Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Done

Monday, January 30

In another paradox that is life, Day 2 has turned out to be the easiest day and the hardest day of the school day cycle. It is the easiest teaching day, with only two periods of teaching time, but harder with the six periods of alternate activities and a weird flow to the day. I see my switch class to meditate during period 3 after break, and my class in the afternoon for our library time. It makes for some uneven days and less than perfect meditations. I can only imagine how crazy it would be if we didn't meditate.

My switch class came after break and though it took a minute or two, they eventually settled as we got ready to start the morning. We had two periods to get into reading Hana's Suitcase, and our meditation focused on getting prepared, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for sitting to read and the topic.

We moved through the usual process, preparing for the class and the day ahead, and the room was never loud, but it was never completely still or quiet. Student 1 was playing with some Plasticine and it only took a look for him to stop banging it around, but he continued fidgeting with it, making noise that stood out in the quiet room, as did the shuffling and other slight movements here and there. But like each day before, the six minutes passed quickly if not in idyllic silence, and led into the reading that followed, through which my students were engaged and respectful.

After lunch and TAA, I met my class in the library along with my switch class. My switch class was surprised to learn they would be meditating again, but I told them my class hadn't meditated yet, and it wouldn't hurt them to take another five minutes to breathe. I told everyone to find a place and get comfortable and many found chairs, but about 8 to 10 girls had made themselves comfortable on about 4 beanbags chairs, pretty much sprawled on top of each other. I noticed and told them I was tempted to have them all move, at it is nowhere near the ideal meditation posture, but they all looked so cute and comfortable. So instead I told them that as long as they could be still and silent and not disturb each other, then I was fine with them sitting there. Of course these girls rose to the challenge, and enjoyed the time together without any noise at all. They are just lovely.

Everyone else was pretty quiet, and the library also stilled as the librarian dimmed the lights and I began the music and the meditation. As I went through the prompts, breath count and focus on making the most of the last hour of the day, a teacher and some students came into the library at different times to get their work off the printer, entering and leaving quietly, while my students and the meditation remained undisturbed. I also noticed a teacher and one or two students come to the door, peer into the darkness in the room and leave, deciding it wasn't the time to enter.

The only student who made noise was Student A. He had been in TAA and joined the class late, making his entrance known by banging on the window. I had seen him coming and greeted him at the door, with a look and a ssh and he responded with a look of his own and quieting down, which I take as a huge win. He perched himself on the ledge, which was fine, until he picked up a meter stick and started poking the boy in front of him. The boy didn't flinch, and I was there a moment later to take the meter stick away, all in the midst of the meditation.

We moved into the silence, and with only a minute or two of quiet, Student A settled, fidgeting with his fidget toy, and not bothering anyone else. Everyone else enjoyed the silence and the library was still and calm. Like the morning, it wasn't perfect, but the minutes passed, and the last hour of the day went pretty smoothly too.

Wednesday, January 31

I decided that learning about The Holocaust is heavy enough, and while I make all too scary connections to the world today, I am trying to balance the sometimes atrocious events that happen all too often today with the events of the past that are hard enough to fathom and digest. The morning began with one period with each class to read Hana's Suitcase, and so I chose to keep the day, and the meditation, regular, instead of talking about the terrible events in Quebec City. We didn't have enough time to devote to a METTA meditation, and so I went in the opposite direction with a short, five and a half minute meditation through which I spoke as little as possible.

The day began with my class and as usual they settled very quickly. I had two ninth grade volunteers in my room for the day and they were happy to be back and joined in the meditation, taking seats in the circle with their backs straight. Before I began, I told them about my experience the night before, in an MRI machine where my knowledge and experience with meditation saved me from moments of panic in the beginning, and helped the time fly by during the 30 minute process.

My class knows I experience headaches and so I explained that I had gone for the MRI as a precaution. We talked about MRIs and the brain, and I told them about the claustrophobic machine and how I used my breath just like I instruct them in class, first with my breath count, and then inhaling the calm and exhaling the fear. I reminded them that once we have a skill, like meditating, but just about anything we learn, we have it forever, and can use it in all sorts of circumstances. No one can take our learning away from us.

I told the story in both classes and then we went through the same, short meditations. I encouraged them to find what they need, inhaling the quality they wish to grow and exhaling the fears and blocks. The room was still and silent with my class, and as it ended it clear that if I had extended the time, no one would have complained. They were slow to move, but as I turned on the lights and we got into the reading, everyone became engaged in the story.

The meditation with my switch class was the same as the morning with a little less stillness and silence. Student 2 didn't try to leave, but a girl who has also taken to leaving as we begin got up to write her name on the board. I suggested that she could wait for 5 minutes, and that while she always came back quietly, I preferred she stayed, and she sat back down without complaint. Student 1 has returned to fidgeting, but stopped when I looked at him, and everyone else was quiet if not completely still. The five and a half minutes went quickly as they do and we continued with our reading.

The rest of the day went by, playing our Exploratory Board Games in the afternoon, and before I knew it, another Tuesday was done. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday- Another Week Flies By

Tuesday, January 24

I started the morning with a double period with my class and a couple of students mentioned a house fire in a nearby neighbourhood the night before. We spoke briefly about house fires in the winter time, some safety precautions, and then I mentioned that if they wanted, they could bring their thoughts and concerns into their meditations.

I told them that if they were thinking of that family, or any person who needed some extra help, then as we meditated, they could inhale their strength and positivity, and on their exhale, imagine sending those qualities, and that energy- strength and positivity- to that family, or whoever needed it.
I pointed out that it was very similar to our METTA meditations, extending our caring and compassion to others, just in a less formal manner.

It was on that note that I started the meditation with a longer six and a half minute track for the double period. I moved through the usual prompts, breath count and focused breathing, encouraging them to find what they need, or alternately, inhale their positivity and strength, and exhale those feelings to the family whose house burnt down, or whoever else may need it.

We moved into the silence, and I sat in the corner by the door and looked over my class. Like in the days that have come before, almost everyone had their heads down, with a few sitting upright, and all were still and silent, comfortable with their breath and the music. I breathed in the room before I closed my eyes and joined in the silence. I breathed in my gratitude and exhaled positivity into the room. I noted the voices coming from the hallway, and was further awed by my students, who remained undisturbed.

