Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Shorter Week- Nov 21-24th

It is a little bit dangerous that I have realized I can write about a week in a day, but with Student Led Conferences to prepare for, writing pieces to finish, and culminating our Study of Learning, which also included tabulating the results of a learning and responsibility survey I had given my students, it was another crazy week, with evenings full of marking and other work, and no time to write. Once again, I made a few notes as the week went along, and take solace in the fact that it was a short week, Student Led Conferences went smoothly and successfully, we are beginning second term, and there is still no snow on the ground.

Monday- November 21

Considering how tired I was from writing report cards, and all the other work involved with getting ready for Student Led Conferences, and how anxious/excited kids were about seeing their reports and having conferences at the end of the week, Monday was a pretty relaxed, yet productive day, and set the tone for an intense, yet easy-going week.

It was Day 5, one of the few when we are not on a field trip, and so the feeling is strange. I saw my switch class first thing in the morning and my class after break. The meditation in both classes were what has become pretty routine, though the routine is something I never take for granted.

I don't have any notes about behaviour in either class, just that it was a good start to the week. The guided breath was focused on learning, as was our learning for the week, inhaling the willingness to examine our learning, and the habits and attitudes that go with them, and exhaling the fear, worry and doubt that blocks us from making the most of our learning. It was a calm and peaceful five and a half minutes with both classes, which lead into interesting discussions and reflections about learning, what it is and how we do it successfully.

Tuesday-November 22

Tuesday morning began with French, from which I stole some time to create some "Koats for Kids" posters to advertise our school campaign, prior to parents' arrival in the building, though some of the poster were in French. I saw my switch class in the last period of the morning before lunch, and as we began the day, I told my class we wouldn't be meditating until later that afternoon and to try to pay attention and see if they noticed any differences as a result.

As I was starting with my switch class, one of my more astute students had a question. She wanted to  know why we begin inhaling what we need, instead of beginning with getting rid of the bad stuff with the exhale, and then inhaling whatever we wanted to grow. It was an interesting question, and I told her if it made sense she could begin with an exhale, as it is all cyclical so it doesn't matter too much where you start. If one inhales the positive, then exhale the negative, they then end up making room for more positive, just as if they exhale the negative and then inhale the positive. I also pointed out that as we begin the breath count, I also stress emptying the lungs before the first inhale, so that everyone has a moment to get to the same place and we all start the breath count together, and continue breathing together, at least for a few minutes. She seem satisfied with the response, and I was thrilled she asked the question. Then we started the meditation.

Student 2, who has been struggling with behaviour lately, had some trouble focusing, as we moved through the prompts and breath count. His new seatmate was one of the more fidgety boys, and his movements, though slight, were enough to disturb Student 2. As we moved into the guided breath, I encouraged them to inhale their power to choose their movements and responses, and exhale their lack of control over others, as well as inhaling their patience and exhale their impatience, for themselves and each other, as as we continued our study of learning. I also noted that they may wish to begin with the exhale, letting go of what they want to get rid of first, if they found it more comfortable.

Both of the boys settled, as did the rest of the class, and we enjoyed the final 2-3 minutes in silence together.  When we were done, Student 2 began complaining about his seatmate's movements,  which I pointed out was ironic, as Student 2 has a tendency to leave the room just as we are about to meditate without any concern about how his movements affect others, and no one has complained, but he is the first to complain about another. I noted that our responses to other's movements is part of the reason we meditate and that it is his power to choose how he responds. Then I went on to move the boy who had done nothing differently than he had the day before, and didn't need the headache of sitting beside Student 2, who would complain about his every movement. The boy he switched with didn't mind at all, and it was an easy solution, as the signs are becoming clearer that Student 2 has a lot of work ahead of him. Our study of learning and responsibility is as good a place as any to start and so we got on with our learning.

My class came back to our room after break in the afternoon and as promised we meditated. By then, they were happy for the break and ready to relax and breathe. We were still engaged in our study of learning, at the point where they would be reflecting on the work habits and behaviours that support their learning, which was the focus of the meditation.

It didn't take long for everyone to get settled, and even Student A, who had logged into his Minecraft account, turned off the monitor and put his head down as soon as I told him we were starting. The prompts, breath count, and focus, inhaling the honesty and patience to examine our learning habits, while exhaling the fear and impatience, all went quickly in the quiet and stillness of the room.

Everyone was happy to enjoy the silence, as was I, as I joined in for the last 2-3 minutes, noticing how quiet everyone was despite the late hour of the day. I noticed Student A, who chose to stay by the computer, had made room for himself and had his head down there too. Student B was quiet too, perhaps because his buddy had asked to be moved- he realized it just wasn't working and wants to be successful. I was proud he had come to me, which I told him, and maybe Student B will also hear the message more clearly when it comes from his peers. He did on Tuesday, and as the track ended I was sad I had to end the meditation and break the silence, but it was a good feeling to carry into reflecting at the end of the day.

Wednesday- November 23

It was the same feelings, stillness and peace, with which the day began on Wednesday with my class. We had two periods to start the morning, and the feeling was a lot more relaxed. There were only a few students who had to finish their writing, and the rest were finishing and hanging Koats for Kids posters around the school, and so I chose a longer, 6 minute and 47 second track to start the day. Everyone was present in body, and it seemed in spirit as well, and as we started the meditation first thing in the morning, the room was very quiet. I didn't need to give any behaviour reminders and as we moved quickly through the prompts, breath count and guided breathing, inhaling the positivity and focus needed to make the day productive and successful, and exhaling the negativity and distraction that blocks progress and growth, the feeling was already positive and peaceful.

We moved into the silence, and the room was still and remained so through the length of the track. I was sitting on the other side of the circle from my usual spot, as there was a chair there and none in my spot, and so I noted the different perspective as I observed my students, most with their heads down, from that side of the room- the same, but different. Then I closed my eyes and breathed, inhaling my gratitude and enjoying the peace. I was deep in my breath when I noticed the floor vibrate from underneath, and had the thought that the truck outside had brought me back just in time.

About two breaths later the track ended and the music stopped. The room was completely silent. Before saying anything, I lingered in the quiet, observing as some students lifted their eyes, while most didn't move at all. No one made any noise. I whispered to stay in the silence and we took a few more breaths, before I noted how sorry I was to have to break the silence, and that one day in the winter, when it was that quiet  I would have us continue, even if some fell fast asleep, but for today we had things to do. With few more deep breaths,  I slowly brought the movement and awareness back.

Before we got to work I asked if anyone had noticed the vibrations through the floor, and shared that I had been quite startled at first, and then realized it was just a big truck or some other vehicle. Almost everyone else had noticed the vibrations and thought it was weird. It was interesting to notice before we got on with the day, as many kids had something to say. It is amazing how the littlest things impact our days and lives.

My switch class came to my room in period 4, after gym and just before lunch. When they came to the room they seemed happy to be there, and happy to have the time to breathe as well. They settled quickly, and with only one period, and more students in this class who had to finish their writing, I chose a 5 and a half minute track and it went very quickly.

Everyone was pretty calm except Student 1, my fidgeter. He was fidgeting even more than usual. He was moving his body, swaying his head, neck and shoulders continuously. He didn't seem to be doing it to call attention, nor am I even sure he was aware of his movements. I noticed he stopped intermittently, but for the most part he was moving around through the prompts and the breath count.

At one point, I moved behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders, encouraging him to relax, and settle, which he did for a moment and then started moving again. I returned to him intermittently, through the guided breath, suggesting he inhale calm, allowing the body and mind to rest as they bring their attention to their breath, and exhale the excess energy which distracts them from the calm.

In the end, Student 1, and everyone else settled, including Student 2 and his new seatmate, and the last two minutes passed quickly and quietly. It was a nice end to the morning of our last full day of the week.

