Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Short Week in February

The long weekend in February passed and suddenly report card season is upon us, but before I can start writing, we have to get through the writing process pieces, and all the other projects, that I then have to assess. With that in mind, I took some notes during the week, because I knew I wouldn't have much time to write, and yet it still doesn't seem like my pile of marking is getting any smaller. At the same time I know I still have some time, and everything will get done somehow, as it always does. Just like the writing will now.

Tuesday. February 21, 2017

Coming back after a long weekend, Tuesday felt like Monday, with that quiet-tired feeling, perhaps augmented by the French test on the last section of regular verbs, to which they returned. Hoping to instill some study skills, with practice tests and time built into class for studying, and confidence while writing tests, while simultaneously building a foundation in the French language, the nature of "the test," which is supported according to their needs, and is in essence just another in-class assignment, has become as routine, as the meditation which precedes it and helps prepare them to write.

Tuesday began with my switch class writing their test first thing in the morning. It was unusual that both Students 1 and 2 were away, and it made for an exceptionally quiet six minutes, as we began the week and prepared for the day ahead, and the test they were about to write.

It took no time for everyone to settle, and I moved through the prompts, breath count, and then into the focused breath, reminding them that they were prepared to write, and to inhale the confidence as they visualized their success and ability, and exhale the worries, fears and doubts, which blocked them and caused them to doubt their knowledge. I encouraged them to visualize the process of writing, slowly and carefully, checking their work, using the review sheet if they needed it, while resisting the urge to rush through or second guess what they know.

We moved into the silence and the room was stiller than it usually is with my switch class. I sat down and joined them, closing my eyes to breathe and prepare for the day ahead. The minutes passed quickly and before long the track ended and it was time to close the meditation and begin the day. Everyone got to work on their test and the class passed quickly once again. Everyone was done with enough time to finish the test and reflect upon it, and then it was time for break.

On a typical Day 5, I would have seen my class after break, but the library was free in the morning. and I had booked the time, so we rearranged our schedule to take advantage and work on the SS research projects. Many had finished their tests and gone straight to their projects, so we didn't need to take time to regroup, everyone just got to work. It was a very smooth, quick and productive morning.

I saw my class in the afternoon. They wrote their test right after lunch, and of course, we meditated before they did. Student A had started the morning with a bit of a shaky start, but had turned things around, and continued to keep the day positive as we got ready to meditate. He had chosen computer time while the others were writing the test, and was logging in as we started the meditation. I turned off the monitor and he didn't object. Instead he went and sat down in his new spot to meditate. I started the track, and as I moved through the same meditation I had earlier this morning, Student A settled a little, but was never completely quiet, continuing to fidget, tapping his fingers and toes and inching his hands over to the person beside him.

He wasn't terribly disruptive, and my class, both experienced in their ability to maintain their focus and breath, and used to Student A's quirky behaviour, remained undisturbed, even the boy right beside him. As we moved into the silence, I didn't sit down, but hovered in the vicinity of Student A, occasionally reminding him to relax, and encouraging him to let himself and the people around him be, as I redirected his hands before they poked the boy beside him again. Student A eventually stopped, and put his head down before the end of the track, but it was clearly as struggle, as a lot of the day had been. I think we were both equally grateful that he had extra gym that afternoon after his regular gym class. It made for an easier and pretty successful day to the end.

As was the class, and test, that followed the meditation. The French tests were one of the pieces I did get marked and my students' efforts were evident in their results. There were a few 100s and many 90s, and several marked improvements from previous tests. The habits, and their benefits, are beginning to stick.....a very rewarding part of learning, for them and for me.

Wednesday, February 22

Wednesday started with my class and it was pretty much a regular Wednesday. We had rearranged our seats sometime last week, and Student A finally chose to move to a new seat, and perhaps he is still adjusting to the new point of view. I didn't force him to move seats, though I did encourage him to try the new spot, and was really happy when he did, but now it dawns on me that it might have had a greater impact than I realized. It might require a greater adjustment and be part of the reason Student A has been a little off.