The track ended and I lingered in the silence for a moment before I broke it, noting how powerful the silence was, and that they didn't need to move too quickly. Before we moved into our day, I also told them how much I enjoyed the silence and our starts to the day. I shared that as I have continued to write this blog, it has gotten to the point that every day is pretty much the same. I wasn't complaining, and I am still not- quite the opposite, I am very grateful and I wanted them to know. I closed on that note and the forewarning that when they came back in the afternoon we would take a few moments to meditate again.

My switch class came after lunch and we also enjoyed a longer meditation at the beginning of a double period, and started after we had a conversation about some of the challenging behaviours we are facing in the classrooms and how they can handle them. As we closed the discussion and got into the meditation,a couple of girls who had been giggling as they came into the room, started laughing again. Their laughter was funny and we all enjoyed it for a moment and then I challenged them to bring their focus back and be quiet again, and they rose to it and relaxed into the quiet.

Everyone else settled as well, as I commented on the health benefits of laughter and the release of endorphins, as well as the power of being able to control their responses, as we had talked about in the earlier conversation, and come back to the calm and bring their focus to their breath, just as they were doing.

Then we moved through the meditation, more or less the same as the morning, and the room was just about as quiet for the six and a half minutes. As the track ended, and I closed the meditation, I decided to bring back some of the energy and laughter they had demonstrated earlier. As always, I told them to take a deep breath in, but with the exhale I encouraged them to breathe out with energy, through their mouths, with an audible Haa. Then after another deep breath in, I told them to exhale their laughter and gave a hearty, HAHAHAHA. With that there was some laughter, a different kind of release, which came to a natural end, as I turned on the lights, and we got to work.

During the course of the class, my breather came and asked if he could talk to me. He shared that some of his meditations have been very deep, and his experience has led him to see different sorts of visions as he meditates. It is a fine line, to determine how much to share in public, of a student's private experiences, and I am hoping in the future he will do some writing with me, but for now I will remain purposefully vague. We talked at length about what he sees while he is sitting and breathing, many possible interpretations depending on his beliefs, some brain science, and his feelings about his experiences, which were my main concern, and I was surprised to learn, were quite neutral.

He expressed that he was neither positively nor negatively affected, but was more curious about his experience and what I thought it meant. He seemed both reassured, and a bit mystified, by our conversation and that the possible interpretations and meanings lie mostly with him, his understandings and his beliefs. He also seemed okay with the idea of monitoring his experiences, drawing and writing about what he was seeing and feeling, paying attention to his dreams, and having an ongoing conversation, as well as possibly interacting with the figures, and having conversations with them, as they appear in his meditations.

My breather also let me know he had spoken with the guidance counselor about his experiences and I encouraged him to continue to talk to both of us as he felt he needed, as I always do. Later in the week I chatted with the guidance counselor about my breather, what a unique and interesting individual he is and how this is really unchartered territory for both of us. This student is certainly deep and insightful and has taken our meditations seriously from the beginning, opening a door to his inner-self. We talked about how lucky we are to be able to support him on this journey, and very mindful of the great responsibility that comes with it, which is the nature of teaching, this is just a little different. It will be very interesting to see where this goes.

After break in the afternoon, my class came back and as I told them we would, we meditated again. I put on the music and everyone settled pretty quickly, including Students A and B, who relaxed and got comfortable in their seats. I told my class this was quiet time, a few moments to breathe and refresh and that they knew how to do that. I told them I wasn't going to go through the formalities and guidance of the morning, but they should do what they needed to bring their energy and attention to their breath, each inhale and exhale, and relax and let everything else go. After a few short reminders, I was quiet.

When we started, I chose a lesser-used, unfamiliar track, to bring a familiar but yet different feeling, and was uncertain if they would move into their usual silence, or if someone would take the opportunity to call attention and disturb the stillness. I was grateful to find that everyone was happy to take the time to be quiet and enjoy the moments to breathe. We took about 5 minutes in silence before I brought their attention to setting a goal or intention for the next 30 minutes of time which was to be devoted to studying for their French test the next day, before we would spend the last 30 minutes of the day playing class games, at the suggestion of Student A, who is a great participant when we play games like Murder Wink and Concentration. They seemed to take the opportunity because the next 30 minutes were quiet and focused as they studied, some in groups, others in pairs and a few getting help from me.

Then we had a few minutes to play and everyone did and got along pretty well as they did. It was a pretty good end to a Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 25

Bell's "Let's Talk" also coincided with the day of our French test, with each class writing for two periods in the morning with break in between. Both meditations, and the conversations that preceded them pretty much mirrored each other.

As I began with each of the classes, my switch class first thing in the morning, and then my class after break, I pointed out that it was Bell's "Let's Talk" day and we discussed what it meant, including some mental health challenges, like depression and anxiety, and the stigmas and stereotypes that accompany them, and why it is important to break them down. I spoke of the need for these kind of days and raising awareness in the world, and how it may seem a little strange, because in our classroom we talk about these things all the time, noticing how we feel, and how important it is to notice and to talk about our feelings daily. And of course, we meditate to help us recognize and manage our feelings, as well as our responses to them and the events in the world around us, especially on days when we are writing tests.

Then I moved into the usual meditation, once with each group, with a focus on their confidence and readiness to write, especially as many had taken the time to study for the test ahead and master their skills. For those who hadn't, there was the option to use the review sheet to support them in their knowledge, as everyone had demonstrated at least a basic understanding of the process in their work.

The meditation in both classes focused on inhaling confidence in their knowledge and ability, and exhaling their worries fears and doubts. I reminded both classes of their confidence in their ability and understanding of skills they had already practiced, and all they needed to do was inhale what they know and exhale the doubt that they don't know, as they visualized themselves writing the test, whether they planned to use the review sheet or not.

The minutes in silence passed quickly and quietly, and then both classes wrote their tests, which I managed to mark pretty quickly, which will please them, as will their results. With the test comes a reflection, and the first part asks them to predict their results and reflect on their understanding, process and effort when studying, with some follow up questions when they see how they did- the real purpose of the testing process, with the bonus of learning some French too.