Thursday Morning- November 24

Thursday was a half day of classes followed by the afternoon of Student Led Conferences, which went into the evening and then picked up on Friday. In my room 21 of 22 students ended up attending, with the 22nd's family dealing with a sick sibling. Mr. Y had nearly as many attend. It was lovely chatting with so many parents, and having the students share their learning. It was long, but it was a great couple of days.

We did our last preparation for it on Thursday morning, and due to the schedule I saw my switch class during period 3 and my class period 4. In both classes, I had some final pieces to return, including the assessment of their writing piece, and their report cards. With report cards being available  online, a few had seen theirs, but most had not. I like my students to read them, because they are theirs and we take the time to write them, so I provide a hardcopy- a mini-version to save paper- and give them the time to read them, before they, and we, meet with their parents.

This is what I did on Thursday morning, first with my switch class and then with mine, before I spent the next seven hours that followed meeting with kids and their families. With my switch class, it was a lot louder, as usual. As they received their writing, and then report cards, they were more excited about sharing and comparing and pretty noisy while they did it.

With about 10 minutes left in the class, we settled into meditate, and it took and minute or two to achieve quiet in the classroom. But, once we got there, once it was still and silent, they held onto it, and it was pretty amazing.

I started the music and the prompts, but when there was still chatting. I called attention to the noise, and my disappointment hearing it, and waited for the silence, when I started everything again. Then there was quiet and it remained quiet, through the prompts, the breath count and the guided breath, inhaling their pride in their accomplishments and a successful first term, and exhaling their ego, which is tempted to compare, put down, brag or think we are done, to remember, we have two terms, and more work ahead, with each exhale, while crediting the accomplishments of first term, which certainly count, with each inhale. With each breath, I  reminded them it was about finding the balance and celebrating the moment.

Then we moved into the silence, which was more challenging because there was a lot of the noise in the halls. With classes getting ready for Student Leds, there was more hallway activity and noise than usual. I reminded my students that they had power, to stay with their breath and maintain the silence in the room, despite the noise in the hallway.

With a few moments left and my class already waiting to switch classes outside the door, my  switch class stayed with their breath and the silence through the track, a pleasant surprise to me as they are the more restless class. I hate to say that Student 1, my fidgeter, being absent may have contributed to the prolonged silence, and I certainly didn't say that to my students, but I did notice it.  I did tell my students that I was impressed by their choices, and by their power, and they did indeed have much to be proud of as they ended the term and met with their parents. I wished them the best at their meetings and told them I looked forward to seeing them too.

I let them go and my class came in and settled quickly. Student A had no interest into his report card and immediately logged onto Minecraft, with the understanding that he would stop to meditate when we did. The class went pretty much the same as the other class, only my class was quieter and more subdued. They were less excited by the sharing, though they still wanted to talk to their friends.

I gave them a little less time, as I wanted to meditate and then have a few minutes to clean up the classroom before I dismissed them. It didn't take nearly as long for them to settle as the other class, and as it was nearly the end of the morning, the hallway was a lot quieter too. As soon as I gave the cue and turned off the lights, the entire class was ready to go, even Student A. The five and a half minutes were just beautiful. The stillness and silence was a tribute to our first term together as we inhaled our pride for some great learning and exhaled the ego, the part that thinks we are done, making room for more pride over the work we have completed together with each inhale. I joined in the silence and felt the pride, for my students and their accomplishments. It was the perfect end to our first term together and a nice note to end the morning. I remain grateful for it and the ease with which Student Leds came and went. I can't quite believe it.

So first term is done, but as I said, we are not- there are two more terms to come. Yet the first big milestone has been reached.  And the next one- one of the best ones- winter break, is right around the corner. I know it will be here before I know it, and to get there, tomorrow is another Monday.

Happy day to you!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Report Card Week- Losing Track of the Days

The end of first term and my report cards were due on Friday. I gave a French test on Monday and their Social Studies project was due on Tuesday, which left the evenings to assess, respond to their reflections, and write their report cards, along with working through the drafts of their writing pieces, and no time for anything else. I know I am not alone and just about every teacher out there experienced a similar week at some point in November, as we go into Student Led Conferences this week, and I am not complaining. It is the first big milestone of the school year, somehow coming quicker and quicker each year, and winter break in now just around the corner. This is the rhythm
of the school year.

But this year is the first year I have had this additional task of writing daily, and I am so thankful for it, and especially that it comes in exchange for this year being the first year I don't have the obligation of university coursework at the same time. I knew in the busyness of the week, I wouldn't get to do any formal writing, so I took some notes, with the intention of doing on big blog to catch up. I procrastinated for most of the weekend- in my own defense, I finished writing report cards on midnight Friday and deserve the break- but I don't want to lose my momentum, so here I finally am (just in case you missed me ;). It was indeed a big week, as we got a lot done to prepare for report cards and Student Led Conferences this week.

Monday morning I saw my class first thing in the morning and my switch class just before lunch. Student B was away for a couple of days on a hunting trip, and one of his buddies was out sick all week and so it made for a much quieter classroom in general. As we began the morning, Student A was a bit more fidgety than usual and had started out grabbing other kids' belongings and poking and prodding, but relaxed a bit as we got into announcements and the morning.

I was a bit worried as I started the meditation, and he slid over, from the center of his table, to be very close to the boy who sits beside him. It was unusual for him and I wondered if he did it to disturb the boy, but as I continued with the prompts and the breath count, Student A put his head down on his binder and relaxed completely. The next five and a half minutes were still and silent.

I went into the guided breath, suggesting they find what they need, inhaling the quality they wanted to grow for a positive and productive start to the week and exhaling their blocks, to inhale the confidence to write their French test that afternoon, and to notice and then exhale any worry or nerves they might be carrying, to remind themselves they were ready and prepared, and exhale their fears and doubts. And then it was quiet, peaceful and quick, as was the rest of the class.

My switch class was pretty much the same in fourth period. with slightly less stillness and an even quicker feel. They came for the final period of the morning and with only one period to work, I chose a short five and a half minute track. They had been asking to change the seating arrangement for awhile, and with almost everyone there and more requests upon their arrival, we made the changes before we started, and I consider how seamlessly it went a reflection of the work we do in self-regulation, and a byproduct of our meditation practice.

I tell my students early on that I hate having to make a seating plan and I haven't needed to (thankfully) in many years. I believe students need to figure out with whom they can sit and work successfully, and they should sit with as many different people as possible. I also encourage them to move around a lot and work in alternate spaces- the seating arrangement is essentially for discussions and meditating. I have had to separate some students on occasion, but for the most part I use a variety of random methods to let kids choose their seats.

On Monday, I told everyone to get up and back away from the desks. I warned them that anyone who ran or pushed would be the last to choose their seat, and then instructed that on my cue they would move to find a new seat in another section of the room from where they had been before, and wherever possible, beside at least one new person. As I have remarked previously, I never take for granted that my students live up to the expectations set, even as I am relatively certain that they will, a credit it to all the work we do together, along with the fact that kids are awesome, as they proved again on Monday morning, quickly finding their new seats.

Fabulous, of course, does not mean perfect. As they settled into their new seats, there was a newness, a weirdness, in their new seats, beside different people, that affected them and the meditation, which was quiet and uneventful, but not completely still or silent. I moved through the room, lingering where I felt I needed to stand, through the prompts, breath count and pretty much the same guided breaths I had given earlier in the morning. We moved into the silence and again it went quickly, as I noted the rustling of paper and shuffling of feet, not really minding, just noticing how different the two classes are. Then we ended the meditation and finished the rest of the morning just as uneventfully. I had a doctor's appointment in the afternoon, which is why we didn't meditate right before the test, but it still did the trick and made for a great start to the week.


