Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thursday with the kids, Friday with Teachers

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I went for that MRI on Monday night, and while the experience was painless because I knew how to breathe through it, I am pretty sure what I was inhaling were a bunch of germs, because I woke up with a sore throat on Tuesday and continued feeling progressively worse throughout the day. Whether the machine was not well disinfected, or I picked up one of the various bugs going around at school, my cough got worse through the evening, and despite going to bed early, I woke up with a cough, cold and headache on Wednesday morning and decided to stay home.

After resting, I woke up feeling a little better on Thursday morning, but still not 100% when I went to school with a cough and cold. I knew the morning would be spent reading our novel, and the kids could do most of the reading and some of the talking, and they had projects to work on in the afternoon, so I figured the day wouldn't be too taxing. With PD Friday, it was also the last day of the school week for students, which usually makes it simultaneously easier and crazier, and Thursday was no different. And as always, I had my six minutes of quiet twice in the morning to help carry me through it.

The first two periods were with my switch class, who had done a lot of reading in my absence, leaving us with some time spent recapping before we finished reading the novel together, with them doing the reading. As we began, I noted that it was clear I was a little sick, and together with the reminder to use lots of hand sanitizer, I let them know everyone would share in the reading aloud that day. I acknowledged that it makes some students uncomfortable, but assured them that they didn't have to read a lot, just a paragraph or two, and I reminded them that I knew they could do it, and if they were nervous or afraid that was okay. I assured them that they could face their fear and do it anyway and perhaps even surprise themselves.

It was on that note that we started the meditation, a six and a half minute track, as we had the two periods together. It was an everyday meditation, the prompts, then breath count, then focused breath, encouraging them to find what they need, inhaling the patience to read together, the confidence to read aloud, the positivity to handle the subject matter and close the week, then exhaling the impatience, fear and negativity, making room for more of what they need on the next breath.

We moved into the silence, and it was another 3 or 4 minutes that went by  quickly and quietly, if not perfectly still and silent. I was grateful for the moments to breathe, even though it was hard to do without coughing. I took the minutes to gather my strength and energy for the day ahead, only having to ssh Student 1 once. I closed the meditation and we moved into the reading, in which everyone participated and appeared to feel successful. At least there were no outward protests or visible pain.

My class came to me after break and with three students away at a track meet, one student visiting family in Phillipines, and Student A out of the room for an alternate program, it made for a strangely sparse and extra-quiet classroom. Student B had had a tough time with the substitute the day before, and I spoke to him about the note she left first thing in the morning, so if he had thoughts of calling attention, he didn't act on them.

Our meditation was an especially quiet six and a half minutes, through which I went through the same steps as I had earlier in the morning. We prepared for the reading ahead and everything it would take to make the most of it and our learning. We moved into the silence and the quiet in the room was undisturbed by the wafting voices in the hallway after break. Once again I took the time to gather my strength and breathe as best I could, hoping not to disturb anyone with my coughing.

The minutes, the reading through the rest of the class, and the afternoon, with novel study, gym and map projects all went by, at times seeming to crawl, and in the end being over in the blink of an eye. A good end to the week, and an exciting time as we wrap up some projects and move into new learning.

Also an exciting end to the week on a "Fake Friday," because PD on Friday is the only PD day I actually look forward to for the day itself. #7OaksEdCamp. The "Unconference," where teachers and other school staff get to talk, about whatever they want to talk about, designing their own schedule for an awesome day. It would be our 2nd Annual EdCamp with 5 middle schools participating and I was looking forward to it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

On a different PD day I might have stayed home with my cold, but I wasn't going to let it stop me from going to EdCamp. I was looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and colleagues from other schools, the freedom of the day, the different conversations, lunch being provided, and meditating with teachers, as it turned out, twice.

The schedule for a day of EdCamp is determined at the beginning of day by participants, based on their suggestions and invitations for conversations, discussions, and activities, which come from their own needs. Last year I put out the invitation to join me in a meditation, mostly because I wanted to take some time and meditate myself. I was surprised by the turnout then and hoping people would be looking forward to joining me again.

