Monday, October 31, 2016

Day 31- Halloween Monday

Halloween in middle school is really like no other day. It is hard to describe, because it is its own special kind of crazy. Some kids dress up and go all out, others act like it is any other day, and most fall somewhere in between, with subtle costumes or accessories that don't get in the way. Teachers fall into pretty much the same category, and those who dress up are pretty entertaining. When they are talking to you, or at the front of their room, with a crayon cap or in a lion suit, it is kind of hard to take them seriously.

I like that Halloween allows for some fall activities that generally bring kids together, and a break for the afternoon, but if it disappeared from the calendar, I wouldn't miss it. My "costume" was "a teacher who used the opportunity to wear sweats to school," which is the pretty much the extent of my participation, beyond noting that on this day we also have to be especially grateful. The highlight of my Halloweens over the years is commenting to different students- to those who are dressed up, I always ask, "Where's your costume?," while those in their street clothes get a resounding, "Nice costume." Most kids get it and laugh regardless of their "costume," many begin to explain their costumes to me, and others are completely confused. Almost like any other day in middle school, but with a lot more sugar, activities and a dance in the afternoon.

It is a very fun day, and like all of our fun days, it must be tempered with calm, to help student be mindful of their thoughts and feelings. those of others, and the choices they make, as well as being grateful for the day and all it will bring. This is the purpose behind all of our learning experiences, in and out of the classroom, as far as I'm concerned.

We stuck with our regular schedule for the first two periods of the morning, because I had booked the library for my switch class. It is tough for get time in there for writing and it was free. We met there and I gave them back their first drafts of edited writing, marked up with edits and questions and the challenge to most of them to double the length of what they already had written.

I spent the time their computers were loading giving instructions, pointers and encouragement. I knew we would be bringing both classes together for a Halloween METTA meditation after the morning break, so we didn't take the time to meditate in the library. Instead, as we got ready to write, I suggested everyone take a few deep breaths, set their focus, visualize their ability and their writing and just write.

Whether it was the quiet of Monday morning in the library, even on Halloween, the few breaths we took, or the fact that they we completely overwhelmed by the editing and drafting they saw in front of them, the next 45 minutes or so in the library were practically silent. I worked with different kids, and others came and asked me questions, but there was hardly any other chatter or noise. Everyone was focused on their writing. I was really surprised, I likely would have been on any Monday morning, but it was especially surprising on Halloween,

The two periods weren't perfect,but they were really close, and almost everyone finished a second draft. For the last two periods of the morning, we decided to include a bit of Halloween fun. Mr. Y and I decided our students are working really hard and deserve it. He brought in a movie and some candy for the kids- to get them going on the sugar early- but before we started the celebrations we did a Halloween METTA meditation for the safety, health and happiness of all the kids in Manitoba and around the country on Halloween.

As the kids came to Mr. Y's room after break, they knew they were coming to watch a movie and sat in groups and clumps, rather than filling out the rows. As we got settled both Mr. Y and I let them know they were okay with it, as long as they could sit where they were successfully and be respectful, especially during the meditation.

It didn't take much more than that to settle before we got started. Though sitting with their friends, all the players were scattered around the room. My breather and his friend, Student 2, were together, but away from, Student A and Student 1, my fidgeter, who also happened to sit together. On the other side of the room were Student B, and his buddies, including the one who usually sits on the other side of the room, but they were on the comfortable chairs, usually reserved for adults, and so I imagine that is why they didn't call attention. Whatever the reason, they were quiet throughout the 14 minutes, as was everyone else.

The room wasn't perfectly still, there were still 45 grade 7 students in a middle school on Halloween, but it was silent throughout the meditation. There were no issues or disruptions in the group, and whether that is the result of the practice we have had, their desire to get to their treats and movie, or the power of a METTA meditation, I will take it. While I did stand near Students A and 1 more often and for longer, it wasn't because they needed supervision. As I led my students through our METTA meditation today, I didn't need to manage behaviour much at all, and I noted how far we have come over the last 2 months, and how little time has actually passed since our first METTA meditation just over six weeks ago.

I circled around the large room as best I could, maneuvering among the students clumped together, sitting silently and relatively still, as I prompted their posture, the breath count and we moved into the METTA meditation, sharing our caring and compassion first inward with ourselves, then with a loved one, then the familiar stranger, the person we know, but don't, and then finally extending it outward into the world.

Today, for Halloween we extended our caring and compassion to kids, first in our school, then the city, the province, and the country, who would be out trick-or-treating, wishing for all the children, the same things we had wished for ourselves, "May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe," as they went out tonight. We went on to acknowledge all the kids who would be unable to go out, because they don't have what we have- because they don't have anyone to take them, or neighbourhoods are unsafe, or they are sick in the hospital, or physically unable- and we shared our caring and compassion with those children who do not have everything we have, again wishing for them the same things we wished for ourselves, "May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe."

As we concluded extending our caring and compassion, we moved into a minute of silent gratitude, for our relative safety and health, and the choices we can make to be happy. One track ended just as the silence began, and today I didn't worry at all, I knew everyone would be comfortable within it and they were. I took a deep breath and enjoyed the silence and then the next track began.

At this point I was sitting at the front of the room, looking over the class, taking it all in, when a student came in the door. He was from another room, collecting the non-perishables students bring as an entrance fee to the dance and activities, and despite the darkness and stillness in the room, he opened the door and was just about to announce his presence, when I gestured for him to stop and Mr. Y sshed him.

Just as in the past, my students were unaffected. They remained quiet and didn't notice him turn to leave, or me follow the boy out, tell him when to come back, and return to the room again quietly closing the door behind me. They are learning to block out the distractions life brings and retain their power. We spent a few more breaths in silence before I started to bring them back and close the meditation.

Everyone came back calmly and they were all patient and respectful as Mr. Y handed out some treats and we chose our movie. As we were doing this, I realized part of the reason Student A needed so little support today was he had fallen asleep. Everyone was moving for a few minutes before he woke up and joined the activities. When we started the movie, Students A and 1 came into my room and passed the time playing board games, together along with a few others.

It was a pretty peaceful morning considering the craziness Halloween brings, and the afternoon was uneventful, which is the best a middle school teacher can ask for, especially when Halloween falls on a Monday. Now we will see what tomorrow brings, once the sugar high wear off.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Day 30-Friday Fun

I heard it said by several people this morning that Fridays are good days, and at least for this Friday that was indeed the case. It was a good day, and I am glad it was a Friday.

The day started with Band/Exploratory and then choir, with the remainder playing board games or catching up on their work, and a class in which I had a refresher course in Chess, as Student A and one of the buddies managed to put together a game that lasted the whole period, and ended well. It was quite encouraging to see.

It was after break that I began the day with my switch class. We had some business to take care of around assignments and who had yet to present, which led to a short talk on responsibility and following through, especially as we begin to make connections with parents and prepare to write first term report cards. Some of my words were aimed at the friend of my breather, gaining his own designation as Student 2, who has been facing some challenges taking responsibility for himself and his learning, and following through on his assignments. He was not ready to present today, claiming he had forgotten his USB at home and was angry that I had brought attention to the fact that he wasn't ready.

He demonstrated his anger as I was talking, scowling and clinking a coin against the table, which I first ignored and then gave a couple of warnings before he finally stopped, just as I was turning off the lights, and seconds before I moved to take the coins away. Everyone else was pretty quiet, with several students away ill and a couple on a field trip, leaving more space and a quieter room, My fidgeter and the boy who likes to look around were both energetic, in a restless but not disruptive way, and so I stood beside them as I went through the prompts. I encouraged them to relax, and they both did, putting their heads down and easing into the meditation.

As we moved into the guided breath, I encouraged them to breathe in their confidence and exhale their fear, as some prepared to present, and they all work to follow through on the tasks ahead, as we come to the end of first term. The rest of the meditation went by quickly and quietly, and if not entirely still, it was pretty close, until just about the end.

I had joined in the silence at the end, and was sitting in my usual spot in the circle, when I heard a stir. With less than 30 seconds to go, Student 2 decided that he had to get up and leave. I guess he was that angry. He wasn't overly loud, nor was he particularly quiet, but at least he didn't slam the door. I let a "How Rude," slip from under my breath, but didn't follow him out the door. We have a lot of time ahead and he needed the space. The meditation ended a few moments later, we moved into the presentations, and Student 3 joined the class again a few minutes later,

At the end of the class, I discovered he had left a note on my desk which read, "The fear doesn't tell me I don't good enough, you tell me I am not good enough." I was a little taken aback, but also appreciated that he trusted me enough to leave me a note. I decided to wait to talk to him, but chatted about it with Mr. Y and our guidance counselor. We will all work as a team to help support Student 2 take more responsibility for himself.

After lunch, before they went to TAA, there was that Friday afternoon buzz in the air, and I told them after they came back, before our time in the library, we were definitely going to meditate to get centered and focused. Mr. Y and I met during our prep, talked about our kids, the parents we need to meet with, and set up a plan for the rest of the afternoon.

We have a large Art room, attached to the library, which we found was free and so we decided to meet there after the break before going into the library. Mr. Y had a Math test he had to return and with it came a few talking points, about progress, studying, and mindset, or how they see themselves in relation to their efforts and their results from both of us.