We culminated our study of Human Rights with a creative representation of their understanding of any or all of the concepts we explored during the term. Most did posters, focusing on the Rights of the Child or The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and some focused on the abuses of Human Rights and concepts of slavery, apartheid and genocide. A few wrote short stories, created comics, paintings and video presentations, and, as usual a lot of their work was incredible, surpassing the samples we had shown them from previous years, and what I could have imagined. Their projects were all due on Tuesday and before we began the sharing, which carried into the next class, they had to write their self-assessment and reflections. Before we did that I shared two pieces with them, which I called "my final projects" and then we did a METTA meditation with a focus on Human Rights.

The first piece I showed them was a cartoon, titled "Society Today," in which four men are sitting in a rowboat. The lower part of the boat is sinking into the water, with the two men desperately trying to bail the water out of the boat, while two men on the other end watch, and one remarks, "Sure glad the hole isn't at our end." The class opened with some good discussion as it was not hard for students to make connections and understand the "humour."

Then I shared a poem I wrote, which I also shared was one of my final projects in a writing course on Social Justice, through which I question Human Rights, and what and how we teach kids today. The poem questions how we balance the quest for Human Rights with the realities of their abuses in the world, and my struggles with presenting Human Rights as facts, when they are more of an idea or principle. I expected that my students would listen to my poem, because I didn't give them much choice, but I didn't expect they would appreciate it so much, which they showed with the discussion that followed their applause. Because I doubted their applause as I finished reading, thinking they were mostly applauding because I was done, and that is what one does, I asked them why I deserved their applause, (just as we do in their presentations). Their responses were insightful, demonstrating their understanding, with comments about the contradictions between our rights and the reality of the world, and showing their appreciation for the credit I give kids to be able for understand some of the world's mess. I knew at least some had understood the poem's message, and again they blew me away.

The discussion led to the perfect segue way into our METTA meditation for Human Rights and the people in the world whose rights are abused, as well as those who are fighting for the Human Rights of others. By now even the longer METTA meditations have become routine, regardless of if it is one class or both classes together. On Tuesday, with Student B and his buddy still absent, there was even less to worry about and I didn't need to give any extra prompts or behaviour reminders.

Student A, who started on a Minecraft project, understood that the only way he could continue his building into the class, was if he turned off his monitor and joined in the meditation. He complied and was not disruptive at all, which was even more remarkable as his spot by the computer was also in front of the window in the classroom. He did his best to be comfortable during the meditation, and finally settled when he put his sweater over his head to block the light. I was grateful, and proud, of his coping mechanisms and told him later, as well as noting that in the future I will suggest he move away from the window to a more comfortable spot.

Everyone else was pretty relaxed, quiet and still throughout the 12 minutes or so, through the prompts, breath counts and the statements, extending our caring and compassion, first to the self, then a loved one, then the familiar stranger, and finally out into the world, wherever they felt people's rights are being abused, and where people are fighting for their rights- may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe. Throughout the meditation, I moved around the room, observing my students, heads down where they had a table in front of them, and sprawled out in places, especially along the back of the room, their heads leaned back against the counter, or in a couple of places on each other's shoulders. Again I had to stifle my laughter to maintain the quiet in the room, but smiled widely as I looked at them.

We moved into a minute of silent gratitude, and it was not hard to feel grateful, for my practice and this time with my students, and everything we enjoy, individually and together, in our lives in Canada. It was very easy to be grateful, especially these day. What was challenging was to end the meditation, after a minute of silence, and not to linger in the silence for longer, but there was work to be done, and I shouldn't be greedy, and so we took a few slow, deep breaths, bringing our awareness back to our bodies and the room, before I ended the meditation and we began reflecting and moved into some sharing of projects.

It is worth noting that Tuesday was a beautiful day with sunshine and near double digit temperatures, and so after the amazing work in the first part of the afternoon, we enjoyed the sunshine and downtime at the park before we ended the day with band and exploratory. It was a lovely break and the perfect stress reliever for them and me....we all needed it.


Wednesday was Day 2 and so after band/exploratory and choir, I saw my switch class during periods 3 and 4, and my class in the library after TAA for the last two periods of the day. It was a busy day, with a lot of work to finish, as Mr. Y and I both needed all the stragglers to get their assignments and reflections in, and we also have writing pieces to finish. Time was precious, making the meditation even more important. During the morning, the five and a half minutes spent with my switch class must have been pretty uneventful and routine, as the only note I have written down is"fine," so I guess that is just what it was.

I saw my class in the afternoon in the library, and it was less routine and more memorable, for both good reasons and its annoyances. I didn't need my notes to recall that Student B had returned and felt the need to make his presence known. I guess he was worried we missed him, or more likely he was worried that we didn't, and from the moment he arrived in the library, he clearly needed attention and was adamantly calling for it.

As everyone was logging in and getting ready, he was making noise with his buddy who usually sits across the room. They are rarely side by side, and I will be sure to notice that it doesn't happen again, or at least not without a warning as their behaviour was annoying. As we moved through the prompts, and they were giggly and distracted. I tried to be subtle, moving beside them, dropping hints about not calling attention and focusing inward. Finally, after Student B didn't get the hint, I went to him directly, whispering that if he had hoped to receive negative attention he had succeeded, and that this was not the behaviour that we missed while he had been away. It was enough for him to contain himself for the remaining three or four minutes, and hopefully remember the reminder that he is better than the disruptive behaviour he was demonstrating, especially because it doesn't help with the anxiety of coming back to all he had missed. I guess time will tell.

In the meantime, as though sensing the need to balance my energy, or perhaps knowing I can only take so much, Student A decided both of us needed the meditation that day. Without any prompts or suggestions, when we got to the library, Student A logged into his computer and then pulled one of the beanbags into the corner and sat down to meditate. When I looked over, a few breaths in, he was sitting straight up on the beanbag, back straight, eyes closed, with a completely peaceful smile on his face. Though I cannot share it publicly here, I managed to contain my elation and have the presence of mind to pick up the Ipad, even as the music was coming from it, and snap a photo. I had to capture the moment, because it was nothing short of miraculous to me. I continued wherever I was in the meditation, and he and everyone else was so involved, no one noticed me doing anything else- another beautiful benefit of meditation.

As we moved into the guided breath, we inhaled the focus and confidence to write, to see the words on the page and get it done, exhaling the distraction and doubt to second guess the words. We moved into the silence, through which I stood near Student B, a little annoyed, but giving him the attention he clearly needed, hopefully in a more positive way. After we finished, he got some work done, as did everyone else, so while I believe the meditation contributed to the pleasant productiveness of the last two periods of the day, even if it didn't, it didn't hurt.


By Thursday just about all the marking was done and I had built a pile of their work to return all at once, so they could digest their term and then file all the paper in their writing folders, or portfolios, that stay in the room, so when their parents come for Student Led Conferences they have all their learning to share. I planned the classes, first with my class in first period, and my switch class in 2nd period, to give back their work first, let them reflect and process, and then meditate at the end of the class.

Before I got to that, before 9 a.m., the day had begun with near disaster, and luckily for me and Student A, he made the choice to turn it around- another minor miracle that did not go unnoticed. In the morning, Student A had arrived in a mood, and as he is unable to voice his emotions, or his desire to join in, walked into a group of students playing a game in Mr. Y's room, and started throwing their cards all over the floor.

He ran away from Mr. Y when he tried to talk to him, but was receptive enough to me to stop when I called him, after Mr. Y told me what happened, and let me lead him to the office, where he has a refuge and puzzles he likes to work. As it happened, admin was away that morning, and though he has a relationship with the acting admin, I wasn't going to leave Student A without a plan.

