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.

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