Then Mr. Y gave them back their tests and we gave them time to digest their results. They exhibited the full range of emotion, from pride and joy, to pleasant surprise, to disappointment and worry. They spent about 10-15 minutes talking to each other and I spent some time talking to individual students about their results and feelings. I reminded more than one student, and the group later, that poor, or disappointing results, only reflect their understanding of those concepts, and their inexperience and need to practice, learn and understand those concepts, it does not reflect their ability or overall intelligence. It just means they need to keep learning that Math, and if they keep at it they will get better and so will their results.

This led to natural connections to what we have been learning in Social Studies, with our discussions of Human Rights and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I told them we will be moving into deeper discussions, and a study of responsibility, which is directly linked to our rights. In order for them to make the most of their right to an education, they also have to take responsibility for it. I illustrated the point by picking up a binder, and I told them that we, their teachers, are handing them their education by teaching them how to learn, but if they don't take the binder in their hands, then it falls, I let go of the binder as I said this, and the thud the binder made was louder than I expected, especially as the room was pretty quiet, even with both classes together, and made the point even stronger. Their learning is in their hands.

As Mr. Y and I finished our talk, there was about 50 minutes left in the day. We told them that we were going to meditate and then they would have time to work in the library, or with Mr. Y in the Art room to better understand the Math they had just received. I asked them if they preferred to meditate where they we sitting, around the large tables in the room, or if they wanted to move into the library. It was a clear they wanted to move into the library, and when I agreed, they did it rather seamlessly.

Student A and a few others went straight to the computers, and I told them they could login in before we began, as our computers take time to load, but that they needed to turn the monitors off so they wouldn't be tempted when they came on. Student A logged in and was playing around, so I went and switched off the monitor and he didn't turn it on again. As I started the meditation, he was fidgeting with the keyboard, so I went and stood beside him, encouraging him to relax and placing my hands over his. It worked and he put his head down for most of the meditation, looking around intermittently here and there, but ultimately putting in down again, and not disturbing anyone.

Everyone else was spread throughout the library, some by the computers, some around tables, some on the beanbag chairs around the room and a couple on the floor. I asked if they were comfortable before we started, and they indicated they were, and they seemed happy throughout. Everyone seemed pretty happy to take these moments, and I was a little surprised that everyone was so quiet after so much excitement, especially so late on a Friday afternoon, but I'm not complaining.

I was also surprised that as one of the teachers walked by the library window, he banged on its length as he went by. I'm not sure he realized we were meditating, despite the clear view to the dimmed lights and still students, and I think it was more unconscious than malicious, but I couldn't quite believe it. My students didn't seem bothered- they are gaining a lot of power- but I certainly noticed, as did the librarian, with whom I exchanged looks of shock and disgust.

Thankfully our library is not that big and the noise didn't last too long. There weren't many other interruptions, only one other teacher entered quietly to pick up something from the printer, but was oblivious to the door banging closed behind them, Again, my students paid no attention, only I noticed as I was observing in the moment.

During our library meditation, I wanted to focus both on a productive use of time in the last period of the day, especially for those who really needed to follow through and finish work, and processing their feelings in relation to their Math test, especially those dealing with disappointing grades. In order to take the time to do that I decided to use a longer track, and for the first time this year used a piece that was 6 minutes and 38 seconds. I didn't tell them and if anyone noticed they didn't say anything. For a moment at the beginning, I was worried it might be too long, but I decided to take the time and I think it was worth it.

After the prompts and breath count, we inhaled the positivity and exhaled the negativity in their different manifestations, paying special attention to the things we tell ourselves, reminding them that needing more practice or learning is more accurate, and helpful, than telling ourselves we are bad at something or can't learn. We inhaled the ability to learn, with effort and focus and exhaled the fear that tells us we can't. There was a very peaceful feeling in the room.

We moved into a few minutes of silence and I situated myself on a chair near Student A and took a few deep breaths, breathing in the positivity with everyone else, and letting go of the negative, the impatience and powerlessness. It was a very powerful few minutes for me. It was also far quieter than I thought it would be, and led to a final half hour that was a lot more focused and productive than a middle school teacher can hope for, especially for a Friday,

Student 2. who had forgotten his USB managed to hand in his project and his missing assignment, but didn't admit he hadn't had it finished in the first place. We did get to chat a little and I shared my "could you care less story?" which brought a big smile to his face, and hopefully a new level of understanding between us.

It was a very good end to a Friday and if I didn't have to mark all their work it would be leading to a much more exciting weekend, Yet, even as I complain, I am looking forward to reading their reflections and assessing and better understanding their learning, plus with report cards around the corner, I really have no choice.

I know I am not alone, so happy marking to all the educators like me. And everyone else enjoy your weekend activities whatever they may be.

**In case you missed it, I told the "Could you care less?" story in a previous post but I am not sure which one.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Days 28 & 29- Wednesday Headache, Thursday Healing

Wednesday morning I woke up with the migraine I had gone to bed with, the pain sitting in my left temple consistently throbbing, but not yet spread to my eye or my stomach, and so I went to school, hoping it would pass.

I got to my classroom, only turned off half the lights, and as we started the morning I told my class I wasn't feeling great- that I had a headache and wasn't sure how I would feel through the day, but would appreciate their quiet. I took attendance, and as we were beginning and I was giving some information, I happened to be standing right beside Student A, who was smashing his pencil into the air and through a piece of paper, making a sharp noise with each hole.

I turned to him and asked him to stop. I grabbed a piece of Plasticine and handed it to him as I did, reminding him I had a headache and asking him to please do whatever he needed to do quietly. When he wasn't interested in the Plasticine, I went to the box and grabbed a pile of paper, as I talked about how important it is to ask for what we need, and he began drawing as I handed it to him. I told everyone, just as I had mentioned my headache and that I needed quiet. that asking doesn't always guarantee that we will get what we need, and it helps if what we need can actually be achieved, but it is important we ask, especially if there is a chance we can get it.

Just as we started the meditation I also made the connection to gratitude. I noted that when we get what we need, we have to be grateful, and that in life, it is easier to be happy when we can align our wants with our needs, and the goals can attain.

Then I started the music and the meditation, and the room, which had been quiet before, was immediately still and silent again. Student A put his head down on his binder and just about everyone else put their heads down as usual. Student B sat up and looked around a little,then rested his head on his hand and was quiet, not calling attention, and neither did his friend across the room. I thoroughly appreciated the silence.

I moved through all the prompts pretty quickly, not rushing, but not giving any extra instructions- they know what to do and don't need me. Plus I didn't have the energy. We enjoyed more than half the track, or about 3 minutes in silence. I had my eyes closed, breathing in energy and trying to breathe the headache away. I was in too much pain to enjoy the silence, but I truly appreciated it. It was lovely.

The meditation ended and we moved into the French lesson I had planned for the morning, the quiet and calm remained in the room, especially as Student A had again fallen asleep. He slept for the rest of the period and woke up as everyone was leaving the room to go to Band/Exploratory. He was surprised he had slept, but woke up in a good mood and went to the next class.

I had prep time for the next two periods and a lot I had to get done, but as the migraine did not pass, but started getting worse and spreading, I made the call to bring in a substitute and go home for the afternoon. We have a part-time teacher in our building who turned out to be available, so it was especially easy to plan and pass on the information she would need.

I tried to get done what I absolutely need to do that morning, in between resting my head and fighting the nausea, before my switch class came back for fourth period. When they came back from gym, before we began, we all had to go to the library for picture day. It took about 20 minutes to get through both classes, and so when we finally got started there was just 20 minutes left in the morning,

There was no better time to meditate, especially because at this point I was really not feeling well. I told my switch class about my headache and that I would be leaving at lunch before we got started, as we had to put some things in order for the afternoon. Then we moved into the meditation and everyone was very quiet, especially for my switch class, all the excitement of picture day and the short time left before lunch.

I turned off the lights and began the music and everyone was pretty quiet, even my fidgeter put his head down. Everyone else did their thing, and at this point I had even less energy than earlier that morning, and gave all the usual prompts with as little instruction as possible. As I did, I didn't even have the energy to walk around the room, I just spoke from my chair. As we moved into the silence, I was having trouble keeping my head up. I leaned forward with my head in my hands, rubbing my temples and taking deep breaths. It helped a little and I was very grateful for the silence, but I was also a little worried that they were so quiet because I was freaking them out. I didn't want to scare them, but my head was really sore.

The meditation ended pretty quickly, and I was grateful for the moments, and that the morning was almost over and I was going home. I spent the last 10 minutes giving a brief introduction to the French and then was so happy to go home to bed.

I spent the all afternoon and most of the evening there yesterday, which is why this writing is happening today, and I am grateful it is.

It took most of the night, but when I woke up in the morning my headache was finally gone. I still wasn't feeling great, but I was much better than yesterday and so I went to school. All reports were good and there was a positive feel in the room in the morning. Quite a few students expressed their concern and were glad to see me back. That felt pretty good.

I had the library booked for writing and so my class and I headed there right after announcements. They logged onto the computers before we started and then turned their chairs. I told them if they really needed to put their heads down they could, but I challenged them to take the opportunity and try to sit up straight, and today most of them did.