I sat down in the office with Student A and reminded him I was there for his success, but needed him to tell me what he needed, and that it couldn't involve bothering his friends. He told me he wanted to play Minecraft and we made a plan that involved him doing puzzles or coming to class and drawing his comics first period, doing Math in period 2, and assuming Math got done, having time to build during periods 3 and 4, with the understanding that he also writes about his building to earn more time in the afternoon. I guess it suited Student A's needs, because he agreed and ultimately turned the day around completely. As it began, once the plan was set, I left him in the office doing puzzles and went back to the classroom to begin the day.

I started giving my students back their French test, noting the obvious success of those who had used the practice test I provided and studied, which is always the point of taking a test. Others, who had studied less, and/or were less experienced, had used the review sheet to write the test, as our first goal is to work with French and be comfortable with the language, in which case in it is less of a test and more of an in class assignment. The only reason it matters is for students to know into which category they fall, whether they studied or not, as it is their learning, which is the purpose of the reflection that goes with the test, and the first thing they had to do when I gave it back, well after a few minutes of looking it over and chatting with their friends.

After a few minutes to write, I started returning a term's worth of learning, assignments, projects and reflections, and field trip reflections, moments and learning they have already forgotten, but come pouring back as they start to read and share. I gave them time to take it all in, and process everything they have written, learned, experienced and accomplished.

Then with just under 10 minutes left in the class, I reminded them that everything they had received should be in their writing folders, put them and everything else away, and got ready to meditate. About three minutes before we did, Student A made his way back to the classroom and I was so happy he decided to join us. When we were making our plan, I let him know we would be meditating at the end, and that he could come if he wanted, but he had to come back for Math. I was thrilled he chose to come back to meditate. Though he was a little restless when we walked in the room, looking and touching other's folders, he settled right in to his seat as soon as it was time to begin.

The only one who had trouble relaxing was Student B. I'm not even certain he was moving to call attention, I think it was pure nervous energy that had him shaking his head from side to side, dropping his head and moving it back and forth, over and over again. His eyes were open, but not focused on any person or point, and while I am pretty sure he was aware he was doing it, I am not sure even he knows why.

At first I hoped the prompts to relax the body would be enough to help him relax, but it was not. He just kept shaking his head. As I moved to the breath count, I moved over to him, stood beside him, put my hand on his shoulder and took a count to suggest he relax, and another to suggest he deserved to treat himself better, and he calmed and rested his head for a moment. I am not sure if I calmed him, or if the constant attention of his buddy across the room, who noticed and smirked actually caused him to stop, but either way, he did.

Everyone else was quiet and still as usual, even Student A who had moved back to the center of his table and had his head down, as we moved into the guided breathing. The focus of the day was on their accomplishments, as they all had many. While I have students who struggle and whose skills are weak, all were successful in completing their assignments to the best of their ability and all had grown over the term, from the little grade sixers who had walked through the door in September. I told them to consider all the work they had received, all their accomplishments, and to inhale their pride, as they noticed their progress and growth, On the exhale, I suggested letting go of the ego, to exhale the desire to compare, criticize, or brag, to recognize there is still room to grow and improve, but to make room and take time to be proud, with each inhale, and keep perspective, with each exhale.

We moved into the silence and it was lovely, reflecting on everything they have accomplished, and all of their growth, Even student B put his head down and relaxed for the rest of the meditation. It ended with only a minute left in the class, and it was the perfect feeling to carry as they went off to Math.

My switch class came right after and followed the same pattern. There were a few less papers to give back, as Mr. Y has this class' field trip reflections, but there was still a lot of work to give back and process, and French test reflections to write. The meditation that came at the end of this class was also full of pride and peace, with a calm feeling, except for my fidgeter, who was a little more fidgety than usual, likely because he is the only student who has had a hard time following through, and though I can assess his work based on what he starts, I cannot provide the feeling of giving something back and work accomplished. His behaviour was not disruptive, just fidgety, and I felt sad for him, noting there is still time. Everyone else was quiet, and in the class too, they have a lot for which to feel pride.

The moments of silence carried into the final minutes before break, and as the other classes in our pod (set of four classroom) began to let out, the noise began to build outside the door, but nobody moved until the music ended and I gave the cues to start bringing the movement back to end the meditation. They were calm and refreshed as they went off for break, and then we all came together again to share the Social Studies projects for the second half of the morning.

I love meditating at the beginning of the class to prepare for the class ahead, but meditating at the end of the class also has its advantages. When it comes to these things, there really is no bad time to meditate.


Well, much like this writing, both before I knew it, and finally, it was Friday. The end of the week had come, everyone was exhausted, and the day was all about finishing- positive and strong. I started the morning with my class and a return to our study of learning. It was a quiet morning, with Student A away on a birthday trip, and Student B concerned about the last chance to get things in and his upcoming report card. We have had many conversations this week and I am hoping I am getting through, but Student B's behaviour makes it hard to tell. But Friday morning, he was quiet.

Everyone settled in quickly and we spent an enjoyable six and half minutes in silence. It was the first time we had a double period in a while, so with time ahead, I chose a longer track. If anyone noticed they didn't say anything and neither did I. We went through the usual prompts, breath count and guided breath for a positive and productive  Friday. It was still and silent, and a beautiful way to start the day to end the week. Considering how tired I was, the time of year, and virus I am fighting, I was and remain grateful.

I saw my switch class right after lunch, and I chose a longer track to begin our double period together as well, and again no one seemed to notice. This class was particularly quiet, for my switch class and for a Friday afternoon. It was a little strange, especially as everyone was there, and there was nothing noticeably different.

The meditation was pretty much the same as the morning, with the prompts, breath count and focus in inhaling the positive to finish the afternoon productively and well, while exhaling the negative, and as we moved into the silence, I sat down to join them. Because it was empty, I decided to sit down in the chair on the corner beside the door. I looked around the room, noticing today just about everyone had their heads down, even my fidgeter. My breathers were breathing, and everyone was quiet. Stiller than usual, I closed my eyes, breathing in my gratitude.

As I did, I also noticed the noise outside the room, which is significantly louder by the door than from my seat on the inside, near my desk. There was the usual voice and noise wafting from the hall, but in one of the surrounding rooms a class was watching a movie, and the sound was reverberating through the room, intermittently louder and softer with the movie. I noticed it coming and going, and marvelled more at the silence in the room.

As the meditation ended with the track, it was the last one, and so the music stopped, I suggested, before anyone move too quickly, we all listen to the different sounds and see if they could distinguish what they heard and where it was coming from. We spent 3 or 4 breaths in complete silence, listening to the noises. Then I brought us back, and we talked about the different sounds and noises. Some people thought the movie was coming from Mr. Y's room, but we could see it wasn't. We posed a few other theories, but no one seemed to care enough to ask if they could check it out, and I didn't suggest it, Instead, I congratulated them for keeping their power and not letting it disturb them or our meditation. We then continued our discussions of learning and success and ended the classes and then the rest of the afternoon with the same success we'd been discussing.

Considering the stress of the week, which typically comes at the end of the term- being at school all day, coming home, marking, and then writing report cards all evening for the entire week- it was a pretty good week. When I reflect on these meditations, I understand on an even deeper level how they contribute to making it all happen, both the success in my classroom and helping me get through the week, and I am even more grateful. A crazy week is still crazy, but I am way calmer, and more productive, when I breathe through it, and so are my students.

Now let's see what this week brings.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Day 38- Thursday- Five Minutes to Go and a Minute of Silent Remembrance

It was lovely to have a short week and even better that we had our monthly trip to the Millennium Library to end it. As it happened, and it looks like it will again, our trip was scheduled for the same day as a couple of our grade 8 classes, as our timetables correspond, and the grade 8 teacher picked up on the idea from our experience together last year. It was a different dynamic and brought different challenges, but as always,it was a great experience together. It also meant that some 80 students and 7 adults would commemorate Remembrance Day together in the outdoor space at the library.

