days, a Festival of Peace and Compassion, was a good reason to start the morning with a Metta meditation, with a focus on peace and sending our caring and compassion into the world, but it wasn't the reason why we started the day that way.

After having a day off yesterday, I felt it was important that we really take the time to get grounded today, before they had the first 2 periods of the morning to finish their Six Words Memoirs (an awesome writing activity- www.sixwordmemoirs.com, with how-to videos on Youtube) and move through the rest of the day. I also wanted to give them the experience of another Metta meditation because the first one had been so crowded and rushed.

I hoped to facilitate a quieter and purposeful METTA meditation.emphasizing the extension of compassion and caring, to illustrate its power, as well as increase familiarity. This morning's meditation really couldn't have worked out any better. It was quite remarkable.

As we started the morning, and I was giving the outline for the day as I always do, before I mentioned the METTA meditation, one student asked if we would be meditating that morning. When I said, "Of course we would," there was an audible response throughout the room, which equally reflected both happiness and dismay. The "Yeahs" were just as loud as the "Aws." I let them know how happy I was with the response, from both those who are loving it and those who aren't. I reminded the groaners of the potential benefits, as well as the practice they are gaining in doing something they don't like, like so many of lifes demands, and at least they could just sit and relax for this one.

Then I told them about Peace Days and the idea of thinking of others in our hearts, minds and/or imaginations, recognizing the humanness in us all, and wishing for others the same things we wish for ourselves: health, happiness and safety. I reminded them the meditation would start with the breath count, and then I would guide them through the rest and as I did there was no way to imagine things wrong. I also prepared them for the longer meditation, that the music would just play through the breaks in the tracks, but they didn't have to worry about it being over, I would let them know when it was time. They could just relax into it.

Finally, before I turned off the lights to start, I asked if everyone felt comfortable or if anyone might want to move to another spot before we began. Student A and my new student already had their heads down, and my new morning EA was sitting in the space between them, so they were good. The student who sits beside Student B got up to move. I told him to sit in my spot in the circle and everyone was ready. With no one to impress or bother beside him, plus his buddy's message to digest, Student B was quiet for the rest of the meditation. He put his head down at times, looked around the room and did some fidgeting, but did not call attention or disrupt anyone else. It was the quietest meditation of the year so far.

It was very powerful. The process took about twelve minutes but it felt a lot quicker. About half of the students had their heads down and the rest were sitting up straight. When we got to the third stage of the acquaintance, the "familiar stranger," I reminded them that our loved ones are familiar strangers to others, just as familiar strangers are loved ones to someone else, and we wished for them the same things we wish for ourselves. In the final stage, I invited them to send their caring and compassion to anywhere in the world they felt needed peace, or just the world at large.

As we finished that section and came to the minute of silent gratitude, for our relative safety, health and the choice to be happy, the track ended and there was total silence in the room for the 10 seconds or so it took for the next song to begin. For a split second I was nervous someone would break it, but as I looked around the room there was stillness, silence and a sense of peace. It was really beautiful and I felt so grateful.

Shortly after, as I brought them back, and emphasized noticing how they feel after the longer meditation, I thanked them for the experience. I commented on the power I found in the moment of total silence between songs, as well as the feeling of coming together to grow caring and compassion.

I also invited them to explore some of the research around the idea of actively growing our ability to feel compassion, like in Metta meditations, and how it can help us in life. I spoke briefly of the science, which my students were really into. We talked about brain development, and the amygdala, thought to be the house of emotion, especially fear, and its construct in the brain. I told them about some of the research showing the benefits of meditation around the amygdala, which helps foster compassion, and, because we have more compassion, makes handling the negative emotions like fear and anger easier. It was a very interesting discussion, though it lasted only a few minutes, before we got on with our day.

My switch class came to me after gym in the last period of the morning for French. As the class is so short, I will do the Metta meditation with them tomorrow morning when I see them for 2 periods. For today, we did our regular meditation and it too was lovely. I didn't do anything special -I actually forgot about the restlessness of the other day until a moment ago- I just gave the usual reminders and we began.

But I guess they remembered, or maybe they were tired after gym, or it was just another day, but it was quieter overall. This is even more incredulous to me as just as we were beginning two students from another class came to use the computers in the classroom (common practice in our school as there are not enough computers in central location for enough periods). They came in silently, but we needed to shuffle a table and some chairs to make space for them.

It only took about 30 seconds, and it was right at the beginning, before I had begun talking, so I thanked them for their patience and started as I always do, and was impressed that they didn't take the disruption as a sign to cause further disruption, part of the power I hope they will begin to recognize, and then harness, in meditation and other areas of their lives.

For today, I will take the 4 minutes and 38 minutes in silence and a very fun and successful French class with some oral games.

It is worth noting, right after lunch both classes came together for Social Studies. For the past 2-3 classes they have been working in groups with some text and their own experiences to come up with working definitions of some big words, concepts, that will inform most of our learning throughout the year- Society, Culture and Stereotypes. Today was the day the groups came together to share their ideas and come up with some common working definitions and provide a common language.

After lunch, we took 45 students through the process of rearranging desks- Mr. Y's class did that with us while my class waited quietly, then my class arranged themselves with chairs, got texts, their chart paper and joined their groups. We all worked there together for the entire 80 minutes with one movement break. We didn't do a full meditation, but as we began we took a few deep breaths, reminded them of the hard work involved ahead in listening and sharing, and their ability to use their metacognitive skills to self regulate, to participate and take care of themselves. They rose to the challenge.

When we took our break, we asked that they stay in the room and stretch, get water quietly and set a timer on the Ipad so they would know when to come back. When the last seconds counted down and the alarm chimed everyone was in their seat, even Student A, who self-regulated and took his office break and did a good job not bothering anyone, if not participating actively himself.

We had some amazing discussions about society and what it might or might not mean, the sense of belonging it is meant to promote and the marginalization it leads to when it does not. We got through the definition society with some examples, and parts of culture before the 80 minutes was done.