Usually their reflections are honest and insightful, and help them to see the connections between their level of effort and practice, and the depth of their understanding and their final results. Their responses are sometimes simple, and often insightful, but it is rare that they mention meditation. This time, in response to a question about how they feel about their efforts and results, explaining why they are or are not satisfied, one boy responded,

            "I cannot believe it today. I never believed in meditation honestly, but today I was feeling so                nervous and after meditation, I don't know what happened, my nervousness was gone. I think              I did really good."

He did indeed, do well with an 88%, and it is also worth noting he is a recent immigrant from India, still learning English, and the test was on IR verbs in French, and not adjective and adverbs.

Thursday, January 26

With a grade 7 Winter Activity planned for Friday, Thursday was the last working day of the week and the focus of our meditations was making the most of it, as well as quelling the nerves and excitement of many of the students who would be performing in their band concert, with rehearsals changing our afternoon schedule and the concert in the evening. By the end of the day, kids were pretty excited, but the morning started with the usual feeling of calm and focus.

I started the morning with my class in period 1 and my switch class in period 2, and in both classes we have started reading the story Hana's Suitcase, by Karen Levine, as the second part of our Holocaust study. In my class, we had started reading on Tuesday, and Thursday I was just starting with the other class, but we had 3 periods to read over the course of the day.

First thing in the morning, I had intended to begin with a six minute meditation, not the longest, but not the shortest, but I accidentally hit the eight minute track. I didn't realize it until we were well into the silence, and it continued beyond the usual time. I was a little anxious as it was longer than I had intended, and I was worried they would find it too long, but when I looked around I realized it must have been my own projections, as everyone seemed unbothered by the length, even Students A and B.

When the meditation ended, I commented on its length, but no one really said anything. They either didn't notice or didn't mind, and at that point they just wanted to get back to reading the novel.

My switch class came shortly after, and immediately started examining the books they would be reading, which were waiting for them upon their arrival. They put them aside and everyone settled very quickly as we got into the meditation.

Student 1 was a little bit fidgety, more noticeable because he has been so much quieter lately, playing with a bottle until I looked at him once or twice, but everyone else seemed relaxed, even Student 2, who didn't get up to leave.

I paid closer attention to the track as I hit play, being sure to pick a six minute track, as I felt we needed the time to get into our novel. We moved through the meditation and the minutes passed quickly and uneventfully, though still not achieving the level of stillness of the class before. It was a nice meditation and it set the tone of calmness and respect for the learning ahead.

There was no chance to meditate in the afternoon with students away for band rehearsal, but it made for a quick afternoon, though a little bit crazy. The band did an amazing job that evening too.

It was a nice end to the week for me as I had a medical appointment and some tests on Friday that prevented me from attending the day of outdoor fun. I am sure they all had fun without me and didn't even notice I was gone. Monday we will be back to meditating, and learning, as usual.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Another Monday, Another Week

The last full week in January, closing in on the halfway point of the school year, and the routines of learning and our classroom rhythm are in place, though the days are not without their challenges, especially while trying to meet the needs of so many diverse individuals.

Everyone was present when I started with my class this morning. Everyone was also tired, which is not unusual for a Monday, and Student A was visibly wiped. He put his head down right away, as did everyone else, and with only one period to start the day, and a short five and a half minute track, I got right to it.

It was a typical meditation with a focus on a good start to the week with a positive and productive Monday. It was also what has become typical in its stillness and in its silence. Towards the end of the meditation, with about a minute left, the door opened and an AE came in with one of the EA candidates learning in our school. Though the room was dark and quiet, they were not particularly mindful, and at first began to talk to another EA in the room. My back was to the door, but I shifted, sshed, and gestured that we would be another minute, and they understood the situation and waited quietly. My class remained still and undisturbed, and as I closed the meditation, I congratulated them on maintaining and exercising their power and encouraged them to continue to carry it with them  throughout the day.

My switch class came not long after, during 2nd period. Mr. Y was away and there was some confusion about the switch, but once we figured it out, they got settled very quickly and seemed happy to relax into their breath. Again I moved quickly through the five and a half minute Monday meditation, focusing on a positive start to the day and the week ahead.

It wasn't perfect- less still and silent than my class before- but everyone stayed, there were no big disruptions, and it was quiet enough. As with the class before, the minutes of meditation, and the classes that followed went quickly.

The day was not without its challenges. Student A has been struggling, overcome by behaviours that affect everyone in the class. Our school team is working on his Individualized Education Plan and scheduling and support that works for him. Without mentioning anything directly, in the morning I told my class some of what has been going on, and that when they came back at the end of the day for period eight we would meditate again.

At the end of Exploratory in 7th period, I turned off the lights and started the music. I told the Exploratory students to sit down and relax, and as the others came back for Band I directed them to do the same. But I gave the directions from outside the door, because, as it happened, Student A left for some alternative programming, but before he did, there had been a problem in the previous class.

I had intended to guide a meditation, but I was dealing with the issue in the room next door, which took a couple of minutes. I wasn't sure what I would walk into, especially as the EA in the room was also a substitute and not the usual adult presence, yet I wasn't entirely surprised to find everyone with their heads down and quiet in the room.

A few looked up as I walked in, and promptly put their heads back down when they saw me, but most didn't move. I quietly congratulated  them for knowing what to do to make the most of these moments, and encouraged them to continue to enjoy the stillness and silence for a few more minutes. I let them stay with it until the end of the track, which accumulated to just under 10 minutes of quiet, before I brought them back.

As I closed the meditation and before we got to work, I spoke of what had happened earlier, and the impact we all have on each other's learning, including Student A. I pointed out how they were learning to take care of themselves. I reminded them of some strategies, including counting on the adults around them by coming to them before they responded, and continuing to be their kind, empathetic, awesome selves.

It was a nice end to another crazy Monday and a good start to afternoon meditations. Now we will see what tomorrow and the rest of the week will bring.....one breath at a time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Peaceful Moments in the Midst of Crazy Days- WTF

It is hard to describe the level of peace our daily meditation routine has brought to the classroom each morning, and the solace it brings me each day, especially when the days get as crazy as this week has been. It takes no time for the classes to settle, whether they put their heads down or sit up, they become quiet quickly, with few prompts. Everyone seems to appreciate the time, the moments as I say, and they have begun to mimic, to relax and breathe, especially first thing in the morning. It has made for peaceful starts and finishes to the morning for the last couple of days. I am especially grateful, because not only do I get to enjoy this time with my students, and build our positive classroom culture based on caring and compassion, but these days I need to breathe in every bit of calm and patience I can get.