The day was busy from the start. Before it even began Student B had done something to provoke one of his friends, the same boy who reported the fart, and one who has a tendency to be the one to gets hurt, who did so again today, as he chased Student B around the room and somehow fell and injured his shoulder. I walked in on the end of the event, to find the boy on the floor crying and Student B looking pretty guilty, clearly remorseful for the pain he had caused.

The boy got up and insisted he was okay, though I was close to calling his mom to take him to be checked out, but figured if it was dislocated the pain would be a lot more severe, and so the day began with the warnings to him, Student B, and everyone, to make good choices as we took our learning into the world, and then some brief conversations with the boys, all before 9:00 a.m.

Then after announcements and before we joined Mr. Y's class to meditate, I had to check their plans for the day, or as I call it their bus tickets to the library, do the "how you got to school today" survey in which we have been taking part this week, and distribute poppies (they have stickers for kids now) and collect money. We did it all in under 10 minutes and got settled in Mr. Y's room to meditate.

Mr. Y had been talking to the students about Remembrance Day over the course of the week, and set the tone for the day in the morning, by continuing to share its importance to him. He talked about the poppy, its meaning and how it has changed over the years and then he talked about his dad, a Ukrainian immigrant and veteran, who was injured, shot across the knees by machine gun fire in World War II. Mr. Y had the students captivated as he told his father's story, and described how his dad would tell it and then drop his trousers to show off his wounds. The power of the story and the meaning of the day carried us into our meditation.

Just after 9:15 we began our five and a half minute meditation, Nobody needed any behaviour prompts, though Student A and Student 1, my fidgeter, were sitting together and had started to play around with each others things. But as I looked at them, and started moving in their direction, Student A noticed me, opened his eyes and mouth as if to show his shock or horror, and then put his head down, where it stayed. If I didn't want the room to stay quiet, I would have laughed out loud. It was hilarious.

I didn't have to stand beside them the whole time, but I did linger, now and then, as I walked around the room, going through the usual prompts, breath counts and focused breathing. Student 1 was fidgety, as usual, but when he started tapping his fingers and I placed my hands over his, he stopped and was quieter, likely because he didn't want me coming around to him again. Everyone else was still and quiet, and there was a peace in the room, similar to the peace I have been feeling in my classroom, but this time with both classes together.

For the first part of the focused breath, I suggested they visualize the library, inhaling whatever they needed to make the day positive and productive, imagining themselves in the space, seeing where they would be sitting, and what they wanted to accomplish according to the plan they had set out, while exhaling all of the negativity, the temptation to make poor choices, to waste time, or to be distracted. I encouraged them to inhale their respect, for the people and place around them, as well as the day, especially when we commemorate Remembrance Day, and to exhale their carelessness, the distraction that causes them to lose attention and make disrespectful choices, coming back to inhaling their best, awesome selves.

As we moved into the silence, I also suggested that they take a moment to give thanks, though we would do that more formally later, to the soldiers, who came before us and who live on today, who fought so that we can all enjoy the very Rights and Freedoms we have been learning about and all enjoy today. Then the silence in the music was all that remained,

I took a spot at the front on one of the tables, as there was space and no extra chairs. As I took a few deep breaths, I looked at the group, the heads down where they could, but many with no choice but to sit up, eyes closed, everyone calm, relaxed and peaceful, I felt very grateful and took a moment to give thanks for the day and a few breaths, inhaling the positivity and exhaling the worry that it would be a hassle with the grade 8s and the trouble they could cause, especially as a couple of their students make Students A and B look like angels. I let go of the fear and worry, and was looking forward to a fantastic day, as I ended the meditation.Then we got our stuff together and got outside just before 9:30, to meet the bus, on what was a beautifully warm, and sunny day in November. Then we were on our way to the library.

We arrived as it opened at ten, and within a couple of minutes, everyone was off to find their space to work- the beauty of learning at the library.As I walked around, I found them set up in different areas on all four floors and the carousels along the stairs. At 11:00 a.m. all four classes met in the lobby and we all headed to the outside area in the back, where there is a huge grassy circle. We assembled a circle within, and first took a few moments, connecting with Treaty 1 Territory land, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine and wind, and listening to the sounds of the city. We had prepared four students with readings to mark the day, and it wasn't ideal, as they aren't very loud and the city is, but as I reminded the students it was more about the idea and the feeling, and they were very respectful, listening the best they could, even the players, with the help of their teachers standing behind them.

We moved into one minute of silence remembering the soldiers who sacrificed their lives, many without any choice, and the veterans who served, and  continue to serve, our country, so we can enjoy the freedoms and privileges we have today, including commemorating the day at the library. The minute passed in silence, without the need to remind anyone to be respectful. Everyone realized the importance of the time, which made it even more powerful. When it ended, I shared a favourite of mine, a translated version of the Hebrew "Song of Peace" by Yaakov Rotblit, which is a call for peace I hope will come in the world.

We ended our service, and all filed out again, to the front of the library, across the street, into the mall, up the escalator, gathering together in the front of the food court, pretty seamlessly considering we were 80 plus students. Everyone went for lunch, met again, and went back to the library for the afternoon, where except for a small incident involving Student 2, one of the grade 8's and a balloon, everything went very smoothly.

When we got back to school and everyone was reflecting on the day, even Student A did some writing, an usual event, further confirming how important these learning experiences can be. It was a nice end to a short week, and a good way to commemorate a day of great importance, and on which I am just a little more grateful for my life in Canada.

I hope you all enjoy the weekend. Shabbat Shalom. May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day 37-Wacky Wednesday

The unfortunately not-so-shocking result of last night and the dismal feeling it left behind, was oddly juxtaposed by the beautiful, sunny morning with which the day began. With the plus 17 degree forecast in November, which is usually one of the dreariest months, it was hard not to feel positive. Since it certainly doesn't help to be negative or worry, I decided to go with it. I felt pretty good, though a little exhausted this morning, and it is a feeling I carried throughout the day.

My students, were mostly oblivious to the election results, or potential changes coming as a result in the world, which I believe is pretty typical for 12. A few students were talking about Trump's victory and the predictions of doom and gloom, and asked me what we were going to do. I told them that we were going to do the same thing we do every day, that we are going to focus on being positive, taking care of ourselves, and doing what we need to do, including our learning in all of our subjects. 

That was also the message with which I began the meditation with my class as we began the morning together. But within about 30 seconds, Student B, who had been calling attention from the beginning of the national anthem, continued by pulling his hoodie over his head and face, and then closing it shut completely with the drawstring. I went over and untied the laces, told him to take it down, as I shifted the focus, and asked the question everyone is getting used to, "Who do you want to be?"

I addressed Student B, suggesting he ask himself what he really needed, and why he was looking for it with negative attention. I reminded him that he was better than his behaviour, and he deserved better than the negative attention he was calling and receiving, after which he stopped. I was able follow up on the theme in a conversation with him later and he ended up having a relatively productive day.

I went on to remind everyone that it is a challenging task to look inside and face our fears, and that meditation can help us do this, and overcome our challenges, but we have to be willing to do it and we have to believe that we can. I reminded them that I believe they can do it.

Then we got to our usual meditation, the prompts, breath count and focused breath, inhaling the positivity to be their best at whatever they see themselves learning, and exhaling their fears and whatever they imagine block them.

By the time we got to the silence, everyone was quiet, mostly with their heads down, including Student B. I closed my eyes for the two minutes or so, marvelling in the stillness and enjoying the silence, sending the positivity of our connection into the world, while taking comfort in mine. As soon as we were done, we got on with our day. 

My switch class came to my room in period 2 and they were a lot louder from the start. After a brief introduction, I started the music to begin our meditation. It surprised me that some people continued talking, which I noted quite sternly. telling them that I didn't need to remind them that when the music began they were quiet.