We told them for our next class we would return to finish the discussions and challenged them to remember where they were sitting and the process we used to get there. We will see how they do. The way things are going, it's a little easier to be optimistic. I was a good day and tomorrow is Friday.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Day 9- Typical Tuesday, or at least better than yesterday

It was still a challenging, and very busy day, but it was an easier and smoother than yesterday.

Before I sent my class off to write their first Math test, first thing in the morning, I let them know, that as we progressed in meditation it would become a tool they could use as they prepare to write tests, along with many other things. I encouraged them to notice how they were feeling, as many were visibly pumped and a few were somewhat anxious. I reminded them that the test was just a measure to show their understanding so Mr. Y, their Math teacher, would know where they stand.

In the minute or so before they went to the other room, I led them through a few deep breaths, visualizing their readiness as they sat down to write and their confidence in their skills as they wrote. On the exhale, they let go of their worries and nerves, noting their presence and just going on, doing their best, and working through the test.

Then they were off and I had my switch class. As I had been at the university during their first library period last week, I hadn't been to explain the INS, Independent Novel Study that we had our first work period for this afternoon. I wanted to be sure that everyone had a chance to get a book.

The library is a busy place, and as it happened the only period I could get with my switch class was first thing this morning, and so we started our class there. I was debating whether to meditate right away, or wait until we returned to the class during period 2, but ultimately decided part of the beauty, and purpose to meditating is that it can be done just about anywhere. I brought my music player and mini speaker and we all went to the library.

Helping to situate my new student took just a minute, but meant once again my class was waiting for me when I got there. They were all in the section of our library with the round table and chairs, with a few on the beanbag chairs and a couple on the floor, against the bookshelves around the periphery. I encouraged them to notice their backs and straighten them as much as possible wherever they were, and that all the rest would be them same.

Before we began, I spoke to them of the power of meditating, first in the ability to do it anywhere, and then in terms of the power we gain by doing it. That we can't control a lot about our circumstances, especially as kids, and we can't control other people, but we can learn to control and take care of ourselves, and by doing that we gain power.

As we started I reminded them that it didn't matter that we were in the library, if people came in and out, or there were other noises, all they had to do was breathe. But I am really not sure if they were paying much attention to what I was saying in those moments, because they were more surprised when I turned off all the lights in the library. It is a big, fish bowl of a room, with glass windows over the bookshelves almost all the way around, and a high ceiling with a lot of lights. When I turned them all off it was funny how many looked up at the ceiling, enough that I noticed.

Then we all got into the meditation and it was stiller than usual with this class, perhaps because it was first thing in the morning, or maybe because they were more spread out and a few were quite comfortable on the beanbag chairs, or maybe because it was a strange and alternate space and between the music, my breath count and the gurgling of the fish tank left no room for noise. Whatever the reason, it was very nice.

At about the half-way mark the library technician returned to the library and only one student, was distracted by it. He looked at me and motioned his concern and I silenced him with a smile, nod and Shh and he went back to looking around the room. He is another lovely student with a story, and will need attention, and practice, like the rest of us, just a little more.

We finished the meditation and before we got to work, I returned to idea of the power we have over ourselves and our choices, and what we gain when we use our power. I made the connection between meditating and learning, that I can't force them to do either, I can't will it for them, or make it happen, but I can help them find their power as they do it for themselves. Then we got on with the day.

It was after break when my class came back and whether it was the Math test or just the energy they were pretty hyped. As we began I challenged Student B to make this a meditation through which I didn't have to stand behind him the whole time, reminding him of his power. Student A and my new student both put their heads down and relaxed into it, so much so that shortly after my new student fell asleep for the majority of the periods, despite the work and noise going on around him after the meditation ended. I took it as a sign that the move and life has been exhausting, and he is feeling safe and comfortable enough in my classroom to rest and let it go. He clearly needed the sleep. Another benefit of meditation.

The rest of the meditation was okay. Everyone settled pretty quickly. Some were slightly distracted by Student B, looking at him, especially the student sitting beside him, but it was because he was trying to follow the breath count, so I have to give him the benefit of the doubt, though the giggling was annoying. I didn't have to stand there the entire time, but I did return to that part of the room several times, and lingered. The meditation went by quickly and then they got to work.

All in all, we are looking to progress and improve, and today was better than yesterday, so I guess I can't complain.

An added bonus, as bizarre as it is in the middle of the week, tomorrow is our School Division's Professional Development Day and so, while I am working, I don't have classes. Hopefully tomorrow will be useful and productive, but it will be a break from my students and a break from writing. They will be both back soon enough, so I will take the day to breathe.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Day 8- The Honeymoon is Over

It was definitely Monday today, and as we begin the third week of September I can say with some certainty, the honeymoon is over. Today was not an easy day and the challenges began first thing in the morning, even before we began our meditation.

Student A had returned after being away at the end of last week. He and Student B, who despite both knowing better, just can't stay away from each other, and there were several annoying "he did this, he said that," events before the day began. I chatted with each of them and dealt with all of the other things a teacher deals with in the morning, as the day begins before announcements.

Both more or less contained themselves through opening exercises, but continued to call attention as I introduced the day, mentioning that we would be starting our first writing piece, right after we meditated. As I went to turn off the lights, both Students A and B started to make elaborate movements into their positions. I reminded everybody to relax, that the only way to do it wrong was bother someone else,  as well as addressing the natural need for attention we all feel, but to pay attention to what kind of attention we are looking for, challenging them to look beyond the need for negative attention, hoping that would do the trick, as both seemed to settle into their seats.

About 20 seconds into the meditation it was evident it did not do the trick at all, as from both sides of the room there were beeping noises. It was obvious to everyone, including me that Student A and Student B were making the noises, and to the credit of everyone else there wasn't much response. At first I tried a gentler, more patient shush and a look at each, but when it happened again I was amused, nor was I going to put up with it.

I stopped the meditation, though the music was still going, and without yelling, but raising my already loud voice to be clear and stern I said, "NO," I let them, and everyone, know their disruptions were unacceptable and they did not have the right to disrupt and take away from anyone else's experience.

Student A got the message immediately. The moment I had interrupted the meditation and starting talking to the class, Student A put their head down and didn't lift it up again for the rest of the meditation. The rest of the day was also very challenging.