As I started the 5 and a half minute track, it took Student A a little longer to get settled than usual, as he was again tapping his fingers as he inched them closer to the boy next to him. I stood next to him, acting as a barrier between him and the boy beside him, causing him to quickly give up and resign to putting his head down, where it stayed for the rest of the meditation.

The meditation itself was an everyday, find what you need for the day, meditation. With a lot of time for independent work, and all of our projects, and a new French presentation, there was a lot to focus on and I encouraged them to take the time to do that, take a few moments to breathe, and find what they need to make the most of the day and get through it all.

The two to three minutes of silence at the end was quiet, still and peaceful. It was a nice start to the day.

It was a little less quiet and peaceful when my switch class came after gym for fourth period. At the same time as everyone was getting settled, Student A came back to the room and decided he wanted to stay and work on his project there. I told him he was welcome as long as he didn't disturb everyone, especially while we were meditating.

He agreed and took a seat on one of the corners, beside his buddy. I moved through the same five and half minute meditation I had earlier that morning, encouraging them to inhale what they need and exhale the fears and blocks. As I spoke, I couldn't move far from Student A and his friend, as Student A was persistent in his desire to disturb his buddy, and kept trying to poke him to get a response. Eventually, Student A tired a put his head down, but not for long enough for me to move away from him. As soon as I tried, he went right back to poking his friend, and so I spent the silent time standing beside him, encouraging him to relax.

Everyone else was quiet and undisturbed by student A, and seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet, and whether I am part of it, or ensuring its continuation, the minutes passed quickly. I managed to take a few breaths as I was standing there, to gather my strength and patience, before the track ended and I closed the meditation and went on to introduce the next French project. Just another day in middle school.

Thursday, February 23

Earlier in the week I had booked two library periods for our Social Studies classes in the afternoon, but when the library was still free first thing in the morning when I got to school, I put my name down on the schedule, and right after attendance, we all went to the library.

It didn't take long for everyone to get settled with most sitting down by a computer and logging in, so their computers would be loaded when we were done, and the others getting comfortable at the tables. Student A was getting ready to work on his project with his support aide, and so he was more settled than he had been for a few days, and didn't require the attention he had needed in the days before. He got comfortable and put his head down for the meditation, seeming to enjoy and appreciate the time.

The library was pretty quiet as I turned off the lights and started the music, a track just under six minutes. I moved through the usual prompts and breath counts, and then brought their attention to each inhale and each exhale, encouraging them to inhale what they need, the focus, patience and calm, while they exhale what gets in the way, their distractions, impatience, nerves and doubts.

At one point a group of students came to the library door and opened it, I looked at them with my finger on my lips, and they turned and left the library. My students didn't seem to notice the doors opening and closing and remained undisturbed and silent.

As we moved into the silence, I took a chair and sat down in the middle of the library, looking around at my students, who were still and comfortable, despite the windows that surround the library, and the fishbowl feeling it fosters. I am amazed and grateful for how easily my students adapt to their surroundings, and let themselves breathe wherever they may be, without worrying about others around them. It is this feeling, and ability, that I hope they will carry with them as they continue to grow, and it was with this thought that I closed my eyes and took a few breaths of my own, appreciating my students and the time to breathe.

I saw my switch class just before lunch and the meditation was a little less eventful than the other day, when Student A was visiting, but still not as quiet, as Student 1 had returned to fill the void, and after missing a couple of days of school was a fidgety as ever. He eventually settled somewhat as I made my way to stand beside him, encouraging him to relax and enjoy the silence. He remained fidgety, but was quiet enough and didn't disturb anyone else. I took a seat in the circle and joined in the moments of silence, which again went by quickly, and before I knew it, another morning was done.