Over the week, the meditations in both classes have become pretty routine. Beginning with the acknowledgement of Treaty 1 Territory land and our connection to it, through the body prompts, the breath count and the focused breath, encouraging them to find what they need, based on whatever it is we are doing that day, inhaling the positive quality they wish to grow, and exhaling the negative quality, or fear that blocks them. The words vary a little from day to day, and class to class, but overall the idea is the same, and by now, they all already know what it is. With the routine in place, we have all found comfort in the still and silence over the last couple of days, even in my switch class. In the six minutes or so of our meditations, a remarkable silence, and with it a sense of peace has prevailed.

Wednesday, I started with my class and it was quiet as soon as it began, and as we moved into the stillness, I looked around the room at their relaxed postures, and felt the comfort I imagine they feel in the classroom, If there is noise, a shuffle in the room, or voices in the hallway, they remain undisturbed, knowing they deserve this time for them and that only they have the power to take it away. The occasional noise brings even more power to the silence and joy to my heart.

Thursday morning, my class and I meditated first thing in the morning before we attended a presentation in the gym. We were going to be called down before the show at 9:15, and after some conversation about the presentation to come, I started the six minute track at around 9:07 or so. I was still talking as the first announcement came on, calling the grade 6 classes to the gym and so I mentioned that we would see how long it would take for them to call us, but not to worry about it too quickly- we would get there. They remained in their meditations as I spoke, and I continued guiding them, and shortly after we moved into the silence.

About 2 or 3 minutes later the announcement for grade 7 classes came and no one in my class moved. Everyone stayed with their breath, as did I. We were very close to the end, and there were a few classes going down, so I knew it was okay if we were the last. I knew we had enough time, and my class trusted that I knew. We all took those final silent breaths, and as the track ended, and I closed the meditation, I congratulated my students on maintaining their power and knowing we would get to the gym when we were done with enough time. Then we went off to enjoy the show.

I saw my switch class at the end of the morning both Wednesday and Thursday, and they too were remarkably settled and peaceful, especially for this class. As a whole, the class is more settled, the readers and lookers have relaxed, and the fidgeters are gaining more control, even Student 1. Student 2 continues to leave sometimes, like yesterday, but always returns very mindfully, and Thursday he stayed throughout, as did everyone.

Both days were quick, with just over five minutes to meditate in the single period before lunch, shorter still when they arrive after gym or band, in not too much of a hurry. I have always encouraged them to settle quickly, and make the most of their time, and this week they have responded more. It seems to be coming more naturally. I notice the comfort growing with this group as well, which is what I told them at the end of a very peaceful meditation Thursday morning.

I mentioned that I appreciated that they all stayed throughout the time. I recognized that I understood sometimes they may have to go, and I appreciated the mindfulness they exhibit when they do, especially when they come back quietly. But I emphasized that it is even better when they are all there for the whole time, and there is no disruption to the flow. I told them I felt their peace, their power and their growth in the room on Thursday and it was a real joy.

In light of some of the craziness I had to deal with that afternoon, my meditations with my students, especially with my switch class, were highlights of my day. At least I had Friday to look forward to.

Friday, January 20th

It was finally Friday and the day began with a big meeting about our classrooms' needs, with me, Mr. Y, the resource teacher, the vice principal, the occupational therapist and the psychologist all in attendance. It was a very positive and productive start to the day, which isn't always the case with these kinds of meetings.

It was particularly validating when I spoke of their receptiveness to meditation, and the benefits I see for my students, and the OT suggested I implement it more, including an additional Mindfulness meditations in the afternoon. My response reflected my joy, stating I didn't need more encouragement than that to bring more meditations into the classroom.

The meeting ended, and I got back to class in time to work with my class after break. I told them the results of the meeting and that they could look forward to more afternoon moments to breathe next week, and in the future, But whatever would be after today, they could look forward to the moments we had to breathe right then, to make the most of the day ahead,  and bring a strong close to the week.

As had been the case all week, the room became quiet pretty quickly. Student B was a little excited, still dealing with a lot at home, and decided to use Student A's absence as an opportunity to draw attention, by demonstrating some annoying noises and behaviours, but a reminder that he could control them and was above them was all it took to help him settle along with everyone else.

With only one period together, I chose a short 5 and a half minute track and encouraged them to notice how they feel and to use their breath to help them find what they need, as I moved into the usual meditation focusing on a positive and productive end to the week. The stillness and silence in the room was even more remarkable, as I carried in me the positive feeling of the earlier meeting, and future direction of the class. There was a good feeling in the room as we ended the meditation and got to work on various tasks.

Before I knew it, it was time to switch for the last period of the morning. As I have all week, I again encouraged them to get into that meditative state as quickly as they could, by settling and bringing their attention to how they feel and their breath. It didn't take long before everyone was quiet, though as we began, Student 2 told me he had "to go." When I questioned his sincerity, he assured me it was real. I took him at his word, but I think I am going to do some detective work soon. Based on some other events, I have come to believe he is playing games on his phone in the bathroom in this time....I will keep you posted.

On Friday, I let it, and him, go, consciously choosing to step away from that battle, preferring to enjoy the quiet of the classroom with those who like to be there instead. It seemed as though everyone was happy to be there, as they relaxed into my voice guiding them through the now familiar feeling meditating, with more or less the same words as I had used earlier that morning.

Though not as still as the day before, the room was pretty quiet. A shh helped a couple of boys to settle. I don't know what they were caught up in, but they were giggling over something, which was actually pretty cute, though I couldn't let them go on. There were no other disturbances to the silence, beyond a shuffle here or there, or sounds wafting through the hallway, and everyone enjoyed the quiet. It was comfortable and pleasant.

It went quickly, as did the rest of the morning, the day, and now again the weekend is swiftly passing. The quick passage of time is becoming an unintentional continuing theme. I guess as I stop to notice the moments and the breaths, its impossible to miss their fleeting nature. Maybe it is all to help me appreciate how crazy time is, to be mindful of it, and grateful for it, as I am now.