At this point, I feel it is important I acknowledge, so you know that I know, this child, Student A, has a story. I can't share it with you, and even if I were allowed, I don't think I could, because I only know a fraction of it. But this child has a story and has faced challenges children aren't supposed to have to face. There are many of us, part of my school team, who also know what I know and more, and we are all working together to support this child and his learning. Student A and Student B are two of too many children in my classroom, school, and in our schools, who have had to deal with too many harsh realities of the world and bring their experiences, and their trauma, to school each day. It is a large part of why the best thing I can do is to keep meditating with them and all of my students, along with everything else we do.

So for today, Student A put his head down, and Student B tried to shift the blame to his seatmate as soon as I called out the bad behaviour. Annoying as it is, I can't say 100% for certain that it wasn't the other student, and so I said I didn't care who was making the noise I expected it would stop and there was nothing more to discuss at the moment. Later, there was more discussion, but in the moment we got back to the meditation.

I went to the music player, restarted the track and the entire meditation, essentially pressing restart on the day. I told that to the rest of the class, as we readjusted and started again. Then we began the same 4 minutes and 38 seconds, except that rather than circulating around the room, I stood behind Student B for the entire time.

The rest of the class seemed mostly unaffected by the interruption or Students A and B's behaviour. Some were in their classroom last year and are used to the annoyances, and other seems to not pay much attention. Regardless, none were visibly bothered and all relaxed into the silence again.

It is as much about preserving the time for meditation as it is about insisting on demonstrating respect for one another. If we can do it for five minutes in quiet breath, then we can build on it in all the rest of our learning. And in the end, though it was challenging for both of these students to get going on the writing piece I then introduced, they were respectful and more or less engaged during the lesson- at least they did much less bothering of each other or anyone else, at least for those classes.

After some prep time in the morning, I saw my switch class in the afternoon after lunch. Perhaps because it was Monday afternoon, perhaps it was an aftereffect of the morning, or perhaps the honeymoon is indeed over, but they were more restless and I was less patient as we began the afternoon.

To their credit, before we even got started I had to help support with my new student, another child with another story, and getting him situated where he needed to be, which meant the class was waiting for me for just over 5 minutes, which isn't very long, except for a class of middle school kids who are waiting. They did a great job in the sense that they were just hanging out, chatting and waiting, some on devices, but no chaos or craziness. At the same time, they were loud and talkative and a little wound up. And there is a sense of uncertainty as they are waiting for their teacher who is supposed to be there.

As soon as I got back, I thanked them for their patience and trustworthiness while they waited for me, but was a bit premature in congratulating them on their ability to come back quickly. Though they were quiet as we began the meditation, it is harder for this class to settle. I went through the meditation and there were no outright disruptions, but there were a lot of subtle annoyances contributing to the restlessness. A couple of girls were shifting in their seats and moving a binder they wanted to use as a pillow back and forth between them. Another boy was playing with his sweater, pulling his hoodie over his head and tying the strings around his head. Another was fidgeting with his stuff and another was trying to hide the grapes he was eating. Again it was quiet but not silent.

I didn't interrupt the meditation with the exception of one Shh, but I did address it after. Again I talked about all the different ways we call attention and that playing with things is like saying to everyone, "Hey look at me." I actually exaggerated a variety of movements quite comically to emphasize how silly our actions can be at times, and how we call for attention, sometimes unintentionally. Then we got on with the rest of our learning, finished our name sharing and then going back to our schedule with our introduction to French, which quickly brought us to break.

The rest of the afternoon held a whole other variety of challenges, fodder for another blog. For now it is done and we will see what tomorrow brings.

Today was definitely a Monday.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Day 7- Friday, our first regular Day3

Day 3 is going to be different. It is going to take some figuring out. The first day of school was a Day 3, but we didn't follow the schedule on the first day, so realizing how strange Day 3 will be this year this Friday was something of a revelation.

I gratefully acknowledge that though I haven't figured out how to see my different followers or my numbers, I know I have a few and that they don't all know what I mean when I say Day 3, so to explain, most Manitoba schools follow a 6 day school cycle, which are aptly named Days 1 through 6. At our school, each day is divided into 8, 40 minute periods, which we often group as doubles, or 80 minute periods, with a 5 minute morning and afternoon break and lunch in between. The schedule is then set, as far as outside classes, like Phys. Ed or T.A.A (Technology and Applied Arts), which are taught by other teachers, and my prep time, and fairly flexible as far as the time shared with my teaching partner and our two classes, which we determine. We try to stay consistent and follow the schedule as much as we can, but also make adjustments according to the needs of our classrooms and learning. The freedom our schedule allows is one of the great joys of teaching and learning in middle school, allowing us truly adapt to the needs of our learners and the different things we do in our classrooms. It is also the reason we can make monthly trips to the library, and take other field trips as parts of our learning as other teachers are unaffected. This year our field trip day is Day 5, with the first one coming at the end of the month.

So, this Friday was Day 3 and though my partner and I had designed the schedule, it was the first time we were living it, and I really noticed how it had worked out. First thing in the morning my class switches with the other class and they have Math while I do LA with the other class for 2 periods. Then both classes come together for Social Studies for periods 3 and 4. After lunch we switch again for Science and French, then they go to Gym, and after break to Band/Exploratory, before my class comes back to me to end the day for French. On Day 3, the first time I see my class in our room is during period 8. It may make for some interesting days. Friday was the first of them.

The first meditation of the morning was what is quickly becoming routine in my switch class. As we began, I shared with them some of my experiences from the day before, including how I noticed the differences between the two university classes, as I had with them and the other class, and how some university students had put their heads down, and one man even fell asleep. I told them I didn't wake him up and I wouldn't wake them up, but reminded them how important it was to get enough sleep. Then we began our meditation and it is quickly becoming routine. Most put their heads down, so I continue to stress hinging at the hips at straightening the back, and now they know the rest. Inhale, 2, 3, 4, hold, 2, exhale, 2, 3, 4.

