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!

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