Monday, October 3, 2016

Days 14, 15, 16- WTF, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday- Part 1

The week flew by, and with other obligations and another headache Thursday evening, I have three days to catch up on.

Wednesday was an amazing day of writing, social interactions, and all sorts of learning and fun at The Forks. As I told Student A's mother later that evening, it was 98% awesome with room to grow.

Wednesday morning was sunny and gorgeous and as soon as I got to school it was clear everyone was excited, as was I. First thing in the morning, we all gathered in Mr. Y's room to prepare for the day ahead. It was clear everyone was pumped, which was an incredible feeling, and I immediately reminded them of that, and the fact that we have to balance our excitement with a mindfulness of our surroundings, the people around us and the tasks in front of us, so that we could make good choices, from the moment we left the classroom until our return later that afternoon.

I told them we would meditate once we got to there, but before we did anything else, we would take a few moments to prepare. Once again, I didn't use any music or even turn off the lights. I encouraged them to sit up straight, as we planted our feet on Treaty 1 land, which I noted we would be making greater connections with shortly. Then I suggested they close their eyes, which I also did as I stood facing them at the front of the class. I didn't see what they did as I guided them through a few breaths to get grounded, set the intention of making good choices, and visualize a successful day, writing and enjoying their time at The Forks. We took about 3 minutes to breathe and my eyes were closed the whole time, so I didn't see what anyone was doing, but the room was silent. As we ended the moment, they remained quiet and respectful. It was clear everyone wanted to make the most of the day, even (or maybe especially) Student A.

We continued with the obligatory safety reminders and some supporting information and then we were ready to get on the bus. Just as we were leaving the building, Student A and I  stopped to chat with our VP, to set up the expectations for success, with a reminder of the negative consequences of not following through, or staying safe, but an emphasis on Student A's ability to be successful, our belief in him and our desire for him to demonstrate his potential today so he can continue to enjoy the field trips to come, as well as today. I had a good feeling about him and the day, and I told him so, and that I was counting on him to prove me right. Then we were all on our way.

When we arrived at The Forks (, our first stop was the Oodena Celebration Circle ( Ojibew for "Heart of the Community," by meeting and beginning our learning in this spot, we honour 6000 years of indigenous tradition and ways of knowing, acknowledge that we, the Europeans and immigrants among us, including me, other staff there and the bulk of the students would not be here without Treaty 1, and move forward with respect and mindfulness, doing the best we can to be part of reconciliation.

The first thing we did when we got there was give the kids 10 minutes to run around and explore, a rookie move for any middle school teacher. Run, move, look first, and then sit for a bit. Plus we were in no hurry, there is so much to detail to see, and it was a beautiful day. When the timer went off and I called them all back,  everyone came running. It didn't take long to get situated around half of the circle, though I did have to direct them to move over and make space kid by kid in one section.

Then I made a point of encouraging everyone to let everything go. I directed them to take off their backpacks and put down everything they had in their hands. I repeated the instructions, over and over with different intonations, a technique I use as often as necessary in my classroom in general, until everyone took off their backpacks and hands were empty.

Then we were ready to start. We grounded our feet on Treaty 1 land, in the 6000 year old meeting place, connecting with the land again. Then, with nowhere to lay their heads, I encouraged them to sit up straight, giving attention to the back, shoulders, neck and head individually, finally coming to the face and closing their eyes. Perhaps because it was new and strange, perhaps because it was  first thing in the morning, or perhaps because he really wanted to have a good day, Student A didn't call any attention to himself at all.

A few small groups, mostly boys, were shuffling here and there, but it was generally quiet and pretty peaceful, and when I prompted everyone to close their eyes, I closed mine too. We took five full, deep breaths in silence together, taking everything in. I closed my eyes and led the breathing and once again, whatever they were or weren't doing in those five breaths, it didn't disturb me. I am grateful they demonstrate this trust in me and I got to enjoy the moment- the sunshine, air, land and serenity.

After those breaths, I guided them through 3 deep, silent breaths, as they focused first on everything they heard, then everything they smelled, and finally everything then felt. Then we took 5 further breaths putting all of those senses together, noticing all the sensations.

During this time, I intermittently closed my eyes and joined them, and observed their behavoiur and participation. Everyone was engaged at one point or another, though not everyone all at once. There were little looks between friends, a few giggles here and there, and there is always a wasp, or some other bug, around the most sensitive student, which has the potential to lead to absolute chaos. Thankfully, the wasp returned home- the nest, we discovered a few minutes later was under one of the nearby vents- and the boys kept in together and our time went undisturbed. It didn't take more than a look in any one direction to bring them back, which I don't take for granted and can only account to the value to the meditation practice.

Finally, we all took three full silent breaths in gratitude, before we slowly came back and transitioned into the second half, the moving meditation. They moved seamlessly and nearly silently, as I instructed them to get up and find space that gave them an arm's width of length all around them. There was room to spread out on the ground and the grassy slopes, which made it easy for everyone to find space.