Their Name Representations were due that morning. There were a few who were working furiously to finish from the moment they sat down. I addressed their homework before we began, reminding them of the bigger picture of responsibility, using their time, which they had had plenty, productively and more wisely in the future, as we are only just beginning and the work is going to become a lot more challenging. I told them for today not to worry, they would have more time if they needed it, and as I started, I reminded them the time in meditation was more important than any one thing they had to do, and I challenged them to put everything away.

All did but one, who kept colouring as we began. For the first minute or so it was fine, not ideal, but not disruptive to anyone else. As he continued, his switching pencils, fumbling and looking for colours began to become annoying, not terribly noisy, but disruptive to the stillness. I moved closer to him to give a warning, and as we made eye contact, he indicated he understood. He continued for a moment or two longer, then when he dropped a pencil, causing others to fall and make more noise, I started to moved in his direction, and he immediately put his head down and kept it there. I think he started to understand how even seemingly harmless, quiet activities, can be disruptive, which was never really his intention. He realized it wasn't the right time to get his work done, and later did manage to finish and present. He is another character and I am going to enjoy watching him grow.

The rest of the meditation was quiet and a great way to start a Friday, as well as a great lead into our Name Representation sharing, which involved a small presentation and questions and answers, mirroring the research presentations we will eventually be doing. We didn't finish all the sharing and carried it over into the afternoon, a perfect example of what the flexibility of scheduling allows, and beyond being a great way to get to know each other, was an excellent to end the first full week.

After break in the morning, both classes came together in the other room for Social Studies. It was our third time coming together in the other room and the METTA meditation had been our only one there. Until the class had began, I hadn't decided whether we were going to meditate or not. I hadn't entirely figured out exactly how I wanted to approach Social Studies until the last minute, because I am trying something new, and was throwing some ideas around until the past possible second. I ultimately decided some group work exploring the meaning of words like Society, Culture and Stereotypes was the place to start and around the same time, noticed if we didn't meditate then, I wouldn't see my class again until the end of the afternoon, and figured I better set the precedent early, and meditate with both classes, even though I had just meditated with my switch class.

If I had realized all of that just a little bit sooner, I would have done a better job preparing my switch class, letting them know they were going to meditate twice that morning and help them be more ready for it. But it didn't work out that way, and as I often say, if that is the biggest mistake I made that day then life is pretty good.

As both classes settled in I let them know what we would be doing, and that after a short time we would be spreading out and working in small groups in both rooms. Everyone was happy to hear this, as the room, though almost twice as big as my room, was also really warm that day. I found out later that it had been 27 degrees celsius in the room that day. It explained some of the restlessness, and made the achievement all the more remarkable.

My switch class was caught by surprise that we were going to meditate again, as we had just meditated. I did apologize for not letting them know, telling them the truth, that I hadn't realized that that was the way the schedule was going to work out. I also told them not to worry, it wouldn't hurt them to sit quietly and breathe twice, and that they should get used to it, as it would likely happen again next Day 3. I was smiling the whole time I spoke and they took it all in stride.

And so we began another perfectly imperfect meditation. It was fine, quiet but not silent, and a little bit of restlessness in the stillness. The other room is still weirder - more crowded, no regulated seating, with big glass windows, a bit like a fishbowl- a lot more opportunity for distractions.

A new student also joined our class that morning. He was welcomed to our room and immediately befriended by another student who had arrived in Canada not long ago and could empathize with the experience, which was amazing and also another cause for excitement in the room. It brought another level of restlessness, especially as Student B had to try to call attention. I spent the greater part of the meditation standing in that corner of the room, which of course helped.

Despite the challenges, and the not silent quiet, it was a good start to the class. The group work ahead would also be challenging- big concepts and ideas, working together to understand some text, creating definitions and applying their understandings to explain examples- not easy tasks. But we know they are up to it. Just as I know they can sit quietly and breathe together for four and a half minutes. Some days will be good, others not so good, and we will grow from them all, just as we will grow from our start today.  Pretty good for a Friday morning.

By the time my class came back to me at the end of the day, there was no thought of meditation. Instead it was time for some movement and so we played some French games to practice vocabulary, build trust and positive feelings around speaking French, and end the week in a fun way.

At the end of the day, before we all went home, I congratulated us all on finishing our first week of learning in grade 7. It has been a fabulous start.

Hopefully the week ahead will be as good for us in our meditations and learning together, and for you in your lives. Thanks for reading.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Day 6- Teacher Candidates are still students

I spent one year teaching kindergarten before I switched to middle years, and when people would ask how I liked it, I used to joke that it is a pretty much the same but they are cuter in kindergarten. Today, having spent time with two different classes of Teacher Candidates at the University of Manitoba, thanks to my former advisor, Professor Gary Babiuk, I could give the same response. It really is pretty much the same, except I talked a lot more, and they are much cuter in middle school.

Please don't misunderstand- it was a fantastic day and a super interesting experience, and as Gary is aware, I am ever grateful for the opportunities he has given me over the past five years and our continuing work together, but in the end, working with adult learners is not much different than working with adolescents, especially when it comes to meditating.

As it happened, in the first class of the morning, not only was there a student there who could speak to her positive experience with meditation, but she could speak directly to her positive experience meditating with me, as she had been in my grade 8 class in 2007. Before the class began, she immediately reintroduced herself to me and I remembered her right away- I even noticed she had married as her last name had changed. Aside from feeling pretty old, it was wonderful, and gratifying to see her as well.

As we began the morning, I asked if I could put her on spot and if she would share what she remembered of her experience meditating in grade 8. She had been in my switch class and said she remembered being happy knowing she would be in my room every day because she knew she'd have the chance to relax and let go of everything for a little while. As she shared, I felt equally happy and relieved, because in those years I was still such a new and inexperienced teacher, and hadn't yet gained the benefits of my Masters studies.

I continued the introduction and spoke for about 30 minutes, longer than I would with kids of course, but the necessity of being a one-shot presenter, giving the same essential information, explanations and telling the same stories I tell in my classroom over time, many of which I have already written about in my research and a few from this last week.