Whatever the case, I am happy to still have the day ahead this weekend, even if it does involve a lot of marking. Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday at the Library

We are coming up on the halfway point of the school year, and this was our fourth monthly visit to Millennium Library, so the day has become a lovely routine, during which the students make the most of their time and the library space and resources. Some students required a little more supervision and guidance, and I spent my afternoon on the fourth floor with Student A, but most were independent and on task, and I am grateful for another productive and uneventful day at the library.

We began, as we do, in Mr. Y's room to meditate and prepare for the day. It didn't take long for everyone to get settled, and though Student A was on the side in front of the windows, and Student B was sitting in the back with his buddies, the six and a half minute meditation went quickly and quietly, and beyond the initial behaviour reminders, I didn't have to do any classroom management.

We moved through the usual prompts, breath count, and into the focused breath, visualizing the day ahead, the plan they had set for themselves, where and with whom they were going to sit, and what they hoped to accomplish, as they inhaled what they needed to make it happen, and exhaled the blocks.

The room was very quiet, and so I moved around where there was space, not worrying about getting to any student in particular, as I encouraged them to inhale their focus and exhale their distractions and temptations to veer off task, while picturing the library and the day ahead.

We moved into the silence and I looked around the room at my students, with their heads down or their eyes closed, quiet and still as we prepared for the day ahead, and felt grateful for them, and the fact that we were off for a day at the library. Then I closed my eyes, taking a few breaths and a few moments for myself and a prayer for the day ahead.

The track ended a few moments later and I closed the meditation, bringing their awareness back to their bodies and the classroom. As we closed, I remarked that the peace in the room had been remarkable, and if it was a sign of what was to come it was going to be another great day at the library.

Which is exactly what it turned out to be, and another day for which I am grateful.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blue Monday...or not

So according to at least a couple of newspaper articles. posts and a few DJs on the radio, today was "Blue Monday," or the saddest day of the year. According to a British researcher, who titled the day over 10 years ago, the time elapsed after the holidays, the bills which have come since, the next vacation being far away, all in the depth of winter's frigid cold, is enough to make this Monday in January the saddest day of the year. The day was getting even more press this year, with Brexit and the upcoming inauguration of President Trump, and so I started the day on the topic.

None of my students had heard of the day, which was not surprising to me, but that didn't stop them from getting involved in some interesting discussion, and in the end most seemed to agree we wouldn't let the calendar determine how we feel. At the same time, they could relate to how someone might feel more sad than usual this time of year. I reminded them that the most important thing today, as every day, is to notice how they feel and make sure they are taking care of themselves.

Then we got ready to meditate and I mentioned I was thinking that we should do a METTA meditation for the day, and I was completely taken aback when many indicated their agreement with a loud, "Yes." I asked for a show of hands and it didn't take more to convince me today. I set the music and reminded them that in the METTA meditation the tracks would continue, and that they didn't need to worry about how long it would be, or when it would be over, I would tell them and they could just relax.

Which is exactly what they did. Student A was in extra gym, and everyone else settled quickly, including Student B, who is back to sitting by his buddy, the boy who always gets hurt, at least for now, and for today they did okay. Though a little restless, they were quiet for the duration, their heads down for most of the time.

I moved through the prompts, the breath count and then into the stages of the METTA meditation, sharing our caring and compassion with ourselves first- May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, noticing that taking care of ourselves is important and not selfish, and the first thing we must do. Then extending our caring and compassion out in the world, first to a loved one, then to that familiar stranger, and finally into the world. to those who were having a hard time on this "Blue Monday," whether they be in our classrooms, our schools, our city, our province or beyond, wishing for them the same things we wished for ourselves- May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe.

As we moved into a moment of gratitude, I reminded them that if they were feeling good, then they already had much for which to feel grateful, and if they were feeling down to notice their feelings, and begin to feel grateful that they do, as that will help them feel a little better.

I also took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of noticing how we feel and taking care of our feelings, reminding them it is normal to feel sad from time to time, but if it seems too much, or lasts too long, to be sure to talk to any one of the people I named at our school, including me and Mr. Y.

We moved into the silence, and though it had been a longer meditation, nobody moved. The room was still and silent for the minute and a half of gratitude. Student B and his tablemate were a little restless for a moment, but stopped quickly and didn't bother anyone.

Close to 15 minutes after we began, I slowly closed the meditation,  bringing awareness back to their breath, their bodies, and the room, encouraging them to take their time and move slowly, which they did. They stayed pretty quiet as we transitioned into the rest of our class, and I was happy that they had wanted to take the time to extend their caring and compassion to others, even if it was just so they get to rest longer too.

By the time my switch class got to my room during period 6 in the afternoon, the quiet of the morning had been left behind. We had only one period together, just enough time for a short meditation. The class settled somewhat, but Student A was on the computer in my room, and so we didn't achieve the stillness or the quiet of the morning.

Student A knew a condition of being in the room was that he shut off the monitor to meditate, and he complied without any reminders as we started, but he didn't reach the quiet he enjoys in his usual spot, and I don't believe it was for lack of trying. He just couldn't contain himself.

He kept putting his head down and then lifting it again, sometime to poke another student, and at other times to make random comments. He was occasionally funny, but mostly annoying, and eventually settled as I stood beside him and we moved into a minute of silence.

It wasn't the perfect meditation, but it was a quiet enough six minutes for a Monday, and while it was a little crazy, it certainly wasn't blue.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Back Again...Like We Never Left

Monday, January 9th

Coming back from a break is another experience in paradox, having enjoyed the time away and feeling more rested and refreshed, and simultaneously feeling like we never left. And yet, as I pointed out to my students this morning, there is always a certain comfort in coming back to school, a feeling of familiarity on which we can count and enjoy. Coming back to our home away from home feels pretty good for most of us, even in the middle of January.

It was with that feeling that we started the day and it lasted throughout, at least for me. The morning began slowly, with kids needing forgotten locker combinations, and other supplies, and then we took the time to rearrange the seats. I again allowed students to choose their own seats, encouraging them to sit in different sections of the room, with different people, in order to gain new perspectives. It only took a few minutes, which in middle school life is not very long, and soon everyone was settled in their new seats.