I reminded them we had done these half sun-salutation, in which each inhale and each exhale is connected to a movement, once before, on the first day of school. I told them they could watch me do the first round, or just join in, and I moved through the 3 breath cycle- inhale, bringing arms up, exhale, forward fold, inhale, lifting head, exhale, drop head, inhale, come back up hand to the sky, exhale, hands come around to heart, We completed 5 half sun salutations, 3 with instruction and 2 in silence together. As I changed directions so everyone could see, I noticed everyone was participating as best they could. Some were giggling, and there were a couple who tried to add a clap as we brought our hands together on top, Student B of course. But it didn't really catch on, and most were quiet and seemed confident and comfortable in their movements and happy to be participating,

As we completed the last sun salutation we brought our hands to our hearts, and I encouraged them to align their hands with their heartbeat and feel it from within, as they closed their eyes to end the meditation. I challenged them to feel their hearts beating together with everything else around them on this glorious day at The Forks, and to take a moment to be grateful, that today this was their classroom. I sure was.

The rest of the day was fabulous. We walked the path to outline their parameters and reminded them of their assignments, where they could find me and the 3 other adults for help, and the check in time before lunch. Everyone went on their way, and I spent the morning checking in, assuring students their writing was "right"- they only way to for them to do it wrong was not to write- and take pictures. Student A hooked up with a friend from the other room- another benefit of having a switch class and two classes working together- and even did some writing. With their writing as their ticket to afternoon time on the playground, all the choices and the environment, every student succeeded in completing some writing. I will share our collective poem when it it published. This is the field trip that keeps giving and giving- another reason I love it.

After our writing was done, we met for lunch, a highlight for everyone, especially as The Forks has been renovated and offers even more choices and comfortable seating. The kids also love going up the tower and shopping in the market. I love that they break the stereotypes of unruly, disrespectful teenagers. They are respectful and polite, holding doors, keeping to the right when they walk and letting people exit the elevator. As far as I am concerned, this is the most important part of our learning, and I always tell them that, before we go, and congratulate them once we get back. As you will read eventually, it complemented our Social Studies lesson on stereotypes beautifully. This Wednesday it made for a lovely lunch, and the fusion Sushi tacos at the new tapas place were delicious. Not cheap, but totally worth it, especially on a school day.

Everyone was pretty much on time as we met after lunch, most were early. A group of students had asked if they could return to the circle, stayed together as instructed, and even set an alarm to come back. One minor flaw, they set the alarm for the return time, not factoring the distance between the circle and the meeting place. Exactly one minute late, at 12:46, the boys came bounding around the corner, clearly concerned about the time. I had to laugh- it is one of those things you don't know unless someone tells you, but know one thinks to tell you. They have to be given the chance to experience it on a day like this, and next time will give themselves time to get there, maybe for life- who knows?

We went from lunch to the footbridge, for a mini-lesson in history and geography, as it is the best view of "The Fork"- the point where the two rivers, the Red and the Assiniboine, meet and why it has always been a meeting place. From there we walked to the playground and they had fun, which is important, but were also leaders on the playground.

We had reminded them they are the big kids here, and they have to be mindful of little kids and kind too. We also offered open spaces for running and play. We outlined our expectations and they rose to the challenge, while enjoying themselves. Some played frisbee, others organized a game of Manhunt, and a few took the time to play with the little kids who followed them around and tried to engage them on the playground. A group of three girls spent the entire hour with a very cute boy of about 6, who had started following them, much to the relief of the woman with him, who appreciated the break as she watched from the bench. Those girls could have handed out business cards for babysitting, as they pointed out they even have licenses.

They fun they had demonstrated their need to run, move and play, their social interactions with each other and strangers demonstrate so much more- social, emotional learning that goes so much deeper than our classroom learning, and makes for such a great day.

When our time on the playground came to an end, we boarded the bus and went back to school. There was a short written reflection- otherwise what's the point?- and then I put the pictures I had taken that day on the projector and we all laughed about the moments we had enjoyed together.

I couldn't have asked for a better day, except for that 2% and a tough lesson for one kid,

Sometime during the walk between the bridge and the playground, something happened between Student A and another student, a "friend," in that they are often together, and this wasn't the first such incident. I was walking at the front, but as they told me later, it had something to do with a stick, and what I saw was the "friend" jumping on and hitting Student A, which was the behaviour I had to stop and address first.

It was unfortunate because I had already spoken to the "friend" twice about their mutual attraction to each other and their tendency to bother one another, or be bothered, respond with aggression and getting caught, instead of enlisting help. When it happened again, with 4 adults in the direct vicinity and the mention of a stick, I was frustrated with the "friend" and of course, Student A, who had essentially set up his "friend." It was the one issue of the day. The 2%.

But all in all, in the grand scheme of things, it was an important lesson for the "friend" and a small part of an amazing day. I can't wait until we are back there again in October.

I hadn't intended to write about the entire day, just the meditations, but it just worked out this way. I figured the meditations set the tone for the day and the success of the rest, and the learning, is worth documenting. Since it is so long, I figure I will post it as Part 1 and continue Thursday and Friday in part 2.

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