In the first group a few indicated they meditate already, and there were a few questions and comments as I was speaking, but when I asked questions I was still faced with silence and blank stares a lot like a middle years classroom. I took the opportunity to talk about that anxiety that students of all ages experience, when they have an answer or idea in their head but are too afraid to say it. Often what students are thinking is that their answer is wrong, and even if it is right it isn't that important and someone else will say it. As with my students, I acknowledged that feeling in both groups and how important I feel it is to recognize it, wait through those awkward silences, and give students a chance to think and answer. Someone usually says something and  gets the ball rolling, just like today.

Before long we were into the meditation, a standard classroom meditation, which I will begin in my classroom in October and which allows one to "find what one needs," by attaching a quality they wish to grow to the inhale, and release  the opposite quality which blocks in the exhale. I describe this technique in my chapter and am certain I will share a lot more detail as I continue to  work with my classes  through the year. So for now this introduction will have to suffice as it did with the teacher candidates today.

In both classes I made a point of stressing the meaning I have found in emphasizing the connection I make every day  with my students and Treaty 1 Territory land. I explained that honouring  the  land and acknowledging the Treaties every day is my way of taking steps toward reconciliation and while I recognize that at such a young age my students can't yet grasp the depth of its significance, as we learn throughout the year they will grow in their perspectives knowing it is important to recognize we live on Treaty 1 Territory land.

For this meditation I used a track that was just over 6 minutes. My prompts took about half the time and then I joined in the silent breathing. It was very pleasant and as usual went by quickly and I was soon bringing everybody back, which I reminded the regular meditators can be annoying because they might be just getting going. Afterwards in the first class a couple of students shared they felt relaxed and refreshed.

We debriefed a little more and then I shared a bit more on my experience and METTA meditations as we wouldn't have enough time to do one. I told a few more stories before Gary cut off the discussion as the class had other work to do.

During the break I chatted with a few students, answered some questions as best I could and was very grateful for the positive experience.

I returned later in the day for the second class. It was the same but different, or different but the same.  Though I always know what I am going to talk about, I never know what I am going to say. I like to be spontaneous and respond to the group- I have a lot of stories.

What I thought most remarkable was just as my homeroom and switch class are so noticeably different so were these two classes. In the second class there was much less discussion. There were more students on their phones and more side conversations. It was interesting to note, as was the fact that a handful put their heads down. One young man even fell asleep. I guess the start of the school year is exhausting and he needed rest. I didn't wake him up. In the last 5 years I have been presenting to adults it is rare someone puts down their head, no one has ever fallen asleep. It is fascinating to me. I really don't mind. I take it as a sign that they trusted me enough to take me at my word. I invite students to meditate, but they don't have to accept the invitation, as long as they don't take the opportunity away from anyone else. These guys didn't and that is all I can ask. Like I said, students are students.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 5- Wednesday morning with about 15 visitors

One of the most rewarding feelings in my life as a middle school teacher is when former students come back to visit, both because they want to see me and because I get to see how they are growing and changing. While I often joke that they like me a lot more when I am no longer their teacher, I feel honoured and grateful when they make a point of coming to visit, coming to see me and their old classroom, and especially coming to meditate. 

This typically happens a lot early in the year with my former 8's, as they transition to high school and have late starts on Wednesdays for the first time. As they become more comfortable in their new surroundings their visits taper off, especially as the walk gets colder too, but in the beginning of the year they come to visit, something I had forgotten until I walked into school this morning.

As I arrived in my classroom there were 7 or 8 of my former students waiting to say hello. Last year 3 of us co-taught our Social Studies classes, so between that and mixing all the grade 8 classes for Exploratory, I had connected with many students, and those who came to visit were from a bunch of different classes. After we chatted and I started getting organized for the day, a few  more groups of 3 or 4 students came by my room to say hello. 

Beyond wanting to tell me about their summers, high school and hear about my new classes, they also wanted to know if they could come and meditate with my class. As groups of students came by they kept asking if they could stay to meditate and I kept saying, "As long as you can meditate and not disrupt."

Just before 9:00 a.m they all came back. They filed in around the room, taking all the extra chairs, the chair at my desk, one or two on the floor and the rest perching on the tables around the periphery of the classroom, surrounding my somewhat shocked grade 7 who sat in their usual seats. There were 15 of them in all.

As we took care of the morning tasks, I explained to my 7's that in 2 years this would be them and I would welcome them back and invite them to join us while we meditated as well. Then as we got ready to meditate, I took the opportunity to remind the 9's about their need to be respectful and let them know that my current meditators were stronger than they had been. They thought I was kidding, but I let them know I wasn't and how impressed I was with my 7's, especially with their posture and focus on breath. 

Then we started the meditation as we have for the past five days, and as I did with my former 9's, many through grades 7 and 8, so many times, and with which they are so familiar, already missing, and sadly will get used to missing to the point of forgetting, but for today got to enjoy. 

The 4 minutes and 38 seconds went quickly. Student A happened to be away, which made for an easier day all around. Student B had the hardest time keeping it together and was a little giggly. I spent the majority of the time standing in his proximity, which again proved helpful; he didn't need further interventions to keep it together. The rest of the 7's sat up straight as they have been, and the 9's didn't have a choice. It was really lovely and powerful. At one point I looked around and I couldn't quite believe all these kids had come back to see me and meditate, when they could have been doing pretty much anything else, including sleeping in. It made clear to me something I have known for many years, they show me how they value meditation by how much they miss it when it is gone. 

Once we were done, the 9's left and went on with their day and we went on with ours. We did some amazing sharing of our name presentations and then the day went on.

Again today I saw my switch class in 4th period, right after gym and before lunch. The meditation was much less eventful with no extra visitors and no distractions. It too was lovely. I again stressed the posturing, hinging at the hips and straightening the back, even with the head down and then we continued. There was nowhere in particular I had to stand and in the end 4 minutes and 38 is pretty short. The time always goes by quickly. Which I guess could also be said of the days, and the weeks, in the end. Though busy and full, the days go by very quickly, which makes those 4 minutes and 38 seconds of breath all the more meaningful.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Day 4- Typical Tuesday- at least I hope so

I have to remind myself that we are still easing in, enjoying the honeymoon period, the tasks are not yet too demanding and there will be many greater challenges in the long, yet quick, year to come, because the learning in my classroom feels so routine already. It has a natural flow that feels like it has never been any other way. Today was what I hope will be a typical Tuesday, or any day for that matter, and as usual it began with a meditation.