Before we began the process, I ask Student 1 if he would be willing to switch tables, offering various choices, both near and far from his current location, where he has sat since September. He refused to move, and though I tried to press him to express his reasoning, when he couldn't, I didn't push it further. It is more important that he feel comfortable and a sense of belonging in the room, than he change tables. Everyone else in the class is empathetic enough to understand, or at least act like they do, and so when the other students chose their new seats, he remained in his, and stayed there as we began the meditation shortly after.

As we turned off the lights and started the music, I welcomed everyone back to the new year, the heart of the school year, when we move into even deeper learning. I also reminded them that even as we do this, we would ease our way in, and their return would involve a little bit of sharing and a lot of listening, and so the meditation would put us in the right place.

Then I reminded them they knew what to do and began the usual prompts, noting our continuing connection with Treaty 1 Territory Land, and the breath count. As we moved into the focused breath, I encouraged them to find what they need as we return to our learning, whether it be energy, positivity or patience, and exhale the blocks, their tiredness, negativity and impatience with themselves, each other and school as they came back to the classroom. I reminded them to bring their focus and attention to each inhale and each exhale, whatever they were focusing on, just taking the time to breathe.

We moved into the silence and the room was still and quiet. Student 1 had put his head down at the beginning, as had just about everyone else. There was no need for any reminders, or to manage any behaviour. However they may have felt about coming back to school, everyone was happy to take a few minutes to close their eyes and relax.

Before I closed mine and joined in with the students, I looked around the room, at my students and the classroom and felt that comfort in familiarity, and even though I could certainly handle a prolonged break, I felt happy to be back in the classroom. I enjoyed those moments of silence and a few deep breaths, and lingered in the silence as the track ended. I was tempted to hold it for longer, and felt they wouldn't have minded, but didn't want to push my luck, and so I slowly brought their awareness and movement back to the classroom, commenting on the comfort I had found in returning to school and meditating with them, and that I hoped they had felt it too.

As we started the class, and everyone did some sharing of the highlights and lowlights of their holidays, among other activities and family celebrations, I learnt that many of them had spent a lot of time sleeping, mostly during the days, as they spent their nights on their phones, gaming, or watching Netflix until 3, 4, or 5 in the morning. Coming back to school was quite the shock, and I understood why the meditation had been so smooth and quiet. I guess it is a good thing we did it, as they needed it all the more.

My switch class came after break and I was less surprised, though no less happy, with their equally exhausted demeanours. Though slightly more alive and involved in our sharing and discussion,  they were equally quiet during the meditation.

As with the class before, we started by rearranging the seating plan and the process flowed pretty seamlessly. Everyone got settled quickly, and this class didn't need any behaviour reminders either. Student 2 was back beside my breather, which should help him strive to be more focused. The boy who annoys him and Student 1, my fidgeter, were all spread around the room and everyone seemed comfortable. I noticed that feeling of familiarity again, and brought it to this class' attention as we began the meditation. I reminded them of their comfort and belonging, and I didn't need to remind them of anything else.

They meditation was very much the same as the class before, moving through the prompts, breath count and focused breath. Like the class before, everyone was still and silent, which I observed as I looked around the room before I joined myself. I looked at everyone and was happy for their return, noting that even Student 1 had his head down. It was a nice return for the second time in the morning, and I closed my eyes, breathed in the silence and my gratitude. It isn't easy to come back, but it is good- and some parts are very good.

As the track ended, I again lingered in the silence, looking around the room for a couple of breaths. As I did a few people began to stir, and one was looking at me quite expectantly, which took me by surprise. I wasn't sure if she was just impatient, or anxious, but I didn't want her to worry, and so I broke the silence, slowing bringing everyone's awareness back to their bodies and the room.

Before we moved into our sharing I let them know how happy I was that we are all back learning and meditating together.

I said the words to both my classes today, and I meant them, but their impact didn't really hit me until right now. I am grateful to have had such a great start to this part of the year and really looking forward to all the learning- and meditating- we will do together.

Tuesday- January 10th

I wrote Monday on Monday and then I woke up with a headache on Tuesday that threw off my writing for the rest of the week. I did take some notes, as I knew I was getting behind, and it would take some time to catch up. It all started with a headache on Tuesday morning.

I had taken pills the night before and again in the morning, and so the headache I went to school with was bad, but not severe. I was happy to begin the morning with my class, a quiet start, and a few minutes to try to breathe the headache away.

I went through the usual prompts, breath counts and focus with as few words as possible, reminding my students that they know what to do to find what they need through their breath, before we quickly moved into the silence. Whether they were still shocked and adjusting to coming back to school, or just happy to have a few minutes to put their heads down, everyone was still and silent from beginning to end, and I was grateful. I think those minutes were enough to stave off the headache for the rest of the class, and help me make it through the morning.

The headache continued to escalate through my prep time, and by the time I got to period 4, I wasn't sure how I would make it through the day, let alone the next period, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes. Again, whether my switch class was still tired upon their return, were just happy for the break after gym, or sensed my pain, I don't know, I was just grateful they were still and silent from begin to end.

I moved quickly through the prompts, breath count and focus, reminding them what they know, so I could say as little as possible. I closed my eyes as soon as I welcomed them into the silence, and at one point had the thought that it didn't really matter to me what they were or weren't doing, all I wanted to do was hold my head, which is what I did through the 5 minutes. It was enough to help get me through the class.

Then I went to my mom's and lied down during lunch, which, with some toast, was somehow enough to get me through the day.

Wednesday January 11th

I felt much better when I woke up on Wednesday, and was very grateful not to have to miss a day of school so early in the new year. I started with my class, and like the days before, it was a quiet start to the day, for which I was also grateful, especially because I felt so much better. Student A also eased into the morning and the meditation, putting his head down as we began and leaving it down for the entire time, something I don't take for granted.

Student B, was a little jittery as we started. He has been dealing with some heavy stuff at home, which has made the return to school even more challenging. He needed support to help him settle, a gentle reminder to be still and bring his attention to his breath instead of calling attention to himself, after which he did, and relaxed into the stillness and silence in the room, as did everyone else.