Students where spread throughout the library around the computers, and so no one was looking at any one person in particular. The librarian had turned off the lights and joined us, and perhaps others sensed our stillness, because there were no interruptions for the entire meditation, No one came into the library at all.

Our meditation was peaceful and focused. We moved through the prompts, breath count and focus on writing, inhaling the confidence to see the words on the screen and exhale the worry, fear and doubts about the kind of writers they are. We moved into the silence and it was as still as it had been in the class the day before, but I could appreciate it so much more today, I told my students that when ended the meditation, and the librarian also commented on how nice it felt and thanked us for bringing it there. My class is getting really good at meditating together.

I saw my switch class just before lunch again for French, and it was almost as quiet today as it had been yesterday. There was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary and no major distractions. For the most part it was pretty regular- most heads down and few looking around and my breathers breathing. There were a couple of kids out sick all week, and so it was even quieter with a couple less bodies in the room. We inhaled  in what we needed, and exhaled what we didn't, breathing in the focus and letting go of the distractions. Then we moved into the stillness. I took a few deep breaths, and then opened my eyes and watched them breathe, just appreciating the moment and my students.

We ended the meditation and moved into our French before we broke for lunch. The afternoon then flew by, with some work on Human Rights in Social Studies, where both classes came together with incredible focus. Before the afternoon ended, we rewarded their amazing work, and took advantage of the double digit temperatures at the end of October with a walk to the park.

When we gave them the news, that we would head outside, the smiles and responses on their faces were remarkable. They acted like they had won the lottery, they were so excited. Maybe they are catching on to this happiness thing more than I realized. That 40 minutes outside certainly made the afternoon awesome...and fly by,

Plus tomorrow is Friday and the end of the 5 day week. Hope it's a good one for everyone!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Day 27- Tuesday before the Library

Our third field trip, our first of what will be monthly visits to the Millennium Library, Winnipeg's downtown library, and it is already becoming routine. Excitement balanced with awareness, coming together in the morning, meditating to get focused and grounded, gathering our stuff, getting on the bus, going to the library, working- today a scavenger hunt, meeting for lunch, meeting again, library time in the afternoon, meeting for the final time, getting on the bus and going back to school, reflecting and closing the day together. It was a good day and a good sign for our visits ahead.

We all met in Mr. Y's room after attendance and everyone got settled very quickly. My class found space among the other class, Student A joined his buddy and both of them put their heads down and were surprisingly quiet. My fidgeter is less fidgety when we are in the larger group, as he watches me deal with the others- maybe he is just happy it is not him. Student B had placed himself near the front, where he sits in this class and is working to be successful, and was again today.

The annoyances occurred with my breather's buddy, who was seated across from one of Student B's friends, one who has a way of getting involved in any action that happens in our room, although never seemingly intentionally. Today as we started he turned his chair so he could put his head down, but didn't do that in the end. Instead, he and my breather's friend spent time looking at each other.

As always that weren't noisy, or disruptive to anyone but each other, and only annoying to me. My breather kept his eyes closed, his back straight and kept on breathing, and everyone else was relaxed in the meditation. I moved around the room as I gave the usual prompts, the breath count, and then we inhaled our calm and ability to make good choices, and exhaled the excess energy and excitement that distracts us and blocks those choices, but kept coming back to stand by them,

As we moved into the silence, they seemed to have settled and were finally leaving each other alone and so I went to sit down in an available chair on the other side of the room. I closed my eyes, but sensed restlessness and opened them a moment later, to see the boys making eyes and signals at each other. I got up and went to stand beside them, where I stayed, and they we quiet, for the rest of the meditation.

I wasn't impressed, but tried to breathe as I stood with my eyes closed, and realized if this was the worst of my problems then things were pretty okay. And we were on our way to the library, so the meditation wasn't perfect, and neither was the day, but all in all it was pretty okay too. It was a good start to our visits with 7 more in the months to come, It will be interesting to see what they, and the rest of this five day week, will bring.

Day 26- Quiet Monday

I wrote this on Monday but the internet went down so I couldn't post it. I almost had to question if I even wrote it, so here it is.

With two 4 day weeks behind them, and next week the start of two more 4 day weeks, today marked the Monday of their only 5 day week in the mid-term stretch. If today was any indication, it is a sign of good days to come. Maybe it was that the Monday after the long weekend left them all tired, or perhaps the mention of report cards being one month away brought a more serious feeling to the room, but whatever the case, this morning’s meditation was still and silent from beginning to end, even with the arrival of surprise visitor.

I started with my class, and after announcements and a brief update about the day we got into our meditation. Everyone was quiet before we even began so it was a very easy start. Student A had his head down on his binder, which some students had found and brought to him earlier that morning. Student B seemed a bit tired and a little preoccupied so was not seeking anyone else’s attention. He sat up, leaning his head on his hand and was quiet through the whole meditation. At one point I noticed his friend across the room looking at him, expecting some response, but today there was none. Everyone was quiet and the room was very peaceful.

A few breaths into the breath count I noticed someone at my door. There are often students coming around classrooms to use computers, as we don’t have a computer lab and the library is often booked, and there were some girls at another door, but it is unusual to have adults come to the door. The woman saw the lights were off and didn’t interrupt, but I wasn’t sure who was there, so I opened the door as I kept counting.

It turned out it was the liaison worker for my student with visual impairments, and there was a mix-up around the date, which was why I hadn’t been expecting her. As soon as I saw who it was, I gestured a welcome as I kept counting. I also signaled that we would be about three more minutes, and invited her to take my chair in the circle, as I continued with the count.  She sat down, and if my students noticed, they didn’t give any indication. No one disturbed the silence.

I continued, inviting my students to find what they need in their breath as we begin sharing our demonstrations of learning of the common errors, inhaling the confidence to believe in the work they have done and their understanding, exhaling the worry, fear and doubt that blocks them, and makes them second guess themselves.

As we moved into the silence, with my spot taken, I had to find another place to sit. I went to the other side of the class, near the computers, quietly lifted a chair, turned it around, and took a place between two tables- the beauty of the circle of my classroom; everyone has a place and there is room for many- and took part in the silence.

Again, if the students I joined noticed I was there, they didn’t show it. Within a breath or two, I also closed my eyes, so I probably wouldn’t have noticed if they did either. I took a few moments, breathing in the stillness and silence, and thought it was a good start to the week. Just before we ended, I took a moment to be grateful as I opened my eyes and looked around the room at how quiet everyone was and how calm everyone felt.  I felt happy to be in my classroom with my students- I think they did too, at least if they have to be in school.

It was a feeling that lasted through the first part of the morning, and more or less through the day…after all, it was still Monday in middle school.

I saw my switch class after lunch, which had followed TAA, and while they were a little less calm than my class had been first thing in the morning, they were relatively quiet, and relaxed, especially after I told them that their presentations wouldn’t actually start until Wednesday.

As we began, they were once again quiet, but not entirely still or silent, as is the tendency with this class, especially in the afternoons. Once the lights went off and the music began, most had their heads down. My breather breathed as usual, and his friend joined us when he quietly came back in the room, after indicating it was urgent he leave when we were about to start. I never question a kid who says that it is urgent. My fidgeter was fidgety today, as usual, but a little more so, putting his head down and then picking it up a few times in between playing with his water bottle and other objects in his reach.

Maybe because he is sitting beside my fidgeter, the boy who likes to look at me was doing that more today too, watching me as I walked around the room, putting his head down when we made eye contact and lifting it again when I had passed. He did that two or three times as I circled around and I am still not sure what he was looking for in my attention. I smiled at him and encouraged him and everyone to inhale their confidence, in their work and learning as they reflect upon it, and to exhale the worry, fear and doubt, and to be aware of what they tell themselves about their work, their learning and their efforts, inhaling honest reflection and exhaling the voice that puts us down.

I joined them in a minute or so at the end, enjoying the quiet, the near stillness and near silence before I closed the meditation. While not as peaceful as the morning, there was still a positive and focused feel in the room. We moved into reflecting on their projects, preparing for presentations and the rest of the afternoon, including getting ready for another field trip tomorrow. Much like the meditation, it went very quickly and smoothly. I have a feeling the rest of the week will too.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Day 25- Friday MTS Professional Development Day- Meditating with Teachers

MTS Professional Development Day is the only professional development day of the year when teachers get to choose an area of interest to explore for their own professional development, learning and growth. I am grateful to have found a home with Manitoba Middle Years Association (MMYA- where I can present and share my research and experience with other teachers, as I have for the last four years since I completed my Masters.

My session, which I expanded last year to the whole day format, has continued to be a popular choice, and like last year sold out with 40 participants, at least for the morning. As I began the morning session, and I expressed my gratitude to my participants for their presence and the choice they had made to be there, I also emphasized how I believed this is a day for teachers to take care of themselves and learn in the way they feel they need to learn, so I wouldn't be taking attendance, or offense, if people didn't come back in the afternoon, with a reminder to fill out their feedback form and note their presence. This is a hard pill to swallow, because I really want everybody to come back in the afternoon. and I want to mean it when I say I won't be offended, which means I have to work with my ego and remind myself it is not always, or rarely ever, about me. I also appreciate the 25 or so teachers who did come back for the afternoon all the more, because I know that they really want to be there.