I began with my homeroom before our first French class and it was a lovely start to the day. Student A put his head down and just about everyone else sat up straight. Student C persisted in following the breath count, along with many others, who were less obvious. Student B persisted in subtly trying to distract Student C and call attention to himself to the point where I stood beside him in the latter half of the meditation, which did the trick.

After the meditation, before we got to work, I took a moment to commend their efforts in following the breath count and sitting straight in their chairs. We briefly talked about the new research around the dangers of sitting and the importance of sitting correctly and the benefits they are sure to reap. Then we got to work. It was a good start to a good day.

My switch class came to my room for the last period of the morning, after band/exploratory and gym for our first French class of the year. I was in a great mood when I arrived in the room, as during my prep I had booked a bunch of field trips for the year, including The Forks and monthly visits to the Millennium Library, which gives me much to look forward to. I shared the news with the class before we began.

Despite all of our general excitement, the meditation was calm and quiet. Once again, as we began just about everyone in this class put their head down and there was silence in the room. I stressed how to straighten the back even with the head down and the 4 minutes and 38 seconds came and went.

As did the rest of the class and the afternoon. I hope there will be more Tuesdays like today.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Day 3- The first Monday, the first full week and the first METTA meditation

In the life of a middle school teacher uneventful days are cherished, especially early in the year, and definitely on a Monday, pretty much any time of year. Even though it is only September 12th, and the day began with a short, grade level Welcome Back assembly to begin of our first full week together, it already feels like we have been working together for a lot longer.

As we started the day, and had some time to chat before we were called down to the gym, this was one of the examples of a paradox that I gave my students this morning, as the continuation of an ongoing discussion of the concept, as we forge our identities and face life's challenges to be successful as students in school, and happy and healthy individuals in the world. It was a fascinating 10 minutes as we waited to be called down, sharing some big conversation and small chit chat, apropos to the concept of paradox.

After the assembly, we reverted to our regular schedule, which today meant I started with my switch class. As this class came in and we quickly got into our meditation, which has already become routine and yet is still so new and strange, it was clearly Monday morning. As I turned out the lights, just about every kid in the class put their head down. One boy straightened up in his chair, and all of the others were happy to rest their heads in their hands and close their eyes. The only reference I made to this choice was when prompting the positioning, I included cues as to how they could still straighten their backs and pay attention to their breath with their heads down.

Then the meditation went on as it did last week and will until the end of the month...Inhale, 2, 3, 4, hold, 2, exhale, 2, 3, 4 for the 4 minutes and 38 seconds of the track. Uneventful.

It was quiet throughout. I imagine it was relaxing for most. Likely refreshing for many. I can't be certain, because though again I asked, no one had anything to say. But immediately after, they got to work. We are easing in, creating a graphic name representation- the classic easing in piece, a little art, a little presentation, a get to know you and see how you work, speak and listen all in one shot. Nothing new to teachers. I am not reinventing the wheel. As soon as the meditation ended, everyone got to work. I needed to redirect a few once or twice, but as a group, we are off to a great start and the periods were uneventful.

After break my homeroom class came back. As we began our meditation, student A was tired and put his head down. Student B and another student sat up straight and put their hands in the "meditation pose." I mentioned again that no one had to make any special postures, and that they needed to ask themselves why they were choosing to sit that way, stating if it was comfortable for them I was okay with it, but if they thought they needed it, they didn't and if they should be sure they weren't just doing it for attention. Another reminder for everyone that we should always ask ourselves why they are doing the things they do. That we need to pay attention to our intentions and our actions.

They both then chose put their hands down as we began the meditation. This class is different than the other. Perhaps they have bought in more, feel closer to me as a homeroom teacher, or perhaps they are just more obedient, but as I prompted this class just about everybody sat up straight. Student A and one or two others were the only ones with their heads down.

Student B, who had let go of the arm positioning, decided to try breathing with the breath count in a clear and obvious way, as did the student beside him, another character in his own right, though much stronger academically. I couldn't fault their efforts as they seemed sincere, though they were a bit louder in their breathing than I wanted them to be, which of course was very entertaining to them. To their credit, they held it together suppressing their giggles.It helped that I stood beside them, but that and a gentle Ssh and some breathing prompts were all it took for them to stay with the breathing and try to take it seriously.

I assumed their intentions were sincere and when we were finished, I talked about how much noise is appropriate when breathing, along with a reminder about inhaling through the nose and feeling one's belly expand and slow, steady, controlled exhales through the nose when possible. I encouraged them to maintain their efforts, remember we just begun and there is a reason it is called a practice. And then we got one with our Name Representation and once again just about everyone got to work, with Student A and Student B going back and forth requiring support, along with all the rest of the needs of kids in a classroom.

Another paradox that this is what a classroom teacher calls uneventful.

That would have been enough, but that was just the morning. In the afternoon for the last two periods of the day we had Social Studies. My teaching partner and I team teach Social Studies bringing both classes together. We had done this twice already last week as it will be part of our regular practice and learning, but today was our first real class together. And today was September 12th and so Social Studies began with some learning about September 11th, which connects to many of the topics in Grade 7 SS. It is also a good time to introduce a METTA meditations.

METTA meditations are Mindfulness meditations designed to foster caring and compassion. I wrote about my experiences with them at length in my chapter (http://www.cityuniversity.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Sustainable-Well-Being-2014.pdf#page=181). I like to introduce them early in the year so that students are familiar with them in case of events that require we need one. I also like to see if my students are up to the challenge and capable of a longer meditation early in the year.

They rarely disappoint and this year was no different. Our students came through the class and the meditation in ways I never expected. And staying true with the theme of the day, our first METTA meditation was a paradox. It was as perfect as it was imperfect.

It was perfect in how it came at the end of the day, on a Monday, after intense discussions on the difference between war and terrorism, the events of 9/11, and its impact on the world with a group of about 45 grade 7 students, who were engaged and inquisitive, surpassing my expectations in their knowledge, interest and behaviour. It was perfect that the discussion went even longer than I imagined, and we didn't get to finish before we stopped and shifted into a METTA meditation to extend our caring and compassion to those affected by 9/11 as we ended our day. It was perfect as my students were willing and open and respectful. Whatever they were thinking for themselves, they displayed compassion and respect for one another just by not bothering anyone else.