Then I started the track again and this time they didn't need any further reminders, everyone settled in and the room was quiet. One student, who has been struggling academically, was furiously writing in her French booklet, doing work that should have been done two weeks ago. I told her it had waited this long and it could wait five minutes more, that she was much more important than any work she had to do. She put her pencil down and then her head, as did the usual crowd. My breathers breathed, a few sat up, and my fidgeter fidgeted as he does, in between putting his head down for a few breaths here and there.

The five and a half minutes went by quickly. I started as I did in the previous class, focusing on our need to do what we can and to be positive and productive, just as we do every day. Then we went through the prompts, breath count and focused breath, again breathing in the positivity and letting go of the negative blocks.

At one point, one girl needed Kleenex. She mindfully got up to get it and took care of herself, without disturbing the room at all. It was lovely, as were the two minutes or so of silence at the end, in which the room was quiet and a little more still than usual. I again took a few deep breaths and found comfort in my students and our practice. The universe is greater than the power of one man, and I believe, even though there will always be narcissists and ignorance, the world has changed since 1933. 

I am hopeful despite the potential darkness, otherwise I don't think I could do my job, or be who I am. So I will keep building on that, with my students and in our practice, and enjoy the fact that tomorrow is the end of a week and there is a long weekend (of marking and report cards) ahead. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Day 36- Thankfully Typical Tuesday

The peace with which we begin each morning is truly remarkable to me. In my presentations, when I meditate with teachers and other adult learners, at the end of the meditation when I room is quiet and still, I comment that the silence in the room is very similar to what I experience in my classroom on most days. As I have begun to document my experience on a daily basis, I am amazed to notice how true this statement is, and it is only November.

I had each class, one after the other, in periods 1 and 2, which is really nice as morning meditations are especially peaceful, as they were this morning. I began with my homeroom and everyone was there, but Student A was happy to put his head down, as was everybody else.

It was silent from the beginning, as I moved through the prompts, the breath counts and guiding the to inhale what they needed- positivity, confidence, focus- and exhale what they didn't- the negativity, the fear, the distraction. We moved into the silence, and it was silent in the room and that was how it stayed.

Outside there was nose. The students coming around looking for computers weren't terribly loud, but they weren't quiet either. They stopped short of banging on the door, but made their presence known, at least to me. My students were unbothered and didn't move when they heard the noise.

They stayed with the meditation as I got up, opened the door and told the girls they could use the computers in a few minutes. They stayed with the meditation through the noise in the hallway, that I thought was the girls and opened the door a second time to check, only to realize it was just the usual passing noise, and I didn't need to open the door. It had only added to the noise. As I closed the door and everyone remained unmoved, I realized it was only me who had been disturbed, which bothered me in the moment, as I hate being the one to cause the noise. I realized later that my need to check the noise came in part because I had already been interrupted and was standing by the door, and in large part because I felt I need to protect my students from whatever was happening in the hallway. It backfired of course, as these things often do, and in the moment I was annoyed with myself, as well as super impressed with my students. Not one had moved. I took the last few breaths with them and was grateful.

As I ended the meditation, before our usual inhale of a full deep breath and exhale to stretch, I asked them not to move too quickly. I suggested they inhale their power, noticing how they had made the choice to stay with the meditation, not be disturbed by the outside and maintain their power, and to exhale their willingness to give their power away too quickly, to pay attention when they give in to distraction or negative thoughts. As we took a couple of breaths, I told them how proud I was of them and their choice to stay with the meditation and keep breathing, and the respect they showed for each other, by not looking at the noise as an invitation to disturb everyone else's meditation. It was a remarkable start to a pretty busy day, I'll take it,

My switch class came 40 minutes later at the beginning of period two and also settled very quickly. I had been out of the room when the classes switched, and they were all ready to go when I got back two minutes later. We went through the same prompts, breath count and focused breath as the class before, and as we moved into the silence I looked around. I saw my breathers breathing, almost everyone else with their heads down, and Student 1, who seemed to be in his own world. He was quiet, but he hardly stopped moving.

Student 1 was not moving to call anyone else's attention, he was just moving. He was moving his heading, looking up and down, left and right, pausing for a moment in each direction. Then he twisted his body in both directions a couple of times before he finally finished moving and put his head down for a few breaths. At one point, it seemed as though Student 1 noticed that I was looking at him and so I smiled at him. I wasn't sure if he saw me or not, he just kept doing what he was doing until he was done.

As he settled, I did too, closing my eyes for the last minute or so, enjoying the stillness, grateful for the silence and another moment before the busy day ahead.

And a busy day it was, with projects, preparing for a French test, and the United Way Trivia Night at the end of the school day, which turned out to be super fun and a very successful first experience. In light of the upheaval in America and the events in the crazy world, which are scarier than I want to think about, I am grateful for my school, my colleagues, my students and my classroom practice, where I can do what I can to make a difference every day.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Day 35- Suddenly it is Monday again

The rhythm of the school year is underway, and the stress of the end of term, finishing projects in time for assessment, and assessing projects and preparing to write report cards, is felt by them and me. At the same time, there is a calm in the awareness that everything will get done, and the stress is just there to keep us our toes and ensure we all follow through, a big part of school, after all.

I saw my class after break this morning and the meditation was peaceful. Student A was away and everyone else was quiet. With only one period together, feeling the pressures of time, I chose the 5 and a half minute meditation and we got straight to it.

I moved quickly through the prompts, spending no more time than necessary on the instructions. They don't really need much anymore, but the prompts are familiar reminders, which hopefully guide them into a more meditative state more quickly, or at least support the silence and connection between us all in the room.

Today it felt comfortable and quiet, with the time passing quickly, including the last half of the meditation, which we spent together in silence. The room was still inside, and pretty quiet outside too. I breathed in my energy, happy I can mostly breathe through my nose again, and exhaled my tension and impatience. I also acknowledged my gratitude for the day, my students and the quiet in the room, and another good start to the second half of the morning. Then we only had one period together so we got to work, choosing from the writing, French and projects they need to finish.

I managed to get time in the library and met my switch class there for fourth period to finish the morning. I had told them to meet me there and log in, and most had, but with everyone present we were short and couple of computers, and of course, a couple hadn't managed to log in, which annoyed and distracted me.

It is natural for teachers to feel, and struggle with, the pressures of time at this time of year, and I am grateful to have the experience to rely on to know that it will all get done, but I think this is the first time I have had such an acute awareness of the pressure I still feel some days, or in some periods of the day. I know it is important, because I can't transfer my stress to my students, especially when they are doing the same things they do on any other day, even if it is annoying and they are wasting time.

This was part of my awareness in the library today, as I was the one distracted in the meditation. It began as usual, most happy to be in the library, logging in and then moving to the beanbag chairs and getting comfortable. I had suggested they log in and move their chairs so their backs were to the computers, but none did. I forgot to notice until we were into the meditation, and I had to turn off a monitor or two. I was more annoyed with myself for forgetting than Students 1 and 2, who wanted to play more than breathe and whose behaviour I had to address, but I was annoyed with them too, which I let them know with a look.

They stopped and settled when I switched the monitors off, and I continued through the prompts and the breath count walking around the room. As I did I noticed several students who had not yet logged in. The computers take minutes to load, which was the reason to log in first, making the minutes in meditation even more useful and beneficial in the precious time we have to write. I nudged the kids who hadn't logged in to do so in the meditation, even though it distracted them for the moment and me. It didn't bother the group as a whole and I didn't want them waiting around again after we were done.

As they did, I continued to move through the usual prompts, finally suggesting they inhale their confidence to write, seeing the words appear on the screen, and exhaling the fears that block the words. We moved into the silence and I was still distracted by the computers and the behaviours. They were quiet and pretty still as I stood watching, closing my eyes to take a couple of breaths, but mostly just watching them and noticing the computers of those I had told to log in loading as we ended the meditation. At least the timing was good.