My morning session pretty much outlines the points of my comprehensive project with stories to illustrate my experience, and in the hour and fifteen minutes I spent with the 40 or so teachers, we opened with the 4 minute and 38 second, inhale, 2, 3, 4 meditation I use through the month of September and ended with a 5 minute and 44 second daily, finding what we need, meditation just before lunch. In between those meditations, I just talked, answering the few questions that came up along the way. I am not sure where it came up recently, but there was a discussion about preparedness leading to spontaneity and freedom that has resonated with me, and that I felt as I was getting ready for yesterday, and throughout the day as I was presenting.

In the early years of my presentations, I felt internal pressure to use a PowerPoint presentation, not because I needed it, but because I felt I needed to prove something to my audience and make a statement about my credibility. But when I was presenting with slides, I felt limited by them, always worrying if I was in tune with my slides and covering what they said. It was not natural to the rhythm and flow of any particular group, and felt counterintuitive to the nature of the themes of holistic education, and spirituality and meditation in the classroom.

Yesterday, when I got to the classroom, I loaded a few links and pieces I thought I might need, put my contact information, chapter information (I had to search on the ESWB- Education for Sustainable Well-Being press to find the link, because the google scholar link didn't work), and blog site on the board, and had my portable speaker and Ipad for my music. It has now been about 3 years that I have been presenting this way, at holistic conferences, in university and middle school classrooms, for a middle school staff, and again today at MTS day- basically whenever I can. It has become second nature, an extension of my teaching practice, and is an absolute pleasure. It has become what I consider a large part of my educational purpose, to support other teachers in their classroom practices by destigmatizing holistic education, and spirituality and meditation in the classroom.

Among the pieces I loaded was a slide illustrating mindfulness as the presence to be in the moment when receiving stimuli, and the ability to discern between a reaction, often automatic and not mindful, and a response, which is thoughtful and facilitated through mindfulness, or a mindful pause. As I opened, I told them this was the only time I planned to use the projector, which didn't mean we wouldn't use it, but that they didn't have to worry about it, or rely on it, and that they should find a place where they were comfortable in the room. It was a very large classroom, but with 40 adults it was still very cramped. I began with an explanation of the illustration, which sums up the essence of mindfulness.  It is not a program, many of which are on the market and being touted in schools today, but a practice, which has been around for a long time, in the act of living mindfully in the present moment, whatever the present moment is.

I am always wary of educational programs, which are often brought in with huge ceremony, or an authoritative voice, and hailed as "the" program with "the" answers to learning, whether it is in Math, classroom management or mindfulness. I have seen it happen to many times that teachers are handed a package, or put through, or even sometimes choose to go through PD, which is said to be "the way," at the expense of other methods, experience or successful practice that may already be in place. While most of these programs have some value, and there are usually one or two nuggets teachers can identify and use, there is no one way for every student to learn any given concept or skill, and packages are usually more about cushioning someone's bottom line, or advancing someone's career than serving students, As I began, I made it very clear that I don't have any opinions about any packages on mindfulness, though I know of several being used in schools. I believe that teachers are experts in their classrooms, and can use the resources with which they are comfortable and serve their students in the areas of mindfulness and meditation, as they do with all other choices they make around curriculum and supporting resources, and that if they were hoping for a package or handout, they hand come to the wrong session. Having said that, I also emphasized that I am very happy to share my experiences, research and resources, and invited everyone to ask questions as I spoke, talk to me during the breaks, or contact me after and I would send them any information they need.

Even though I reassured my participants of this several times during the session, and insisted I did have slides I could send them that included everything we were doing, there were many who took notes throughout the session.  This never ceases to amaze me, because anyone who has ever been in any class, meeting or PD session with me knows I rarely take notes, but come prepared with a huge selection of markers and paper for doodling. I have a lovely art wall in my living room that is the best byproduct of my university studies.

As I begin my presentations and introduce myself, like on Friday, I try to be very transparent about who I am, why I do what I do, and my core values and beliefs. One of the big differences I have noticed when working with adults is my own acute awareness of cultural differences and the knowledge and experience that others in the room may have. This also holds true with my students, of course, but their knowledge and experience is limited to 12 years, and as I discovered in class again recently, they are not even aware of most of the cultural stereotypes. As the age and experience of the audience grows so does my sensitivity to each person's experience, and a little more so when meditation is obviously inherent to that person's culture.

When I started meditating in the spring of 1994, I was 24 in Tel Aviv and had been told by a tarot card reader that learning to breathe better would be essential to avoiding suffering in my life. Though I thought it was ridiculous, it stuck with me and I bought a book on breathing and started practicing meditation and working with my breath. Shortly after that I learned I was breathing backwards, sucking my belly in when I inhaled, instead of letting it expand to use my full lung capacity. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know it was possible to breathe backwards. But I had never played an instrument, and my grade 5 choir teacher had told me to mouth the words, so I had never been taught to breath properly. These revelations changed my life and I have been working with my breath, learning, and practicing meditation ever since.

I try to make it clear that though experienced, I am no expert. I have learned from many teachers in many places over the years and put it together to develop one way of meditating that works for me and my students. It is not the right way, or the best way, just the way that works for me that I am grateful to share. I am very straightforward in sharing my own personal struggles with discipline, starting and stopping, being slow to change- one of my challenges, for over 20 years I have been consistently inconsistent or inconsistently consistent, depending on the day, which I think is part of what makes me such a good teacher. I can be consistent for and with my students in my classroom, to help them bring discipline to their lives, because I want better for them. I am open with my participants about the good days and the bad days both in life and the classroom, and my continuing gratitude that the good days continue to outnumber the bad.

I also welcome feedback from the start. I acknowledge my experience and a certain level of expertise in my classroom, and with the research in education and meditation, I also recognize that there are others in the room who may have a lot more knowledge and experience than I, and invite participants to feel free to share. In 1994, cultural appropriation was not part of our social consciousness, and while I believe I am, and have always been, working within the realm of cultural appreciation, and have been learning and sharing something of a universal practice, with commonalities in many cultures and some religions, with sincerity and respect for the benefit of myself and my students. Yet, when I present and work with teachers today, I am very aware of the time, place, and the social constructs of 2016. It is never my intention to offend anyone, or to make assumptions, and I bring that awareness to my presentations in the introduction.

Then we began, Moving into the meditations with adult learners is not challenging, especially in a session where teachers have chosen, sometimes even paid out-of-pocket, to be there, as there is no need to manage behaviour. Like kids, teachers are reluctant to answer questions, whether it is before, about meditation and its purpose, or after, to share their experiences. I let them know that pretty much everything I was saying to them I say to my students, including that it is okay to wait out the awkward silences and give people, young or old, the chance to process their ideas and respond. With this group it worked, and a couple answered my questions about the purpose of meditation, to stop our thoughts by bringing our focus and attention to our breath, and a couple shared their experiences after, noticing the strange passage of time and other sensations and feelings.

The morning session went by very quickly. The first 4 minute and 38 second meditation was done before I knew it, which is also what one of the participants stated, noting her surprise. The room was too crowded to circle around the entire space, which was strange for me- I really like to walk around because it helps me keep the count even. Everyone participated, sitting up straight, breathing with the count, not surprising or remarkable for a group of adults who chose this session. Also one of the reasons I love these sessions. The meditations are peaceful, and there is power in our coming together to breathe.

I talked pretty naturally, sharing a lot of what I wrote in my comprehensive project, my chapter, and in this blog. My Masters Comprehensive Project explored educational research in holistic education, spirituality, and meditation in the classroom and its benefits, from the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual perspectives, and then in connection to the whole child, which I illustrate for my participants, reminding them, they can chose not to believe, or also tell any naysayers or objectors, that even if they don't believe any of it, sitting quietly for 5 minutes will not hurt them or their students. There is never enough time to cover everything in an hour, so I alway hope I am not forgetting the most important parts and appreciate when people ask questions, because I know I am telling them things they want to know.

We started the second meditation just 10 minutes before the lunch break. A couple of people were scribbling their notes as we were getting started, and I reminded them I could send them the material and they were more important than their writing. Everyone moved into the meditation easily and peacefully. I moved through the prompts, breath count and took my time with the description of full, deep inhales, the hold, and the slow, steady exhales and the different qualities. I figured this is the only experience we have together, so I tried to be thorough, even though it did not leave a lot of time for silence at the end. I did sit down and join in the stillness for 5 or 6 breaths, in which I noted my excitement and enjoyment in the presentation and my gratitude for the opportunity and the experience of the morning.

Lunch was supplied, which was a bonus for presenting, and lovely to hang out with some colleagues and people I don't get to see too often. After lunch, there was a keynote address by Thomas Falkenberg, of the University of Manitoba, who beyond being very interesting and speaking on the important topic of sustainable well-being, is hugely important to me, as he sat on my Masters committee and gave me the opportunity to publish my work through the ESWB, chapter 11 in his (et al) book.

His talk on Education for Sustainable Well-Being spoke of the school's growing role in actively teaching well-being, through skills and practice, and the responsibility to do so to meet the needs of children as they grown. He connected Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to research in sustainability, well-being and positive psychology, to illustrate the urgency in addressing the needs of our students on all levels, using a holistic approach.