For the most part. While there were no outright disruptions the end of the day remains as imperfect as it is perfect. The end of a Monday is the end of a long day, especially the first week back, with some intense discussion of a disturbing topic that required a lot of focus and listening. It is exhausting and everyone was tired. And the METTA meditation is weird, longer that we had done, with a visualization. To experience for the first time in a room with 45 kids, not the circle of the classroom was not ideal. It was imperfect.

There was silence but not stillness. Some kids were more visibly restless, shifting in their seats a lot more. The windows into the classroom from the hallway, and the end of the day traffic presented its own set of challenges. It was also a little rushed. That was my fault. The discussion had gone longer, guidance had stopped by, the process took more time than I remembered, our time in gratitude was a little shorter, there was no time to debrief today.

But there was a calmness as we ended at 3:27 and quickly stacked chairs and cleaned up. The day was done. For a moment I wished it could have been perfect, that I would have started earlier, done it better. But I was also very grateful. It had gone very well. We set a standard for practice academically, as well as making a place to consciously grow and share our caring and compassion in the world, while building a foundation of trust and respect between us. We are just beginning to learn how to do this, as we begin all of our other learning together, I really can't ask for more than that for an uneventful Monday. Especially because tomorrow is only Tuesday.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Day 2-Friday with a Headache

If it hadn't been only the second day of school I probably would have stayed home today, or at least gone home at lunch. As a sufferer of frequent headaches and migraines over the last few years, I have learned to gauge their severity, and as they are never well timed, my own level of tolerance for the pain. Today was the worst I hope to endure while I still have to function and be there for my students, and even though I still had to do the talking as I guided them through the meditations, I was grateful for the moments of silence as we started the morning, and then the afternoon.

When I got to school in the morning, I wasn't sure I would make it through the day. I wasn't sure the headache wasn't going to get worse and that I wouldn't have to leave at some point, perhaps with little notice, and so as we began the day I had to give my students some information. I had hoped I wouldn't have to do it quite so early in the year, but I wanted them to know why I had dimmed all the lights as I walked in the door, and why I might be less cheery, or have less patience, both today and in the future.

As I was trying to navigate dealing with my headache, and conveying enough, but not too much, information, my little guy, who I will call A, was already demonstrating his needs, demanding attention, which brought up a discussion about attention, positive, negative and neutral and the "Rice Experiment" (google it-it's really cool) and the need for attention that he, and everyone of us, has as human beings,

In the few minutes after announcements and before the meditation began, I invited the student beside A to move to an alternate spot, grateful I had an extra space, so he now has a table to himself and room to spread out. I also pointed out a box of plasticine with which he can fidget anytime, as long as I didn't find it on the floor, as well as the paper on which he can draw while he listens. I reminded him the only thing he can't do is bother anyone else, and  I reminded everyone else that everything I had said is true not only for A, but everyone. A went for the plasticine immediately, but within a few minutes had abandoned it for drawing.

As we began the meditation, just before I turned on the music, I challenged everyone to put everything away, and give themselves the time to breath, because they deserved it. I said a line I have said many times and will many more, "Everything can wait for 5 minutes because you are more important than anything you have to do." I turned off the lights, started the music, and everyone followed the prompts except for A, he just kept on drawing. I would prefer he tried meditating, but I didn't say a word- he wasn't bothering anybody and I am not asking for more than that.

Almost everybody else joined in the meditation. My other little guy, B, began the meditation, stopped in the middle to return to some kind writing he had been doing, then stopped and came back to the meditation. He didn't bother anyone. The rest was pretty much the same as yesterday. Still, silent, maybe a little bit less weird.

When it was over and I went to turn on the lights, I passed by A and noticed he had drawn some sort of blueprint. It was a house of some kind and he had everything labeled. Again today, when we were done, I asked if anyone had anything to share and as I waited for a response, I noted their discomfort in the silence.When no one responded I reminded them that that was okay, as was that awkward feeling in silence, and all of the awkward and uncomfortable feelings we have. We need to notice them so that we are aware that we also get through them.

And then we got on with our day, our name games and our first art\get-to-know-you piece. It wasn't without its challenges from A and B respectively (already) and a few other needs, but as a class I have some amazing students and we were off and running. The first two periods were over before I knew it and my headache hadn't gotten any worse.

My double prep before lunch, which thankfully let me rest my head a moment and helped me survive the day, also meant I wouldn't see my switch class until after lunch. As every teacher knows, afternoons are very different than mornings, and meditations are sometimes more challenging, and perhaps all the more necessary, in the afternoon. As we began the afternoon, I was very much hoping the afternoon would go smoothly and quickly, especially because I still had a headache.

One of the great benefits of team teaching in middle years sharing two classes, or having a switch class. Working with two groups, both individually and together as a large group has many advantages, not the least of which is getting a break from needy students, even if it is in exchange for other needy students, as is generally the case. Each group also brings all sorts of individual personalities, and I already know I am super lucky to have two amazing classes of students. These kids are just lovely.

Though my switch class does indeed have its own needs, and they are the more outgoing group. They are also an inquisitive bunch. As we began the afternoon,I brought awareness to the difference between morning and afternoons and asked them to try to notice it too, especially as the year went on. Then I asked if anyone had any questions about anything before we started our meditation. Though a little shy at first, once one student, the Student A of this class with a less overbearing personality, who I will call 1 to avoid confusion between the classes, got things going, they were full of questions. They had questions about work, and field trips and other random things, and after I took a few minutes to answer them all, before we started our meditation, I thanked them for being brave enough to ask all their questions and reminded them that their questions were important. Of course, 1 asked why? Why was it important they asked questions?

He was surprised when I answered, "Your questions are important because you are important," and then noticeably stopped listening to the rest of the explanation, but was quiet again as soon as I turned off the lights, as was everyone else.