But before the planning and sessions began, one of the organizers had asked me if I would lead a meditation as a start to the day. I was honoured by the request, and happy to comply, though it was the biggest group of adults I have ever meditated with and it was a little bit daunting, though in the end, not much different than the meditations I do in my classroom every day.

There were about 200 of us, teachers, EAs, administrators, sitting at long tables in one half of the gym. The lights were dimmed from the start and so I didn't have to worry about the lighting. If I hadn't had a cold, I wouldn't have needed to use a microphone, as I can easily project my voice to carry across the space. But because I woke up with less of a cough, but a stuffed head, it wouldn't have worked without the microphone, which was the weirdest part.

I didn't have a lot of time and so I kept the introduction short, basically stating that if they were unfamiliar with meditation it was okay, and I would provide guidance, and that as I tell my students, all they have to do is breathe, and the only way to do it wrong is to bother someone else. I invited discussion, conversations and questions later, and just asked that they maintain the quiet during the next six minutes or so. I also acknowledged that it is possible this could make some people uncomfortable, but if they had to leave it would be ideal to do it before we started. Otherwise, I reminded them, as I do my students, that sitting quietly for 6 minutes wouldn't hurt them and if they felt it was a waste I time, I hoped it was the best wasted 6 minutes of their day.

With that I set the music and began the meditation, pretty much the same meditation I do in my classroom everyday. I was a little more specific as we began by planting our feet on Treaty One Territory Land, acknowledging that is traditional territory of the Anishinabeeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene and Dakota peoples and the homeland of the Metis Nation, and that we honour the land and the treaty which allows us to be here today. I used the words the division uses when opening meetings and events. though oddly not our school day in schools, because it was an divisional event.

Then I moved through rest of the body prompts, the breath count, and the focused breath, walking around the gym as I do in my classroom, but mindful of the microphone, both speaking into it and the cord, worrying that I would trip over it, or if I walked too far there would be feedback, which was a new and very weird experience. But I kept moving through the meditation, encouraging the participants to bring their attention to each breath, inhaling what they need for the day ahead, positivity, patience, energy, calm, while exhaling the negativity, impatience, fatigue, worry, fear and doubt, one breath at a time.

As I spoke I looked around the room and felt humbled and grateful. Most people were sitting up straight, their eyes closed, breathing deeply, some were sitting up straight with their eyes open, but engaged in the meditation, and a few others were just sitting there looking around. Only one or two people that I could see were visibly unimpressed, a little uncomfortable in their seats, one rolling their eyes, which was funny, and another who got up to walk around without making a sound.

It seemed to be going well as we moved into the silence and I took a chair and joined at the front of the room. I closed my eyes and took a few breaths, inhaling my gratitude for the moment, the opportunity to meditate with such a large group, and the power in the silence we were experiencing. With a keen awareness of my role as facilitator, and about a minute to go, I noticed my thoughts and my desire to look around the room, to observe what everyone else was doing. But I made myself stay with my breath for another half a minute, just because I felt it important to model the behaviour I was suggesting. For the last 30 seconds, I indulged my curiosity and looked around the room.

It was very cool to see so many people coming together for a few moments to set a positive tone and feeling for the day through our breath. It was especially gratifying because teachers are a tough bunch, and I have seen, and perhaps at times even participated, in some behaviour that would put some middle school students to shame, in both university classrooms and at PD events. It wouldn't have surprised me if there had been disruptions, like whispering, giggling or cell phone tones, but there were none. The gym was silent for nearly six minutes, when the track ended and I closed the meditation slowly bringing everyone's awareness back to the room.