The afternoon came and it was a little crazy. It was one of those busy, chaotic, loud, productive but nutty afternoons. Students had the first three periods to work, with periods 6 and 7 in the library, but in between our Exploratory students were going to a grade 8 classroom to play the boardgames they had created. There was a bit of confusion around the scheduling, which all worked out in the end, but led to a bit of a crazy afternoon.

For the final period of the day we had Band/Exploratory and our Exploratory kids went back to their games and assessments and Band kids went to Band. I didn't realize the impact the afternoon had had on them until they came back at the end of the day and a few students asked if they could talk with me. We sat down and they asked me why we meditated in the morning and not in the afternoon. One of the boys went on to explain that they were already tired in the morning, so they didn't need to relax, but they had come to realize they needed it more in the afternoon. Or at least it seems that is what the band teacher conveyed to them that day, when they had trouble focusing in the last period of the day, and felt the need to talk to me about it right away.

I responded that I really appreciated the conversation and explained that the morning meditation set the tone for the day and gave us time to prepare and set our intention for the day ahead. I emphasized how important I felt it was to meditate in the morning, but let them know there was a very simple solution to their concerns, and that we could also meditate in the afternoons. They were very excited by this prospect, and as we ended the conversation, I could hear them reporting back to others in the hallway that their requests had been successful, and "She said we could meditate twice a day."

It was a surprising and gratifying end to a Thursday.

Friday, February 24th

The last Friday in February, a lot of work to accomplish, and the end of a busy and productive, short week. Also a Day 2, the best of day and the worst of days. It began with Mr. Y taking all the Exploratory students for one of the last round of play of the board games, and I went to visit a grade 8 French immersion class and join them in a meditation.

Their teacher has been meditating with her students after lunch for a little while, and a few weeks ago asked me if I would come and facilitate a meditation with them. I was honoured and planned to come on a Day 2 after lunch during my prep time, but one week a meeting came up, then I got sick, and on Friday I learned a parent was coming to meet with Mr. Y and me. As soon as I found out, I asked if coming first thing in the morning would work, and was very happy to learn it would.

I got to her classroom at about 9:10 and everyone was waiting quietly for me. We talked briefly about meditating, its purpose and benefits. We spoke of the many different ways of meditating, and the method I was introducing being just one, all with the common intention of bringing all of our attention and focus to our breath.

I let them know what to expect over the 6 and a half minutes that would follow, once I turned off the lights and started the music, explaining the process of the prompts, breath count, and inhaling the positive quality they wish to grow, while exhaling the negative quality they want to get rid of. It was just a few minutes later, with a silent response to my query for questions, we were ready to begin.

I turned off the lights and began the music and a regular meditation. As we planted our feet flat on the ground, I emphasized the importance of our connection to Treaty 1 Territory land, noting the people who came before us, and the Treaty which allows us to live here today. I moved through the prompts, and while I had mentioned that I didn't mind if they put their heads down in the introduction, most sat up straight and closed their eyes as I invited them to do so. I continued with the breath count and then the focused breath, encouraging them to find what they need, inhaling focus while exhaling distraction, inhaling confidence while exhaling fear, or inhaling calm while exhaling nervous energy.

The room was quiet and still from the beginning, and remained so as we moved into the silence. I took a seat on a chair and closed my eyes and breathed, appreciating the opportunity to join another class and the students who were so kind and willing. The two minutes or so was over before I knew it and the track ended, leaving a silence in the room.

I let it linger as I encouraged them to come back slowly, taking full breaths, and bringing gentle movements back on the exhales. After a few breaths I lifted the blinds, letting the natural light back into the room, something I don't have everyday in my interior classroom. After I closed the meditation, I thanked them for a lovely and peaceful start to the day, and invited them to share any thoughts or feelings.