It wasn't a great meditation for me, but I think it was still good for them, and they were focused on their writing through the period that followed until it was time for lunch. After lunch, they had TAA and then we had library time in which to work, and almost everyone did. It was pretty good for a Monday in November. Hopefully a good sign for the short week ahead. And keeping the writing short leaves time to do at least a little marking too.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day 34- Thursday finishes the week, for students anyway

The day, like the week, was full, as we continue to delve into more involved learning in each subject, and new levels of engagement, all founded on the now 6 and a half minutes during which we come together to breathe.

This morning I began with my class for one period of French. The silence and stillness with which the week began remained with us today. as we took the time to breathe and prepared to make the most of the day ahead, especially as they had a long weekend awaiting them.

As is becoming the routine, just about everybody settled very quickly. Though he was jumpy in the morning, Student A put his head down pretty much as soon as we began and enjoyed the quiet time. Student B was looking at his buddy across the way, and today I also noted his buddy looking at him first, and quite persistently trying to call his attention, though he let it go and eventually put his head down, as I moved to stand directly in front of him for a few of the breath counts.

Everyone else was undisturbed and silent, most with their heads down, as I moved into the guided breath, encouraging them to inhale their positivity and patience, as we practice some grammar in French, a study of learning- what is it and involves- in ELA, and a creative representation of their understanding of Human Rights and all the other big concepts we have explored in Social Studies, and exhale the negative thoughts and impatience with themselves, those around them or the task in front of them.

We moved into the silence, and as I used the longer track yesterday I figured I might as well try it again today, so we had an extra minute or so of silence together. I sat down and joined in, closing my eyes and breathing in my own patience for my students and the day ahead, to give them my best, as best I could, exhaling my impatience, with them and myself, making more room for the patience to give them my presence.

The three minutes went quickly and I had my eyes closed breathing with my students. Again today, if the were distracted it wasn't enough to disturb me. There was no noise and little movement. As the track ended, before I said anything, I lingered in the silence for a breath or two, just enjoying it. Then I broke it as I always to, telling them to take a deep breath in and commenting that I wished we could have stayed with it for longer, and perhaps one day the province will recognize its value and we can spend more time daily, but for today the 6 and a half minutes would have to do, as we moved into our French. It was a smooth start to the day for everyone.

My switch class came to me in fourth period after gym and settled pretty quickly, but just as we were about to get started one of the boys stated aloud that Student 1, Student 2 and another boy were making hand gestures making fun of him for dropping the frisbee during a game in gym and requested that I ask them to stop.

With the longer track to give us more time, I thanked him for telling me, and told them their gestures had better stop as I turned off the lights and started the music. As we began, I reminded them that these moments are exactly when we decide who we want to be and where we gain our power.I asked everyone if they want to be the kind, compassionate person, who supports their peers even if they are disappointed, remembering that everyone drops the ball sometimes, or if they wanted to be the jerk who has to make themself feel better by putting someone else down and makes fun of people. I also reminded them that standing up to those people safely is important, and that we can be mindful of the power we give others even when their words are hurtful.We always have the power to choose our responses and we practice meditating to help us be more aware of our responses.

I used the time I usually take for posture prompts, but we still planted our feet flat, connecting with Treaty 1 Territory Land as we do every day, I encouraged them to connect with their breath, and bring their attention to each inhale and each exhale. Then we moved into the breath count, and the guided breathing, where I returned to my theme of patience, inhaling patience for themselves and each other and exhaling their impatience, especially when things don't go their way.

They were all pretty settled by the time we moved into the silence, my breathers breathing, only a couple looking around, the rest with their heads down, including my fidgeter, some of the time, the rest, looking around fidgeting. Quiet overall, and peaceful, but not the stillness of the other class. It is interesting to note the differences.

Even with the prolonged intro, as we moved into the silence, we still had a couple of minutes left. I joined them for the first part, closing my eyes, but felt more of a pull to keep my eyes open, not because I don't trust them, but because I feel they need me more. I looked around the quiet room and appreciated it, and my students in the silence. I smiled as I looked at them catching a few eyes as I did, to which they smiled back and put their heads down. It was a lovely couple of minutes and a nice start to the last class of the morning.

The afternoon flew by, with 2 periods of ELA, one with each class, where we began to examine our experiences with learning, so I can help them begin to understand how they learn, and how their learning is connected to their work habits and efforts. It was another good start with each.

For the last two periods of the day we got together in Mr. Y's room. As they came in and got settled there was music already playing, as Mr. Y often plays classical music while the kids are doing Math. He asked if we should turn it off and I suggested we just take a few breaths,

We dimmed the lights a little, and it didn't take more than a few seconds, and very little instruction, before everyone was quiet. We spent a few moments in silence just listening to the music and then we took three deep breaths together. As we finished I commented that at MTS PD Day, the speaker gave everyone a break to stretch, then he suggested three deep breaths and I had only finished the first when everyone around me sat down.

I told them our deep breaths, with full inhales and exhales, should last at least 6 seconds and most people don't use their full lung capacity. Somehow I got to the story about my breathing backwards, which I told, including that it was something I didn't even know was possible, until I was in my 20's and learning to meditate. A reflexologist friend pointed out that as I inhaled I was contracting my belly instead of expanding it, not allowing my lungs to fill completely. I had never learned any differently and often tell this story in presentations, and at some point in the year, which turned out to be today. The students were as surprised as I was about the breathing backwards, and some thought it was pretty funny.

Then we got to our projects.We had started an introduction yesterday, but wanted to clarify to criteria and the expectations, as well as encourage the potential and creativity. They had the last 45 minutes of the day to get started and they did. The level of engagement was remarkable, especially for the end of the week.

November is generally a dreary month, and this year I am greatly encouraged by its start.  I am also grateful to have PD tomorrow, a break from the kids, a break from the writing, and since I cannot breathe through my nose at all right now, I guess I am taking a break from that too.

I hope everyone has a happy Friday and a joyous and relaxing weekend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day 32, 33- November begins on a Tuesday, and stays pretty smooth on a Wednesday

One of the commonly accepted benefits of spiritual practice- whether it is found in religious practice, like prayer, or other rituals or ceremonies, or whether it is found through communing with nature, music, dance, yoga, a classroom meditation practice like ours,or connecting with the greatness of the universe any other endless numbers of ways- is that there is a comfort within the practice. The practice becomes a source of support, as the practitioner develops a connection with the practice itself, as well as simultaneously, generally forging a stronger connection with the self, and something larger than oneself, as defined by the individual and the practice. In our case it is our connection with each other and our classroom culture and learning that brings us together each day.

In my comprehensive project for my Masters degree, I explored spirituality in the classroom at great length, both for its benefits for children and learning, and its connection to meditation. I cited Tobin Hart's book, The Spiritual Lives of Children, to help distinguish religious practice, essentially based on dogma, from spiritual practice, which has none, and educators like Nel Noddings, Jack Miller, and others to support spiritual work in the classroom.

In recent years, the increasing understanding of the value of Indigenous ways of learning and knowing, as well as research in the area of Education for Sustainable Well-Being and Sustainable Happiness, have gone a long way to support bringing spirituality into the classroom in a more transparent and direct manner. The stigma surrounding the word spirituality is slowly decreasing, allowing teachers to recognize the value of spiritual experiences in connection to learning and well-being in the classroom.

I believe my work is part of this growing body of research and why I am writing all of this today. It was not my intention to get into this deep discussion this evening, as it was not my intention this morning, when my students and I got into an equally deep discussion of school life and learning, and how one knows one is learning, before we even began our meditation this morning.

For today, I should probably write more to explain the research, and value of spiritual practice in and out of the classroom, but that was not my purpose in mentioning it. I will say that I am happy answer any questions in the comments, and eventually I will get around to sharing more of my earlier writing in this blog, but in the meantime, if anyone is interested please messages me and I will send my writing to you.