As I walked away from his address what resonated with me most was the responsibility to help our students build a positive identity and a sense of self, which fosters belonging, because if we don't take steps to actively move in this direction, then a negative sense of self grows in its place by default. When we don't speak to our students, they often hear the words we don't say even more clearly.

As I started the afternoon session, noting my deep gratitude to the 25 or so people who had returned, and the one gentleman who joined, I shared my thoughts and the timeliness of implementing practices like meditation as a tool, to support the ideas Thomas had been promoting. I also shared the work of Catherine O'Brien from Cape Breton University on Sustainable Happiness ( She had been one of the keynote speakers at the Holistic Convention this past May and Thomas' talk had reminded me of her work.

It struck me to share her website with my participants as she promotes actively growing and sustaining happiness by exploring what it means to be happy, moving beyond the material, and ways we can bring happiness to our life. In her talk in May, she spoke of varieties of affluence that go beyond the material or financial, including "time affluence," and a awareness of how we spend our time, or sometimes even having leisure time to spare, and "nature affluence," in which we grow an appreciation of, and find happiness in, nature. It seemed important, and timely, to share this information with the group, as well as stress the urgency to bring this kind of learning to our classrooms and not discount the steps they could take and their impact.

After that introduction we went into a short moving meditation, half sun salutations, to energize us for the rest of the afternoon. I explained I like to use these when we are outside and can connect with nature and our surroundings, but as long as they have an arm's length of room around them this meditation, like most, can been done anywhere. With only 25 people in the room in the afternoon there was enough room for everyone to spread out.

Before they did, as I was introducing the meditation, I gave a little information and then said I would demonstrate one round first and they could either watch or feel free to join in. Most often when I do this with kids we are outside and they are already standing, but wherever we are, they rarely watch a round. They just jump in, half listening, sort of watching as they go. It was very strange to demonstrate the half sun salutation, and move through the 3 breaths, having everyone sitting in their seats around me. I didn't feel self-conscious or awkward, it was just weird, because it was the first time that everyone was actually watching and listening to me. When I was done, everyone got up and joined in. We moved through a series of 5 rounds, 3 with me giving direction and 2 in silence. It felt good to move and lovely to stand in silence, in a moment of gratitude as I felt my heartbeat. Maybe I should do that with my students more in the afternoons.

Before I spoke about METTA meditations to close the afternoon, I addressed one of the most common pieces of feedback I hear from teachers, together with their desire to do something like a meditation practice in their classroom, is the worry that they are not experts, that they are not good enough or will somehow do it wrong. I understand the fear and have wrestled with it myself in many ways. In my experience it is a common fear of teachers, when teaching in all sorts of subject areas.

As a Jewish educator, I teach Holocaust with a certain intimacy and expertise, but if only Jewish educators taught Holocaust, there would not be a lot of learning on a very important part of history, or the opportunity to grow compassion and understanding, I am grateful to gentile educators who take on this responsibility even if they do not consider themselves experts or have the same level of learning I do in the area.

This is how I came to understand reconciliation and my role in it as an educator as well. It doesn't matter that I am not indigenous and most of my students are not either. I have a responsibility to teach what we have to come understand as Canada's true dark history- the racial disposition upon which Canada was founded, which led to a cultural genocide that lasted 7 generations, and its lasting impact, including the systemic discrimination and marginalization of indigenous people, and the resulting issues, like the intergenerational trauma, poverty and addiction- in order to take active steps to help my students gain a deeper understanding, and be a part of reconciliation today for a better future. It is my responsibility as an educator. If we don't, who will?

It may have seemed like a tangent to my participants, but to me it is all connected. Holocaust and Indigenous educations are issues of Social Justice, and advocating for student, and teacher, well-being is also an issue of Social Justice. If we don't teach well-being, and practices like meditation, then who will?

So I encourage teachers to find the resources they need, the ones they are comfortable with, just as they do with all of the other important learning they do in their classrooms. To that end, I showed a little five minute video, which contains a one minute meditation, to illustrate everything I tried to demonstrate in our practice- because kids believe it when it is on youtube- and because it highlights how simple it is to find different resources that can be fun for kids and teachers can be comfortable with. (

The video is fun and simple, and a good place for teachers with less experience, or teacher candidates jumping into their practicums, to start. It is also a good place to emphasize one point of caution. While meditation is a powerful tool, holding a variety of benefits to help one cope in life, it is not a magic cure to anything.

It is important to remind oneself, and when working with kids to remember, when we take a few breaths we might feel a little bit better, but it doesn't make everything different or alright. It doesn't change reality or make uncomfortable emotions disappear. It is a tool to help us manage our emotions and life's events, but it won't solve everything or change one's circumstances, though it might support us in finding the ideas and strength to do what we need to do to ultimately change our circumstances. It is that calm in the storm, rather than wishing the storm away, type of feeling that we can gain from meditation, or spiritual practice, by consciously fostering our well-being and happiness in all areas of our lives and the lives of our students. It is important to me that I stress what meditation is and is not at some point during the session.

With about 40 minutes left in the day, and wanting to end a bit early, because we are all teachers and theses PD days are the only days we can do this, I went into METTA meditations, the explanation, and a couple of stories. One, when we extended our caring and compassion to the people of Japan after the earthquake in 2011 and then learned my VP's son and family were there, and  the second, dealing with the death of the student's parent, both our which are told in detail in my chapter. I also talked about September 11th and Orange Shirt Day (September 30th) this year as shared in the blog.

We went into the meditation and the room was so quiet that within a minute or two of walking around my squeaky shoes were driving me crazy. I didn't know if anyone else noticed, but I figured if I did  someone else must. After trying to stand still failed within a few breaths I just slipped off my shoes and went on guiding the meditation barefoot.

As we moved through the steps, extending our caring and compassion, first to ourselves, then with loved ones, then an acquaintance, and finally out into the world, wherever they felt a need, near or far, and there was a peace and quiet in the room. I think everyone was very happy for the opportunity to relax and there was a palpable feeling of clam in the stillness of the room. There was no shuffling or fidgeting, just peace.

I joined in the minute or two of silent gratitude, and for the umpteenth time that day felt a supreme sense of appreciation for the people in the room, the day, and the opportunity to do what I really love to do, work with teachers who really want to be there and share my experience and learning. I wished I could go into their classrooms and work with them and their students, and noted that I will keep working towards that I am writing towards it.

After the meditation ended, I opened the final moments to any last questions, comments or ideas, and once again waited some time through the awkward silence, before I reminded everyone that their feedback was valued and to fill in the forms before they had a wonderful weekend, and I once again thanked them for their presence.

Their thank-yous as they left and the positive feedback on the forms was really amazing. I sifted through the comments, happily noting that by and large people had appreciated the meditations and the time and guidance to meditate, as well as me and my passion. It was really gratifying. It was an amazing day, and I am grateful to the people who attended my session, MMYA, and MTS PD Day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Day 24- A smoother Thursday

Today was a much smoother day. With Band and then Choir to start the day, I saw each of my classes before lunch, with my switch class in period 3 and my class in period 4. Though everyone was excited for their day off tomorrow, there was also a sense of urgency as they know their projects are due on Monday, and there was also a list of assignments they had to be sure they had in. They had a lot of work to get done in the short periods we had together, with TAA taking up part of the afternoon and PLC's annoying mine, taking up my prep time.

My switch class came to me first and they were less settled than yesterday. They were still quiet from the beginning of the meditation to the end, but they were not still or silent. It was fine, good enough, but not great.

From within a few minutes of starting through to the end, there was never quite stillness in the room. It didn't come from one place in particular, it wasn't only my fidgeter, though he was fidgeting on and off too, but from different students in all corners of the room- the shuffle of a chair, the tapping of a finger, the squeaking of a table or a shoe, all contributed to a slight restlessness in the room.

And at the same time, it was quiet. As I moved through the prompts, the breath count, and then guided them to find what they needed today, to inhale whatever quality they felt like they wanted to grow- the focus, the confidence, the positivity- and to feel it growing inside them, and to exhale the opposing quality- the distractions, the fear, the negativity- and to feel it lessening inside them, they were quiet. Despite the subtle annoyances, that are perhaps only noticeable to me because I am observing them, my breathers kept on breathing, and thankfully everyone else did too, and there was silence in the room.

When we were done, I pointed out the disruptions I had noticed. I demonstrated the noise of the table squeaking on the floor, the crumpling of the bottle, and other movements and how they add up, realizing I had not had this conversation with this class before. I reminded them how we are all in this together and so each movement affects the entire class. No one lives in a bubble.

I mentioned the asthma story, which I had clearly never mentioned before, because it led to a whole discussion of asthma and its effects, as well as lung function and the size of the lungs, stretching the length of our rib cage, from top to bottom, and requiring time to empty and fill. They were quite engaged in the discussion, as well as concerned about the welfare of the girl who had had the asthma attack, and it was an interesting chat. Then it ended, and we move on to the work of the day.

My class came back 40 minutes later and were also more restless today than yesterday too, but still quieter than my switch class. Student A had been reading on the beanbag chair in the hallway, and I invited him to join us for the meditation and then go back to reading, but he told me preferred to keep reading, and I wasn't going to argue. At least I can trust him to stay there and keep reading.