It wasn't unusual when no one did, and so I told them that before I left I had one final thing to share and that was the writing in this blog. I wrote the url on the board, and told them I had been writing about all of my meditations this year and was going to write about them too. I invited them to check it out and told them I welcomed their comments, either in person on here on the blog.

I told them my writing mentioned no names or specifics, and that I just share my experiences about meditating, which is what I would do. I told them I would likely say that I wasn't sure if they were an exceptionally mature grade 8 French immersion class, or super kind and polite individuals, or really into the meditation, and likely it was a combination of all of the above, but regardless, I very much appreciated the experience and was grateful they had invited me to join them. I wished them continued peace and a happy Friday as I left at about 9:30 a.m.

I went back to my classroom and the morning continued as some students worked while others were at choir. After break, my class went to Math and my switch class came to my classroom. The night before the Ipad from which I play the music had failed to charge, and as I started the music I noticed it was really low. It was enough to make it through the five and a half minutes with my switch class.

I started the music and it was a quick Friday meditation, focusing on making the most of the day and closing the week in a positive and productive way. Student 1 was fidgety as usual, but a gentle reminder, and then hovering in his general vicinity, helped him to settle. Everyone else was pretty quiet, though still never completely still. Another meditation and good enough for a Friday.

My class came back to close the morning during fourth period, and it was a different meditation- one that actually surprised me. I started the music and the usual prompts and everyone was pretty settled, even Student A, who was sitting in at the table in the centre of the room. As I moved into the breath count, the Ipad died and with it the music.

I continued the count, simultaneously fishing my Ipod out of my bag, hoping to pick up the music from there. As I closed the breath count and focused breath, again encouraging a positive, strong and productive end to the week, it was clear that the Ipod, which wasn't loading properly, wasn't going to work either, and there would be no music.

I let them know and encouraged them to keep breathing, and not to break the silence. At one point, when I was trying to get the Ipod to work, a blast of music came out of the device, and it was a fine opportunity to veer off track, but no one did, except Student A, who gave a whoop and tried to distract, but was unsuccessful, which he quickly realized, putting his head down again. I continued to encourage everyone to stay silent, to stay with their breath, and to listen to the noises they heard, from their breath, to my voice, to the sounds from the hallway, and notice them, but to stay with their breath and maintain the silence in the room.

Even though I really expected nothing less, I was also amazed when they did exactly as I suggested, staying with the silence and maintaining the peace and stillness in the room. I am not sure how long it lasted exactly, two minutes, maybe three, but it was lovely. Then, as they started to get restless, I invited them to take five more full, deep breaths, through which I guided each inhale and each exhale.

As I closed the meditation, I once again congratulated them for their choice to maintain their power and keep the silence and peace in the room and I thanked them for it.

We got to work and another morning ended. After lunch they went to TAA and then we all met in the library for the last two periods of the day. As Mr. Y and I gave the recap of work, priorities and expectations, one of the boys with whom I had chatted at the end of the day yesterday asked if we were going to meditate again. When I asked if they wanted to, the response was a pretty even ratio of cheers to groans, but I think the cheers were just a little louder.

I told them we would compromise with an informal meditation and few deep breaths, because the devices weren't working and there was no music anyway. The librarian turned off the lights, and I encouraged everyone to sit up straight, get comfortable in their chairs and close their eyes, which most did, sitting up straight for a change. I guided them through 4 or 5 full, deep inhales and exhales, and then encouraged them to visualize the next 60 minutes- where they would work and what they intended to accomplish as we closed the week. The library was silent for about a minute as everyone breathed.

I closed the meditation, encouraging everyone to come back gently, stretch, open their eyes, and then get to work, which is what everyone seemed to do, as the hour that followed was peaceful and productive and a very nice end to the week.

I hope the week that is to begin, which is also a short one with PD on Friday, is as peaceful as this week was, because I know it is going to be just as busy, especially because I still have a big pile of marking that didn't get any smaller this weekend, and even more to come.

I hope everyone has a peaceful and productive week.

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