Through the meditation there was quiet. More students put their heads down in this class, and I had the feeling that this class will be more chatty and restless once the honeymoon period ends, but that was just a fleeting feeling, because whatever comes, I will deal with. For today, for the first afternoon, and a Friday afternoon, with a headache, all I could do was appreciate the silence and the great start to the school year.

The feeling helped carry me through the afternoon, and though I am not quite sure how I made it, I did. Now my headache has more or less passed, and I am grateful for so many things, including that this writing is done for today, as well as to all of you who are reading it.

I wish you all a restful weekend.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Day 1 Inhale, 2, 3 4, Hold 2, Exhale, 2, 3, 4

The first day, the first meditations. If any student, in either of my two classes, had been confident enough to talk about how that first meditation felt, I know that the word they would have used, as students  have many times before, and I am certain will again soon, when they feel comfortable enough, is weird.

The first day, the first meditation of the year is always weird. As in the past, and what happened again in both classes today, is through each of the meditations, both groups of students were absolutely silent. Silent, except for 1 or 2 in each class, during the introduction to meditation at the beginning of the class, the very first thing we did. Silent during 4 minute and 38 seconds of meditation. And silent once we were done, during the debrief, when I asked if anyone had anything to share. Just like many years before, the first meditation of the year was silent. For now, this is all I need to measure both its purpose and its success.

The first day is charged with emotion. I observed my own excitement grow as I entered my classroom this morning, somewhat despite myself. I hadn't been feeling all that enthusiastic, but the students' excitement was palpable and contagious. Most of my students were visibly moved, filled with nervous anticipation for the year to come, and happy to see their friends. A few newcomers were clearly more anxious, a little scared and hesitant, and a couple of students were not thrilled at all to be back at school, This was one of the first things I acknowledged as everyone settled in and we began our day, and the introduction to meditation.

Recognizing how we feel as essential to our health and success in school is part of why we will be meditating together every day, was a part of the introduction to our first meditation, as were my hopes for them to grow into independent individuals who take responsibility for their learning and discover the freedom and power it brings them.

Then I introduced the meditation as I have over the last 13 years. Most of what I said I have said many times before, and written about in detail, with a few variations, as my stories are spontaneous and come as the result of the discussion I try to have in the introduction.

Before I tell students anything, I do the classic teacher thing and ask students about their knowledge and experience with meditation. I was surprised that only a handful of students raised their hands when I asked who had meditated before, because over the past few years the numbers had been consistently increasing. But at the same time, I worked with the same group of students for the last two years, so I guess there has been another shift.

In the end, their previous experience doesn't matter and as I always say, and related again, I have been meditating for over 20 years and I still don't feel like I  am very good at it. And so we began. After all the explanations and a little discussion, which took about 20 minutes or so with each of my classes, and a final reminder that the only way to do it wrong is to bother someone else, I turned off the lights, hit the music and began the meditation.

Every year as I begin, I am always a little bit nervous. I am always optimistic, believing in its importance and value, but I can never really be sure how it is going to work out, and am always a little surprised, and exceptionally grateful when it does. I am sure this is a familiar feeling for many teachers, as I experience it in much of my teaching practice too, but when I meditate with my students it is even more powerful. Maybe because I feel it is riskier.

This year was no different and once again, I am grateful. The 4 and a half minutes flew by, as I guided my students through the breath count we will use for the rest of the month, inhale, 2, 3, 4, hold 2, exhale, 2, 3, 4. and the music played. As I circulated around the room, standing a few seconds longer where I felt there was a need, I noted the silence and observed my students.

Most were sitting up straight in their chairs, feet planted firmly on what we acknowledged today, and will continue to honour every day, on Treaty 1 Territory land, eyes closed, still and silent, One or two had already put their heads down, a battle for another day.

Silence, not bothering anyone else, is all I ask.

I was somewhat concerned about a couple of students in my homeroom, who come with high needs and immediately made their need for attention known, though thankfully silently. Though I stressed the idea of being comfortable in one's chair, and not needing to do anything fancy, two students on either side of the room chose to adopt a pose with their arms in the air, and finger meeting their thumbs, a well-known meditation pose. But not really necessary and perhaps questionably intentioned.

Addressing their need for attention, together with all their other needs, is going to be part of our learning, but first I will need to build a relationship and a level of trust, so for today, I was happy their hand placement was their only questionable choice, and as it didn't bother anyone else, I let it go into the silence. Tomorrow is another day.

For today, the meditations were silent and in that time my students and I came together in our classroom and breathed together as we began our day and our year together.

And tomorrow we will do it all over again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A New Year, A New Beginning, A New Twist on an Old Idea

As a classroom teacher for the past dozen plus years, I have practiced daily meditations with my students. It was the focus of my Masters studies, and I have continued to research the topic, as I have continued studying, teaching and meditating with my students. Practicing meditation with my students has become the cornerstone of my teaching practice, fostering a climate of respect, compassion and belonging that permeates everything else I do in my classroom, in about 6 minutes a day.

Over the years, I have been mildly successful in documenting my own classroom experiences with our practice, as well as those my students have related to me, both orally and in writing. I am very proud of my chapter in the Ebook, Sustainable Well-Being: Concepts, Issues and Educational Practices (2014, ESWB Press, 

While teaching full-time, and now that I am out of the university loop, it is challenging to find the motivation to continue writing, especially as it also entails the need to further pursue audiences and opportunities for publication.

In part as an effort to instill more, or perhaps some, discipline in my own writing practice, and in part because I believe in the value of classroom research and teacher insight and experience, and in part because I have been thinking about it for a long time, and one colleague in particular has been encouraging me to do this for equally as long, I have decided to blog about our classroom meditations and my experiences with my students.

Tomorrow, as I welcome my new groups of grade 7's, the first thing I will do with both of my classes is meditate, as I have done on the first day of the last 13 years in middle school pretty much exactly as I describe in my writing. The difference is, for the first time ever, I will share my experiences in a more public forum. I am not sure if anyone will actually read it, but I at least I will know it is written and here to be read.

So I begin a new year with new inspiration....this blog is dedicated to the practice I share with my students and discovering where documenting a year in the life of classroom meditation may lead