Everyone else settled in, and Student B showed his need for attention almost as soon as we began. I stood in front of him as he started to smirking across the room at his friend, who was of course looking at him. I once again reminded him that he didn't need his friend's attention, or mine, that he could take a few minutes to look within, or he could just sit there. He put his head down for a minute or two.

After the usual prompts and breath count, I encouraged them to find what they need this morning as well, breathing in whatever quality the wished to grow and exhaling the negative quality which gets in the way. As I sat down and we moved into a minute or two of silence, the room was quiet, but also not still. The boy beside me was scratching his leg, which was clearly very itchy, and while it would not have been noticeable at all during regular classroom activities, it was very obvious during a meditation. Though not intentional, the student, the same one who had brought the fart to my attention, was quite apologetic for the stir he caused in a whisper. No one reacted outwardly, except Student B, who had decided to use the opportunity to practice his breath, deeply and pretty loudly. I let it go for a few breaths, but when it was the only noise in the room and it kept getting louder, I let out a "Shh," the kind that sounds like I am leaking, and opened my eyes to give him a look. As I had hoped it did the trick, and we finished the meditation in relative silence.

As I turned on the lights, I talked about being itchy during a meditation and trying to breath through it until it goes away. I told them about an experience I had had when I had been meditating and my palm got itchy- I was trying to ignore it and breath through it, and at one point the itchy feeling was so intense I experienced a strong burning sensation that felt like it would never end, I felt like my hand was on fire. But somehow, I just kept breathing, and bringing my attention to each inhale and each exhale, and then suddenly the feeling was gone. I remembered not noticing exactly when it had stopped and being surprised that it had, almost as though I had forgotten about it.

Before we got to work I also confessed that I had almost lost it, and my laughter had nearly ruined the meditation this morning. As we started and I gave the usual prompts, I noticed that just about everyone had put their head down as usual, but today so did one EA. With Student A busy reading, she could take a few moments for herself to breath, and today it seemed she really needed it. I had to laugh, and managed to keep the chuckle in my head, but very much appreciated the moment. Sometimes even adults need to put their head down for 5 minutes.

We all had a good chuckle when I shared my thoughts with them and then we moved into a very nice, and productive Fake-Friday. I  am looking forward to meeting new teachers, seeing colleagues and longtime friends, taking in the keynote speaker, Thomas Falkenberg, of the U of M, who is also the professor who published my work, and presenting at Manitoba Middle Years Association tomorrow, but I can't complain about today. It was a good day.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 23- A Crazy Busy Wednesday

Fighting a cold/sinus/infection/some sort of virus, and waking up with a headache, sore throat and stuffy nose, I stayed home to rest and get better yesterday, and feeling somewhat better, though still not entirely well, I went back to school today.

The note I returned to from the substitute was that everyone had had a good day, and with the exception of Student A, had been quite productive. I learnt later, as they got to work and I checked their progress, that we have different ideas of productive, but that is life in middle school and not entirely surprising. I was happy with cooperative, respectful and quiet.

First thing in the morning, before the day had begun, I also learnt from the note and other reports that Student A had had a tough day yesterday, and as we started the day, and I was taking attendance and he starting poking the person beside him, it was clear his bad day was carrying over to today.

I noticed him reaching over to the table beside him, poking the boys and reaching for their stuff, and there was no choice but to put a stop to it as sternly and clearly as possible, yet even as I raised my voice, which I don't have to do to be loud, and yelled, "No!," he continued to poke the boy beside him.

I went over to his desk and remained firm, pointing out that he had a lot of space, the boys had been exceptionally patient, and others would have been so annoyed they would have gotten themselves in trouble hitting him, and we were all getting fed up with having to ask him to keep his hands to himself. When he continued poking at the boys, I moved the table apart from his, creating about an 8 inch gap, and then moved his table in the other direction another couple of inches. One of the EAs (Educational Assistants) sat herself between Student A and the two boys, creating a physical barrier between them and Student A finally started to settle, turning his attention to folding the papers in front of him into airplanes.

As I went back to my computer to finish attendance, I commented that perhaps Student A had missed me yesterday and this was his way of showing his affection, a comment I often make when students are bickering, insulting each other, or even coming to blows, acknowledging his need for attention. I also noted that I was getting tired of telling him to leave people alone, and that everyone else was getting tired of hearing it, to which one of the students responded with a resounding, "Yeah." At first she was embarrassed, but I let her know that it was okay that she expressed how she felt, it was important, especially when it is done respectfully.

I went on to talk about expressing all of our emotions in a healthy and respectful way, including anger. I reminded them all that it was okay to get angry, and to express anger with respectful words, not insults or fists, and to remember, that anger, like all emotions, doesn't last for long. It passes, and then we move forward. I also reminded them that everyone gets angry sometimes, and everyone has someone get angry at them sometimes, and that we all work through it and live through it, which is why it is so important we recognize our anger for what it is. It is also one of the reasons we meditate, to help us breathe through these events in life, these moments of anger, to help let them go, learn from them and move forward.

Which is exactly what we did, and once we finally got started I was really hoping we could enjoy 5 minutes or so of quiet, because I was already exhausted. Just before we began, Student A chose to fly one of his airplanes across the room, landing in front of me. I wasn't sure how to respond. I really didn't want to fight with him, so I gave him a look, told him exactly that, and that I expected the behaviour would stop. Then I started the meditation.

The lights went off and I began the music and the prompts and made my way around the room and over to Student A. For the first 2 minutes or so I stood beside him, as I gave the posture prompts, through the breath count and into the guided breath. At first as I stood there, Student A had his airplane in hand and was flying it in front of his face. He was quiet enough, but not silent. As his noises got louder, I moved a little closer, placing my hand over his gently, encouraging him to relax. He resisted at first and then stopped. When he did, I took a step back, hoping he would settle. He picked up his plane again for a few seconds, and then put it down again and put his head down.

Once he settled, I moved closer, put my hand on his back, encouraging him and everyone to inhale positivity for the day ahead, and exhaling the negativity, and to work with their emotions, inhaling the calm and exhaling the anger or fear. I stayed beside him for a moment or two, grateful that he had finally relaxed and was quiet.

The stillness in the room did not last for long, as all the attention on Student A had been too much for Student B, who is making great progress overall, still wedged between the girls on both sides, but still taking almost as many steps backwards as he does forward. Today he held it together, not causing any major disruptions, but still felt the need to call attention, making eyes with his friend across the room, the same friend of Student A, who had been hit with the stick.

Early in the meditation, before I had made my way to Student A, Student B went into the arm postures, while smirking with his friend. As I circled around the room, I stopped by him, gently placing my hand on his, looking him in the eye, reminding him he didn't need this kind of attention, that he was growing, and he had moved past it. He knew I was right, and the look in his eyes told me he understood, as did the fact that he put down his head, where it stayed for a while.

Once Student A had settled, I made my way over to Student B, giving him the same attention I had given Student B, reminding him to breathe in the confidence to know we are growing, and to exhale the fear that makes us think we are not. Student B let himself relax into the rest of the meditation.

Once they were both quiet, I still wasn't sure it was safe to sit down and join in the meditation, but I was tired and I needed it too, and so I decided I had better. It was the last minute and a half or so, and it was lovely. I closed my eyes and breathed in the silence. Then I took my own advice, and a few deep breaths, breathing in patience, and letting go of my impatience, with my students and myself. As the track ended, I took one full deep breath, inhaling my gratitude for these moments of quiet before we got started.

Then they got to work on their projects and I checked their progress, noting I have quite a few very artistic perfectionists, who also like to chat, and a few students who need to gain a deeper understanding of what hard work and productive use of time looks like. This is not surprising, as it is essentially what I teach in middle school, regardless of what we are learning. It was amazing how much work they got done in the 30 minutes of class time that followed calling them on their "work", further illustrating my point.

We switched classes for period 2 again this morning and so I saw my switch class at 9:45. I enjoy seeing this class early in the day and this meditation was thankfully much less eventful. Perhaps they sensed my agitation from earlier in the morning, or maybe they were just relaxed in general, but the reason doesn't matter too much, because I was happy to enjoy a very peaceful meditation. There were no noises or disruptions. Just about everyone had their heads down, including the girls who look around and Student 1, my fidgeter. I was surprised to notice his head was down through most of the meditation. My breathers were the only ones sitting up straight today, breathing as usual.

The prompts and focus were pretty much the same, what has become a regular daily meditation, inhaling focus, exhaling distraction, inhaling confidence, exhaling fear. There was less to say with this class and the directions went quickly, leaving about 2 and a half minutes of silence to enjoy. I was grateful to have another moment to sit and catch my breath. My room was very warm, I still wasn't feeling great, and the day had had a rough start. Sometimes I need these moments more than my students. Relationships are fragile and I have 23 or 46 in a room at a time at stake. While not impossible to overcome, blowups, or even flippant, careless remarks, can cause a lot of damage and take a lot of time and energy to heal. It is so much better when they can be avoided.

I know some are inevitable. I am human, flawed and I have a lot of patience, until the moment it runs out. But a few minutes of quiet breath, like this morning go a long way to help me maintain my sanity, and make for better days.