The meditations followed the same prompts and breath counts as the days before, with the same encouragement to bring their attention to their breath and find what they need, inhaling what they want to grow- the strength, positivity or patience- while exhaling their blocks- the fear, negativity or impatience.

The minutes of quiet we enjoyed together were lovely, and as the track ended and silence filled the room, nobody moved. I was certain if I didn't break it, it would continue for a long time, and I was sad to have to bring it to an end. But after a couple of breaths, I felt the pressure to get to work and get stuff done, and so I encouraged everyone to move slowly as I brought their awareness and attention back to the class, and we made the transition to our work.

My switch class came to me after gym for period 4. They settled quickly, and with a short period and a 5 and a half minute track, I encouraged them to make the most of their time, use their knowledge and breath, and not hesitate to get into a meditative state as quickly as possible. Everyone was calm and relaxed, even Student 1, who has been somewhat less fidgety throughout the week.

I also tried to make the most of our time, moving quickly through the same prompts, breath count and focused breathing, as earlier this morning and then into the silent breathing. As it began, two students who had been out of the room, one girl and Student 2, came into the room within about a minute of each other. Both came into the room silently, mindful of the door behind closing behind them and their movements in the room as they took their seats. No one was disturbed as each of them came in and joined the silence of the meditation.

As it ended and I brought everyone back, I commented on their quiet return, stating that while I prefered that they wouldn't leave at all, if they had to go, then that was the way to come back. I emphasized that I really prefer they not leave and be there for the entire meditation, but appreciated the mindfulness and respect they had shown returning to the class.

Thursday January 12th- The Blizzard

I knew the weather was bad when I left the house Thursday morning, but when there was no visibility driving down Main Street, |I wondered about the brainiac who was putting my life and the lives of students, other teachers and staff at risk, all for a day of school. In 14 years of teaching public school in Winnipeg, I have never had a snow day, but Thursday was the worst I have ever seen. On one stretch of road, all I could see was white flatness and I imagined George Lucas probably had Manitoba in mind when he created Planet Hoth.

Like me, Mr. Y, most of my colleagues and many of our students made it to school. When Student A walked in, I commented how much he must love school having made it in the blizzard. However, not everyone made it past the weather, and between both classes more than a third of our students were absent. With Band/Exploratory and then choir, we didn't have classes until later in the morning, which was when we brought both classes together to meditate.

Student A and Student 1 had both made it to school, but with so many others away, there was a lot of space in Mr. Y's classroom and everyone spread out and relaxed around the room. Though it was the first time both classes came together to meditate since the holidays, the sparse population and relaxed setting meant I didn't need to manage any behaviour. Student A was near the computer and turned the monitor off as we started, and put his head down, and everyone else settled in quickly, happy to relax in the quiet.

As we began I noted our connection with Treaty 1 Territory Land, and the wind, and snow, and cold weather, which we had all withstood in order to arrive, and our strength and toughness in making it there. Then I moved through the prompts, breath count and focus, encouraging everyone to notice how they feel and find what they need, as they bring their attention to each inhale and each exhale.

Moving into the silence, I found a chair in an empty row, noting how strange it was to have been able to move so freely around Mr. Y's room and sit in an empty row, with all the students away. Then I noted those who were there, their stillness, silence and positivity, and gave thanks for these kind of days, and the fact that we had all made it safely. I said a prayer that we would all make it home again too after making the most of such a day, before I joined in the silence.

It was the perfect meditation for a blizzard.

Friday January 13th

The blizzard passed, though the wind continued to blow and it was still freaking cold, at least it was Friday. I started the day with my switch class and many were still away, with one on vacation, a few who were ill, and some caught up due to weather, over a third of the class was still away. Once again it made for a nice start to the morning and a very quiet meditation.

It was a happy-we-had-made-it-through-the-first-week-in-a-blizzard kind of meditation, and it was a wonderful way to start a Friday. Student 1 was calm, putting his head down, as did everyone else and the six and a half minutes went very quickly and quietly. I moved through the usual prompts, breath count and focused breathing, helping them to find the positivity, focus or strength they need in each inhale, while releasing the negativity, distraction or fear in each exhale. It was a beautiful start to the morning and a productive two periods for those who were there.

I didn't see my class until the last period of the day. A few students were nearby in Exploratory and others were coming back from band. Before the class began, I turned off the lights and started the music. As students came in, I pointed out the setting, sshing their voices and gesturing they put their stuff down and join in the silence. As more students came in, what to do became more obvious and they joined in more smoothly and quietly.

It wasn't long before everyone was settled, most with their heads down, and I moved into the usual prompts, breath count and focused breath, encouraging them to find whatever they needed to end the day on a strong and positive note. It didn't take long until we moved into the silence and enjoyed a nice beginning to the end of the day.

The track ended and though I was tempted to let them rest, I gently brought awareness and movement back to the classroom. Had any of them asked for a longer meditation, I likely would have continued it, but since they didn't I figured I would motivate productivity and wait for the time they did ask for that long meditation. I have faith it will come.

In the meantime, the Friday of the first week back came to an end, as did this weekend at followed, all too quickly, as it usually passes. I am sure this week will be just as busy and quick, but thankfully with much warmer temperatures and a field trip too. Not bad for January.

Wishing you warmth, joy, strength and that you find what you need one breath at a time!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Last Few Days Before Break

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Considering for most of the day I thought yesterday was Tuesday, another Tuesday was not exactly what I was looking forward to, but considering it is a short week, I guess I can't complain. At this stage, every moment is a minute closer to the holidays, and as far as I, and just about everyone I know, are concerned, it cannot get here soon enough.

Day 2 is always a crazy enough day, with Band/exploratory and Choir before break and TAA right after lunch, and today was even crazier, with about 5 students in each class away for the day with the Pop Choir singing Christmas Carols at The Forks. The first two periods of the morning went smoothly enough, except for Student A, who was losing it and started throwing things around the room before break.

I made a couple of efforts to speak to him and see if I could understand what was bothering him, but when that didn't work, and he refused to talk to me, I just let our admin know what was going on and I went back to the classroom. Mr. Y and I had decided that we would bring whoever was around from both classes together to meditate and then we would give some choices, including one room for work and quiet games, while we put on a movie in the other room.