My purpose in mentioning spiritual practice here today is because as we meditated this morning, the first day in November, and the room was completely still and silent, I noticed the familiarity of the practice and the comfort we are gaining from it. The awkwardness and weirdness of the beginning is gone and there is a peace left in its place. The silence is becoming the norm, and now that my students know they can rely on it, they are coming to appreciate it more. I don't expect that every day will be this perfect,but today I recognized the benefits of building a spiritual practice, both for the minutes during meditation itself and the feeling it leaves behind.

I began the day with my class, and we talked for about 20 minutes this morning before we started meditating. November is the end of first term and the time teachers write report cards and student prepare for Student Led Conferences at the end of the month. I told them to get ready we would be exploring learning, what it means, and their responsibilities and work habits, so they could better understand themselves as learners, and be able to share their insights with their parents, along with the work we have accomplished, and have yet to accomplish in the next two weeks, so they could support them in their learning.

The discussion, and the work we will do, goes deeper than just the tasks, to examine how they do, or do not, take on various tasks, and how they are left feeling as the result, and knowing the connections between their efforts and learning. What I really want for them, is for each student to be able to discern when they are actually working- focusing, processing, trying, reading, writing, problem solving, and when they are not, because in the long run, only they can know and it only matters to them. The mindfulness that comes with this awareness is the presence they gain, paying attention to their time and class, whatever they are doing, even when it is not what they are "supposed" to be doing, as long as they are honest about it. Because in the end, no one can stop time.

As I said, it was pretty deep, as was the meditation that followed. Student A had put his head down shortly after I had began talking, right about the time Student B and his buddy across the room started making eyes at each other. I noticed their secret communication, and let them know I had, which put a stop to it in the moment and for the rest of the morning.

Everyone was ready as I began the meditation and it was still and silent from beginning to end, what is beginning to be routine for my class, especially first thing in the morning. Despite the familiarity and comfort growing in our practice and in the silence, it never ceases to amaze me, and this morning was no different. As we breathed together in silence I gave thanks for the peace in the room and the feelings it is fostering among us.

As I ended the meditation, I thanked them for their silence and being who they are, and we got on with our day, finishing up our presentations and beginning our study of learning with presence and focus. There is a connectedness growing in my classroom, with my students, to me, to each other and to their learning and our practice allows us to be grounded, in ourselves and in that connection. It is hard to describe, as spiritual experiences are sometimes not entirely tangible, but that does not negate its presence, or its power. I certainly felt it with my class this morning.

I saw my switch class right after lunch, and though less still, I also noted a remarkable quietness that is becoming more routine with this class as well. We had only one period together this afternoon, and some presentations to finish, so we got into our meditation pretty quickly. As we began, I encouraged a couple of students to remember that nothing they had to do was more important than they are and any writing could wait, to which they responded by putting their pencils down.

Today pretty much everyone except my breathers put their heads down, even my fidgeter, though he lifted his head periodically to look around and fidget. But there were no disruptions or disturbances, and after the prompts I sat down and joined in the silence. I was grateful for the quiet of this class, especially right after lunch, and let them know as we finished as well.

Both of my classes are growing as learners and as we begin our third month together the positive foundation upon which our practice is built is becoming more evident and familiar. I guess what I tell my students is true, the harder you work, the easier it gets, and in spiritual practice the rewards are simultaneously subtler and grander.

And in the end, it is just another Tuesday in Middle School. I hope tomorrow is as smooth and as interesting.

I wrote yesterday, but didn't get to proofread and post, and so, as the feeling of yesterday seemed to continue, I decided I would too.

I began with my switch class and my class went off to Mr. Y to write a Math test. Before they left I reminded them to take a few breaths before they started writing, to take a moment to breathe, visualize writing the test, confidently answering questions and then checking over their answers, while exhaling and letting go of their nerves and doubts. Then they were off and my switch class came to start the day.

This class is also growing in their comfort in our practice, as reflected in the quiet of the room throughout the meditation again this morning. I had two periods with this class and then two with mine this morning, which we haven't had in awhile. As I set up the music, the track that began was just over 6 and a half minutes long, and since we had the time, I decided to go with it. In the same moment, I also made the decision not to tell them, but instead, as we began I told them the meditation would be exactly the same, but slightly different, and to pay attention and see if they noticed what it was.

As I guided them through the prompts and the breath count everyone settled pretty quickly, except Student 1, my fidgeter. He was pretty fidgety, but as I went and stood beside him, continuing with the breath count he settled. He played with the Plasticine I had placed beside him for a short while and then put his head down.

As I moved to guiding them to find what they need in their breath, inhaling the quality they want to grow as they prepare for the day ahead, including their Math test later this morning, and exhaling their blocks, usually fear, letting them go, making more room for the quality they are trying to grow. Then we moved into what was about 3 minutes of silence.

I joined in, closing my eyes for the entire time. I took a few breaths, being present in the silence, and noted the noise, not in my classroom, but in the hallway. I noticed voices wafting intermittently, and some banging here and there, that was hard to figure out and more than I would imagine. I wasn't sure if it was actually that noisy, or just that noisy because that was where my attention was focused. I didn't know, but realized it didn't matter. I listened to the quiet in the room, not entirely still, but silent, and peaceful, I was tempted to open my eyes, look around and see what they were doing, if they were disturbed by the noise, or each other, But I decided to trust that they were fine and stay with my breath, just as I hope they will each day.

When the meditation ended, after remarking on their growing abilities, I asked if they noticed what had been different today. At first, they were fixated on the music, the new track and the different instruments it featured, more drum than flute. Eventually someone suggested it was longer and a few others said they had noticed too, and I told them it was just about a minute longer. I suggested they pay attention to how they feel on different days and what they notice, because some days short meditations seem longer, and other days longer meditations seem short. Classes are like that too, and today was one of those days when time moved quickly and before I knew it two periods had passed.

I saw my class after break and they were relieved to be done their Math test and feeling pretty good overall. Student A had done some of the test orally, demonstrating his understanding, and making a huge step as far as engagement in his learning. He didn't really show if he was happy, but Mr. Y and I were for him. When he got to my class, he was pretty hyper, moving around the room, touching kids and their stuff. As we got started, after a few requests, he agreed to sit down, and immediately focused on drawing his comics as I started the class. When I turned off the lights to start the meditation, Student A continued drawing for a moment, then put everything aside, and very methodically put on his hoodie, put the hood over his head, folded his arms and put his head down. Once he was comfortable he didn't move for the rest of the meditation.

Student B wasn't calling attention, but was fidgeting with a pencil sharpener with a flap that he intermittently flicked and clicked. As I started the meditation, I put some Plasticine down beside him and thankfully he picked it up without any need for words. He played with it for most of the meditation, or at least what I saw, because he didn't call attention or make me look at him for the second half.

I had decided to try a longer track with my class too, as it had gone so well earlier, and again told them the meditation would be exactly the same, but slightly different. I went through the usual prompts, the breath count and inhaling whatever they needed today, exhaling whatever was blocking them. Like yesterday, it was very peaceful in the room.

I joined them as we moved into the silence, again closing my eyes for the 3 minutes or so, trusting them to stay with their breath as I stayed with mine. Again, I noted the noise outside as it contrasted with the silence in the room, and appreciated the silence all the more. It was remarkable and I was grateful as I breathed with them.

I ended the meditation, and we talked about the length of the track, perceptions of time, and their ability to maintain their stillness and silence for longer, reflecting their growth. Then we moved into our learning, the beginning of our study of learning and the rest of then morning, and then the afternoon, was over before I knew it.

And with PD on Friday, tomorrow is the last day of the week with students, and I am looking forward to another smooth day. Hope yours is too!