Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wednesday Night, Thursday Morning

Not far from my school and our community of schools is the Seven Oaks Hospital, and up the street from the hospital is Dial-a-Life, a housing community for people who have to come to Winnipeg to receive dialysis and other treatment for ailments like diabetes and other diseases. Most of the patients come from Northern Manitoba, with all or parts of their family, including children and sometimes grandchildren, who are students in our community of schools.

Last night our school hosted our 2nd annual holiday dinner for the families of our students living at Dial-a-Life, and aside from the fun I had helping supervise the crafts table, as opposed to any of the cooking and serving, I also had the pleasure of catching up with some former students who are now in high school.

One of the young women I got to chat with started grade 9 at the new MET School- a high school with student directed curriculum and internships based on Big Picture Schools in the US- and beyond her general experiences, she also told me about the Wellness Day they had enjoyed that day, with workshops with a yoga instructor and some Mindfulness activities.

We laughed together, as she spent last year meditating with me and had some prior knowledge, as do many of her classmates, who were in my classes last year in grade 8, or the year before in grade 7, or both. She told me about some of the Mindfulness exercises she had experienced and then that she and some of her classmates often talk about how much they miss meditating, realizing how much they appreciated being provided the time to just sit and breath.

These are words I have heard often over the years from former students, and the greatest indicator of the value of the time and experience I provide for my students, even if they are not following all the prompts and breath counts, but just sitting there. I told her I understood what she meant and how she felt, and explained it is one of those things that we can sort of appreciate while it is happening, but because it is a daily event, we often come to take it for granted, and can't appreciate to its full potential until circumstances change and it is gone. Joni Mitchell said it best, "Don't it always seem to go, we don't know what we got until it's gone." Do-wap-wap-wap-wap

Each time I hear this feedback, what it really makes me wonder is, what if more teachers meditated with their students daily? Which is why I keep doing what I am doing, which I shared with my former student, and why I am writing. I also reminded my former student that she could suggest to her teacher that they begin meditating, and that she, and/or any of the other former students, could take turns leading meditations. Afterall, they know how to breathe and that the introduction is just words to set the tone- they can figure it out- or come visit and I will remind them.

Whether she takes on the challenge or not, it was lovely to talk with her again, and get some feedback, and validation, about the value of  our daily classroom meditations.

This morning we were back to it and it was a regular morning- getting colder, still snowy, the new norm of winter. The residential streets were still a mess, but the busses were running and just about everyone was back, including Student A. He wasn't thrilled to be back, but I let him know that I was happy he was there- I even referred to it as home. I sat down with him to set his schedule for the day, and reminded him of our goals at school, that we care about him and want him to be successful, but he needs to do the work and tell us what he needs. Today it meant first thing in the morning he would meditate with us, and then stay in the classroom for one period of LA and join in some of our learning about The Holocaust.

As we went through announcements and getting started, Student A picked up his comics, which I had put out on the table drawing. Though it was dark, he continued drawing about halfway into the meditation, at which point he was done, put everything away, and his head down for the rest of the meditation.

Everyone else was settled from the start, even Student B, who sat up through the five and a half minutes, looking around, but didn't call attention to himself. Perhaps, because as I got into the guided breath, I suggested they inhale their strength and confidence, and exhale their fear and need to call attention, reminding them that they deserve better than the negative attention they call. Or maybe he was just tired.

Whatever the reason, it made for a very quiet and peaceful start to the day. As we planted our feet flat on Treaty 1 Territory land, I drew attention to the fact that we plant our feet on the ground in our warm classroom, in our heated school, which we are lucky to have, as not everyone is, and there are people who have to survive homelessness, often spending hours, if not nights, outside in the cold. We took a breath of gratitude, before I moved on with the prompts, the breath count and the guided breath.

As we moved into the silence, I sat down in the chair of a student who was absent, briefly noting the tensing of the students on either side, that awkward moment when students realize their teacher is sitting beside them, followed by that moment of relaxation, when they also realize that it doesn't matter.

Then I closed my eyes and breathed in the silence, and within a few breaths was deep in a thought process, which was as unexpected as the emotional response which it brought about from within. Just before the morning began, one of my colleagues paid me a huge compliment. At the dinner the night before I got to catch up with her daughter, now in grade 4, who I used to see at our school all the time, but don't this year due to changes in the family schedule. It was lovely to see her and we had a very nice conversation and shared some time at the crafts table. That morning her mom shared that her daughter spoke of our experience, and she referred to me as "the beautiful lady with the long hair who is always talks to me and is so nice," which was extremely touching to hear.

As I was breathing, the moment returned to me and I appreciated the depth of the compliment I had received. I struck me, that the beauty I see in children reflects the beauty they see in me. It also struck me that I am often hard on myself, and forget to see the beauty in myself, though it is so easy to see in them. I habitually call students, both male and female, Beautiful or Beauty, they way others use sweeties, kids, guys, or other general references. I believe that each of my students, and lots of other students I don't teach but still know, know that I think they are beautiful, even if they don't believe me  all the time because they don't know it themselves.

This realization came in a matter of breaths and took me by surprise, and before I knew it I felt my eyes start to tear. I let myself be in the moment, took a breath, and then for no reason at all, my mind jumped to the winter finale of This Is Us, which I had just watched the night before. Don't worry- no spoilers here- my mind jumped to the end of the show- one of those perfect TV moments with a life and death cliffhanger wrapped in a happy feeling, and my eyes started to tear even more. It was powerful and ridiculous and so I just sat and breathed.

The track ended shortly after and I took a full deep inhale and exhale before I broke the stillness and silence, bringing everyone's awareness back to the room, and wiping my eyes without calling attention. I experienced it as a private moment in the classroom, though as we got ready to start the class, I did have a brief conversation about This Is Us with the EA in my classroom, who is also a fan, and told my students they should ask their parents about the show because I am curious to know if anyone else is watching. Then we got started with the rest of our learning, exploring some big concepts around The Holocaust, like Hitler's rise to power. It was a powerful start to the morning.

I was happy to have a bit of a break before my switch class came to my room during period 4, the last class of the morning, and the meditation was quiet and peaceful, especially for this class, and not nearly as eventful for me. Student 1 was away today, which I noted at one point during the silence of the meditation, when I noticed that it was exceptionally still in the room and wondered what was different. I felt a little bad that it was his absence, but then I realized that I can't change the facts.

I went through the meditation, the prompts, connections and guided breath, as I had with my class earlier in the morning. We moved into the silence, for the last two minutes or so, and I joined in, though I stayed more present than I had earlier in the morning. I took a few breaths, and listened, to the shuffling and odd noise in the room and the random noises beyond. I opened my eyes when one student dropped a pencil, which would not have been as noticeable if the room had not been so quiet, but seeing that the student who dropped it had not disturbed Student 2, whom he sits beside and is often annoyed, I closed my eyes again.

A few breaths later the track ended and I took a full breath in the silence before I started to bring their awareness back to the room. This class also stayed with the silence, becoming more accustomed to its awkwardness. Then I ended the meditation and we began our learning, which today involved the picturebook Erika, a woman who survived the war because her mother threw her from a train. It was another powerful class to end the morning.

I am hoping everyone survived the afternoon as I had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment. They had a lot of work to finish for tomorrow, so I imagine it went pretty smoothly. One way or the other, I will find out tomorrow, and at least it is Friday and only 10 more get-ups to go until the holidays.

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