Everyone was pretty excited when they heard the plan, especially as for one room it meant no Math and for the other a delay in their French presentations, and settled into the meditation very quickly. I set the music to the longest track and started the usual prompts and breath count.

I was coming to the end of the breath count when I heard the phone ringing from my classroom. I wrapped up the count I was on, told them to keep breathing, and left the room to answer the phone. My VP was calling me to tell me Student A had been rounded up and was in the office working on his puzzle. We chatted for about a minute and then I went back  to the other classroom.

I expected to return to the silence I had left, but instead came back to giggling and laughter, as I opened the door. I asked what I had missed, and Mr. Y explained that he had tried to pick up where I left off, but the result had been quite comical. He said they all stopped breathing, and everyone laughed.

I replied that thankfully, no one had stopped breathing or we would have much bigger problems, and then I reminded everyone that there were no right or wrong words, and that they all knew what to do. It was coming to the point in the track when I would stop talking anyway, so I told them we would do just that, and moved into the silence.

The room was still and quiet, and before I closed my eyes, I noted aloud once more that the beauty of meditation is its flexibility, and even if it gets disrupted, one can move right back into the silence, just like they had in that moment. I took a random chair in the room and joined in the silence, taking a few moments to breath, grateful that I didn't have to manage any behaviour for a few moments. 

I lingered in the silence for a breath or two as the track ended and then encouraged the students to do the same, not moving very quickly and taking the time to notice how they feel. As I ended the meditation and turned the lights on, I also addressed the awkwardness of leading a meditation.

I reminded them that there are no right or wrong words as long as they are bringing their focus and attention to their breath and that they could all lead a meditation if they chose. I suggested they might consider leading one in the future and they were welcome to practice, either by telling me the day before they wanted to lead, or on days when I am away and there is a substitute in the room. I suggested it was something  they should consider and we could explore in the new year. Then I brought our attention to the work of the day and we got on with it. With the choices of the morning, TAA and then delivering the Koats for Kids donations to the fire hall in the last part of the day, it was quite a day and it thankfully flew by quickly.

Wednesday December 21 and Thursday December 22

I did the writing about Tuesday promptly and just didn't get around to publishing it. I thought I would do the rest earlier, at the beginning of the holidays, and publish it all together, but as it turned out, as soon as the holidays began, my writing ended. If I had known I was going to take so long to write, I would have take better notes during the meditations and had more detail to write for each day. But things didn't work out that way, and so I must confess that I am writing about the last two days of the 2016 school year from memory, on the final Sunday night before the holidays, as I prepare to get into the swing of things once again.

Wednesday morning I saw my class during the first period and my switch class during second period and so I had the chance to meditate with each class early in the day. In my class, we were finishing our French interviews and so the focus was inhaling the confidence to present, while exhaling the nerves, or alternately, inhaling the patience to be a respectful and compassionate audience member, while exhaling our impatience for others, which sometimes leads to the need to call attention to oneself.

I remember it being quiet and uneventful, and what I hoped would be an indication of the day to come. In the class that followed, we finished the rest of the interviews, with just about everybody following through and presenting their questions and answers.

In the class that followed, we repeated the same meditation, with even more attention to the focused breath as after all the delays. we were finally getting to presenting the French interviews in this class. As the class came after only one period, as they got settled, I made a point of stating that I expected everyone had already gone to the bathroom and got their water, and that no one should be getting up then, or in the middle of the meditation. Everyone stayed put, even Student 2.

We got started pretty quickly and to my recollection it went smoothly. The focus was on the presentations that were to come, inhaling confidence, while visualizing the interview, loudly and clearly asking and answering questions, and then exhaling the nerves, noticing the nervous feeling that is natural and then letting it go with the exhale, making room for more confidence on the next inhale- reconciling with the idea that you might feel nervous, but you just do it anyway.

The moments of silence passed quickly and then we moved into the interviews, finishing several that morning and a bunch more during our period together that afternoon. We took a few minutes the following day, and before we left for holidays, everyone except one student who had been away sick had presented in that class as well. It proved what I always tell them, that they know more French than they think they do. We will definitely reflect on this more when they get their assessment back this week- one piece I did manage to mark when I finally got to marking yesterday.

Thursday, December 22- The Last Day Before the Holidays

We made it to Thursday and all that mattered was that it was Thursday, the last day and we just had to get through it. Mr. Y and I were even luckier, in a twist of scheduling that never happens to me, we had our classes for period 1 and 2, then they went to TAA and our afternoon was a dance and other school activities, so it made the day even easier. Though I ended up spending the bulk of my afternoon with Student A, I was essentially done teaching at 10:30 and it was an especially nice way to end the 2016 school year.

We began the morning bringing both classes together for our final meditation of the year, a METTA meditation. Along with the other bit of scheduling luck, it turned out there was also extra gym for our boys, Student A, his buddy from the other room, and Student 2, and so when they asked if they could go, we were happy to tell the to have fun. Student B was also away that day and so it made for a quiet classroom and a lovely way to end the year.

It didn't take long for both classes to settle into Mr. Y's room and while many were away, I was also happy to have two visitors, a couple my former students who needed a place to volunteer as part of their grade 9 day, and were spending their with me. They were also happy to join in the meditation and when I looked over at them in the classroom, it felt good to have them there.

Though the METTA meditation is longer it went by quickly, and with all the players away, I didn't need to manage any behaviour. I moved through the usual prompts, breath count and then the stages of the METTA meditation, extending our caring and compassion in each step.

As we moved to the final stage, we considered all of the students in our school, and then people in the city, province and beyond. who might not be excited about the holidays, who might be stressed, sad, who might not have family, friends, enough to eat or a home in which to live, and we extended our caring and compassion, wishing for them the same things we wish for ourselves- May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe.

Then we all moved into a moment of silent gratitude and I was truly grateful, for my students, current and those who come back to visit, and our time together, especially in silence, as we came to the end of the 2016 school year, and for the holiday that was to come. I really couldn't have thought of a better way to start the day to end the year.

And now it is 2017. Two weeks have flown by and we are going back. Back to the writing I have begun again today. Back to the school day cycle, the learning, the projects, and the pile of marking. And back to meditating with my students, one day at a time, one breath at a time.

I wish everyone a great start to the 2017 year.