Student A didn't have the best day. His day got worse and he had much worse day than mine. But I will be able to be there for him again tomorrow, to begin another day, with a clean slate and a fresh start, because I took the time to breathe today. As long as we keep breathing, we never run out of chances. Every breath is a fresh start to a new now.

And tomorrow is another least it is a Friday on a Thursday day, with  PD and meditating with teachers to look forward to on Friday.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 23- Monday Morning, 5 minutes for the day

The forecast for our field trip was good and it did not disappoint. By the time both classes came together just after 9 a.m., to prepare for our outdoor field trip-a scavenger hunt on our Legislature grounds, then a short walking tour through downtown, noticing some federal and provincial government buildings and services, before we took the river walk to The Forks, for lunch and some time on the playground, finally returning to school to reflect on our day- the sun was already shining and it was clear it was going to be a beautiful fall day.

Everyone was excited, but have also notably improved at balancing their enthusiasm with a cooperative and respectful mindfulness of themselves and their surroundings. We had already gotten everything we would need organized on Friday, though of course several had to ask what they would need, and it didn't take long to get settled in Mr. Y's room. They have also gotten accustomed to making room for both classes and seating themselves in places they know they will be successful.

Today everyone got comfortable very quickly, with Mr. Y's class sitting in their usual seats and my class arranging themselves around them. My breather and his friend, who has become a breather too, were on opposite sides of the room, and beside my breather was another boy, who was also happy to sit up straight and breathe- more students do this more often when we are outside of my classroom- and on the other side of my breather sat Student A.

With only 30 minutes before our bus was scheduled to depart, I told them we would move into our meditation right away, and chose a slightly shorter track, at 5 minutes and 27 seconds. Everyone was quiet and pretty still as I started the prompts, but within the first 30 seconds Student A had focused on distracting my breather. Without actually touching him, he started waving his hands in front of his face in an effort to call attention.

I continued the breath count as I made my way across the room to Student A, who saw me moving towards him, stopped momentarily, and then continued to wave his hand in front of my breather's face, until I was standing right beside him, when he finally stopped and put his head down. I am not certain whether my breather noticed at all, or just didn't give Student A the satisfaction, but he was undisturbed and stayed with the meditation.

I stood there for the next four minutes, the remainder of the meditation, as I went through the rest of the prompts and into the silence. As I spoke, guiding my students to visualize the day ahead, inhaling their positivity to make the day productive and fun, and exhaling their negativity and the distractions that cause them to make bad choices, I rubbed Student A's back, encouraging him to relax, I continued, guiding them to inhale their calm to make good choices and exhaling the fear, worries and doubts that may block them, still standing behind Student A, intermittently rubbing his back.

As we progressed into a minute or so of silence, Student A was quiet, as was everyone else, even Student 1, who was fidgeting with his sweater, watching me with Student A, but not calling attention. The last minute was still and peaceful, though standing there made it feel longer than the usual tracks,which was a strange thought to note as I took a few breaths.

In the end, it was only 5 minutes and 27 and it was time to close the meditation and get ready to go. It was very quiet as we gave them the final instructions and obligatory reminders, and then we were on our way.

The day itself was pretty perfect. The weather cooperated, which helped the students enjoy the scavenger hunt and appreciate bits of history in the monuments, some of which we will study together, and other they may chose to follow up on in inquiry projects.

The weather was also perfect for walking. Not cold, but not warm enough to bring out too many people, even nearing the lunch hour. Our students continued to breakdown stereotypes as they did a great job sticking to the right on the sidewalk, leaving room for others even though we were a group of over 45 and made several stops on the way. Even Student A managed to walk with a stick without hitting people with it.

By the time we arrived for The Forks at lunch, everyone was starving and already tired. They were also on time for each and every meeting point, even after lunch, and earned their time on the playground, where they used the last of their energy. Everyone, including me, was pretty wiped as we came back to school, so we took a few minutes to relax before we moved into the reflections.

As I handed them out one remarked that I looked like a test. I responded that these are the best tests I give them, because I understand what they really learned, and they almost always surprise me. I am sure this set of reflections will be no different.

Our days in the world always bring our most interesting learning and today was no different, I wish I could do these field trips even more often, and I am very grateful for these days we do get to enjoy.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Day 22- Quiet Friday Morning

It was a Friday, getting ready for a field trip on Monday. It was going to be a good day. Switching up our schedule meant we split the first two periods, one period of Math and one period of LA for each class. It also meant back to back meditations, in period one and then period two, with both meditations were done before 10:00 a.m. Whether it was the timing, or just the day itself, it lead to two peaceful meditations and the start to a good Friday (no pun intended).

I began with my class first thing in the morning, but before we started the day I did some rearranging of the seating. I had been thinking about splitting up Student B and his buddies- finally- anyway, but my decision was clinched when I arrived to their arguing/nearly coming to blows over something, and one boy bothering the other, and that was that. I asked some girls to switch tables with the two boys, then I offered Student B the chance to slide in the other direction and sit beside a quiet boy on the other side, but he declined, and stayed where he was, now surrounded by girls.

After the switch, but before we started class, I took the opportunity to have another conversation, one of our continuing conversations, with Student B, about the work he is doing every day, the progress he is making, and the natural tendency of human nature to take one step forward and two steps back, especially as we are learning, and to be aware of both, to credit the successes and progress, and pay attention to the steps back, but not get down on ourselves and use them as an excuse to give up.

As everyone was getting settled in their new seats, and Student B displayed his dissatisfaction through his sulk, I told him one of my favourite stories, which caught the attention of most of the class. About 6 or 7 years ago, I had a student very similar to Student B- my experience holds one or two every year- and that year the student struggled to stay focused and get his work done. He was very capable, as is Student B, and I was on him to get it done- another classic paradox of teaching, what I saw as encouragement, he saw as nagging, at best.

One day this student asked me, very earnestly, "Ms. Satran, don't you like me?" I was taken aback as this kid, though also somewhat entertaining, was indeed quite likeable. I responded that I was surprised by his question, and of course I liked him. I went into the lengthy explanation of my behaviour being a demonstration of how much I liked him, as well as how I  believed in his abilities and potential, finally concluding that I do everything I do because I care about him. 

As I finished the five minute response he had probably forgotten he would receive, and tuned out half, he looked up at me and responded, "Could you care less?"

That story drew a laugh from Student B, and the others, as it usually does, and I assured him I could never care less about him, or any of them, and then it was 9 o'clock and time to start the day. After announcements, attendance and going over the day's changes in schedule, we got into our meditation quickly. The friend who sits across from Student B, who he sometimes tries to impress, was off at cross country and so there was no one for him to look to for attention, and in his unhappy state it didn't matter. He quickly put his head down, as did his buddies, who were quiet in their new seats, as was everyone else, almost everyone with their heads down as usual.

The 5 minutes and 44 seconds went quickly and quietly. I prompted the posture, breathe count, inhaling and exhaling focus and distraction as they worked on their projects, as well as inhaling their patience and exhaling their impatience, with the work, each other, me and themselves. It didn't take more than 3 minutes to give direction and so the last half of the track was spent in silence, enjoying the moments and the breath. I had my eyes closed for most of the time, but opened them towards the end, just to take in the peace and stillness of the classroom. It was a great way to start the day and a bonus for a Friday.

Forty five minutes later when my switch class came it was just about as quiet, but a little more annoying. I started the meditation within a minute or two of their arrival in class and they settled pretty quickly. It was fairly typical- my breathers sat up straight, the other boys have resigned to putting their heads down, and Student 1 sat up and fidgeted with something, but it was quiet in the room.

Within the first few breaths I noticed that two of the girls, regular lookers around, had decided to continue their game from the library and were looking at each other. They weren't disrupting, or calling the attention of others, but they were distracting and calling each other's attention. As I continued the meditation, walking around the room, I gave them each a glance, indicating I was aware of their communication, hoping that would be enough.

When they continued their smiles, glances, and subtle gestures, though admittedly kind of cute, I was also getting annoyed. I moved to the centre of the room, continuing with the breath count, and stopping to stand directly in front of one of the girls, blocking their line of vision. They put their heads down for a moment, until I moved on. When the other girl continued as I took the next step, I acknowledged my own annoyance with their resistance, similar to the annoyance I feel when they resist any of the learning experiences I try to facilitate for them, amplified slightly because I feel the meditation is more important than all the other learning we do (perhaps put together). 

On this day, I also recognized that I was particularly annoyed because one of the girls has a sister with whom I worked for the last two years. I realized that though perhaps unfair, the bias was less about how different she is from her sister- both fabulous girls in different ways- and more about the fact that as an extension of the relationship with her sister, I had developed a relationship with her, and so her resistance to me and my values feels even more disrespect as a result, more of a betrayal. I demonstrated my disapproval with a look worthy of any middle school girl, and one I hoped she would appreciate, or at least understand- a cross between an eyebrow raise, scowl, and eyeroll to end all eyerolls. I know that she noticed because she promptly put her head down for a moment.

As I continued the meditation, still in the middle of the room, intermittently standing in front of the girls, and we brought our attention to the rhythm of our natural breath, noticing each inhale and exhale, I acknowledged the challenges meditation brings. I told them, as I made eye contact with each girl that I knew it was difficult to look inside, that sometimes it is scary to recognize things about ourselves, especially if it means that then we have to make a change, but that it is also important, and that they are worth it, they deserve to give themselves the time to look within, or at least just take a few minutes to breath without worrying about anyone else.

Then I prompted them to inhale to confidence to believe in themselves, everything they had to do and their ability to follow through, and exhale the fear that blocks them from giving themselves the chance. As we moved into the silence, which was only the last minute and a half or so of the meditation, the girls had calmed and everyone was pretty quiet. Student 1 had been fidgeting less, but as we came to the end, his movement caused small disruptions, never really allowing to the complete peace of the room before. But it was quiet, and enjoyable enough for most, so I will take it- as if I have a choice. 

However, if the rest of the day is an indication of its start, then it did the trick. We all made our way through a busy day, positively and productively, even as both classes came together at the end of the day to plan for our field trip on Monday. Depending on the weather we are either going to an indoor or outdoor venue. We spent the last part of the afternoon preparing for both, as one will be Monday and the second next week, and then moved into independent work for the last half hour of the day, and their focus was impressive on a Friday afternoon. Pretty much everyone was engaged in the work of their choice and the afternoon was done before we knew it.

Now all that is left is to hope for sunshine on Monday and enjoy the weekend. I hope you do as well. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Day 21- Thursday, early morning, late afternoon

Back to school for Day 3. I began with my switch class and I was finally able to get some time in the library for them to do some writing so I met them there. My class had taken a couple of minutes longer to get going and when I got to the library they were already sitting at the tables, with a few on the beanbag chairs. I wanted them to login to the computers before we meditated, as they take a few minutes to load, but since they were already sitting, I thought it best not to disrupt the flow, and we got started right away.

Our library has four large round tables that seat four when students are working, but are big enough to accommodate more, and today two of the tables were occupied by three or four boys, with the others sitting in the beanbag chairs around the periphery. Two girls were away. two more were sitting together at one table, and huddled together around the other table we the rest of the girls, about eight of them.

We started the meditation pretty quickly as they were pretty much ready to go. The library technician was away today and there was nobody else in the library. It was quiet before we even started and the effects of the library lights dimming still has an impact- everyone settled into the meditation very quickly.

The first couple of minutes were uneventful and quiet. The boys in the beanbag chairs didn't move at all, my breather and his friend were both breathing along with the count even though they were sitting at different tables, and Student 1 was less fidgety, perhaps offset by the different location. The girls at the same table, several of whom like to look around, were looking around as usual, but today at the same table, they were looking around at each other more.

For the first two or three minutes their glances subtle. It was pretty still as we prepared to write, inhaling the confidence to let the words come and exhaling the fear, the second guessing of words and doubting if they are good enough. As we moved into the silence, the girls' glances turned to giggles and the table became a little more restless.

I moved over to their table and gave the girls a few looks, which was enough of a reminder to contain the disruption, and while I wasn't going to let them disturb everyone else, I was heartened by the joy they were sharing, the friendships they are building, and community they are finding in their classroom. It brings a whole new level of connection to meditations and classroom learning.

The day flew by and our students were so into the flow of Social Studies and their text work that we didn't even stop to breathe. I didn't see my class again until the last period of the day for French. During gym in period 6 they had done their 12 minute run. As I pointed out to them when they sat down, some were happy and pumped from the run and it had been the best part of their day, and sitting down to meditate is their own particular kind of torture. For others, the run had been the worst torture they would endure, and they were now coming to the meditation as the best part of the day. For a few, they could really enjoy both and they are really lucky and could take the time to be grateful. Wherever they were at, they needed to be respectful of everyone else in the room.

It was pretty much an afternoon meditation, mostly quiet, but in large part because I spent most of the meditation in proximity of Student B and his buddies. I urged them and everyone to relax, inhaling the positivity to make the last class productive, and exhaling the negativity that distract and disrupts. The boys did finally relax into enough stillness that I sat down and joined in the silence, and a few quiet breaths. It was a nice way to start the last class to end the day.

Now I can look forward to Friday. Enjoy yours!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day 20- Monday on a Tuesday

The first day of the week is the first day of the week, whether it falls on a Monday or a Tuesday, but it is just a little sweeter when it falls on a Tuesday. And a little quieter, at least today, which led to a peaceful, quick and productive day. A pretty nice Tuesday.

I began the morning with my class for LA and everyone was pretty quiet from the start. I guess it had been a big weekend for most because everyone was clearly tired, especially as we started the morning.

We got to our meditation pretty quickly. Before I did, I asked the three boys, Student B and his buddies, if they were okay or if anyone needed to be moved. They assured me that they were good and would be okay sitting together. I indicated that I agreed, if they chose to, they could sit together successfully, and I hoped that they would, but I also let them know that this would be the last time I would be asking them. If I had to talk to them again, next time I would be telling them they had to move and there would be no choice.

Then I started the meditation. Everyone settled in very quickly, most with heads down, though I noticed backs lengthening and straightening as I suggested the prompt. From the first moments the room was silent and it stayed that way throughout the track. Beyond the silence, the room was still. There was no noise at all. No shuffling or fidgeting, no disruptions or disturbances. It was completely silent and totally peaceful.

The 5 minutes and 44 seconds went by quickly, through the prompts and directions, when I suggested inhaling energy and then focus, and exhaling tiredness and then distraction, and into the silence, which lasted about half of the time and in which I joined. It was lovely.

It was the best meditation of the year, which I told them after we finished, as well as how good it felt. For the 2 periods that followed they worked consistently on their demonstrations of learning, through which they have to show me their understanding of the words that commonly appear as errors (your, you're, then, than, etc). They were all pretty focused and on task as they started working on their chosen projects, and even Student B and his buddies wrote a verse of their rap.

The only one who didn't get to work was Student A, but he wasn't bothering anybody, as he had fallen asleep. As we started the meditation, he had put his hand down on his pillow binder as usual, but sometime during the meditation, he had fallen asleep. After the meditation ended, I didn't wake him up.

It is not the first time a student has fallen asleep during a meditation and unless I absolutely must, I try not to wake them up. I figure if anyone falls asleep in those five minutes, and then stays asleep as we get on with the daily work in a room that isn't exactly quiet, then they really need the sleep.

Sometimes I use the opportunity to talk about health, and the importance of sleeping and getting enough sleep, as I did with Student A, during our conversation after he woke up an hour or so later, and we had a chance to talk. I would have also talked about it with my class, had they noticed he was sleeping, but they didn't. It took a long time for anyone to notice, which speaks to how my students are getting used to taking care of themselves and doing what they need to do, and letting others do the same.

After about 45 minutes, Student B noticed that Student A had his head down and was asleep at his seat. He pointed it out to me, as if I might not be aware, and was surprised when I responded, "So?" to the news his was sleeping. I asked Student B if he was taking care of himself and what he needed to be doing and he said he was. I told him that was his main concern and to keep taking care of himself and Student A would do the same. He went back to work, or at least focusing on his group, and didn't bother Student A, who eventually woke up on his own. In our talk, he couldn't tell me why he was so tired, just that he was, but we had a good talk nonetheless. It was a great couple of classes and I am looking forward to their final products in a couple of weeks.

My switch class came to me just before lunch and after gym. They may have been equally tired, but by this point they were less quiet and more fidgety. At some point last week they all caught on to the plasticine as a stress toy, and I can't encourage it for one and not all, especially when I am often playing with it myself. So now, as I tried to explain, we have to achieve the balance between the point of focus and distraction. The intention of the plasticine is to have it in their hands to help them focus, so they have to play with it, without focusing on it. As soon as they turn they focus on it, rolling and building, it becomes a toy, a distraction. It is a very fine line, another they have to learn to manage and navigate in life and one I took the time to point out.

I also told them that using the plasticine during the meditation defeats the purpose, and challenged them as always to put everything away and be as still as possible together with their silence. I told them if they chose to keep the plasticine in their hands that was okay, as long as it didn't become a distraction. Most got the message, put the plasticine and everything else away, and put their heads down as usual. Those who usually sit up did, and my breathers prepared to start, as I began the meditation. Two girls at one table and Student 1 continued fidgeting with their plasticine and the boy who likes to look at me was looking at Student 1 and his creations, but they were pretty quiet.

Within the first 2 or 3 breaths, it was clear that the two girls had not heard a word I had said about using the plasticine during the meditation without focusing on it causing distractions, or perhaps they had not understood. because they immediately went to work on their plasticine as though we were in art class. They started rolling it out on the table, banging it as they did and making too much noise, though any noise would have been too much.

As I continued giving the prompts, I made my way to their table, picked up their plasticine, and went on with the meditation. The girls didn't protest, they just looked at me and then put their heads down too. I went on with the meditation as usual, inhaling focus and exhaling distraction, and joining them for a couple of minutes of quiet breathing at the end. The room was never completely still or silent, but it was peaceful enough, and gave everyone a few moments to breathe, including me.

The rest of the morning and then the afternoon flew by, pretty good for Monday on a Tuesday. Wednesday there will be no meditations as I am away for Yom Kippur. I will be back in the classroom on Thursday and see what is in store.