Then I handed the mic back to the coordinator and we all went on to set the schedule for the day, which is done as teachers come up to the mic to suggest topics they wish to share or learn more about. I went up early and stated that in light of the state of the world, I would like to invite others to join me in a METTA meditation to foster caring and compassion, with some discussion and sharing to follow. Other went on to give their suggestions and ideas, and half an hour later the schedule, with four session blocks and about 10 choices for each session, was set.

The day was housed at my school, and I planned on using my classroom until I found out the painting I have been wishing would happen in my room was happening then, so I scheduled the session in Mr. Y's room, feeling as comfortable there as I do in my own- not that it would have mattered if I was in another school or classroom- it was just a nice feeling being at home. In between the end of the opening, and the beginning of the session, on my way to the classroom, quite a few people stopped to offer their thanks for the meditation. A few mentioned they felt positive, refreshed and relaxed afterward. The positive feedback warmed my heart, mostly because I felt so much gratitude for their thanks and willingness to participate. I could only respond by saying thank you back to each person who complimented me. It was a really awesome feeling.

I went to Mr. Y's room to get ready and a few teachers I used to work with joined me immediately. We chatted for a bit and the room started to fill, with the three back rows filling up very quickly. Four or five people picked up the beanbag chairs in the hallway and brought them to the room, where they set up in the back and got comfortable on the floor. More people came and sat at the tables along the side of the room, filling nearly all of the tables. In the end, there were about 25-30 people in the room. I found that very exciting.

I was the pseudo-leader, as I had made the invitation for the session, but these sessions don't really have leaders, or rules, people can come and go as they please. I suggested a METTA meditation, with a brief explanation of what it was and the intention I had, to spread some kindness and compassion in this increasingly crazy world where we have little power or control over big events that affect our lives. I explained the process, the visualization and affirmations, and the silent gratitude, which would last for about 5 minutes, after which I would end the meditation and we could do some sharing about it and meditation in the classroom in general.

The meditation itself was quiet and didn't hold any real surprises. The participants in the room were there by choice and had as much interest in making the most of their time and breath as I did. It was curious that one woman spent some time on her phone, but I have learned not to judge or jump to conclusions. There could be any number of explanations, including emergencies I cannot fathom. We were all there to get what we need and I cannot know what that was for her but I do hope she found it.

 I moved through the prompts, the breath count, and into the steps of the METTA meditations. As we started with the self, I reminded this group of very giving teachers and educators, that it is not selfish to take care of themselves, rather it is essential to their ability to give back to the world, and that it is okay to wish great things for ourselves. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe.

Then we moved through the rest of the meditation, extending our caring and compassion first to a loved one, then to an acquaintance, and then to anywhere we felt the need in the world, recognizing others as humans like we are, and wishing for them the same things we wish for ourselves. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.

Then we moved into 5 minutes of silent gratitude for our relative safety and health, and the choice to be happy. I closed my eyes in silent gratitude for the day, the participants and their choice to join me, as well as spending a few breaths sending my own caring and compassion thoughts into the room and the world. I was concerned the five minutes felt long for some, but several participants later told me they felt it flew by. One confessed that when I announced the start of the 5 minutes she wasn't sure if she would make it through, and then suddenly it was over.

I closed the meditation slowly, encouraging awareness of breath and sensations, together with slow gentle movements as we came back to the room, as the meditation had lasted just over 20 minutes. The feedback that followed was that it was a positive experience, through which people felt relaxed and connected, though sometimes distracted by their thoughts.

The half hour discussion in the second half of the session was very rich. A few teachers shared their experiences with meditation, and a couple of meditation in their own classrooms, though none practice daily, and a few others spoke of their experiences working with me in their classrooms. I tried to answer some questions, noticing that my responses tend to return to one common theme, encouraging teachers to try and noting the foundation of our benefits comes from consistency, to meditate every day. Like the time in meditation, the time in discussion also passed quickly and soon it was time to end a move to the next session.

I didn't physically have to move as the next session I had chosen was in the same room, where three of us spent time discussing the production of school newsletters, another project close to my heart. Lunch was provided and it was great to hang out with friends I used to work with before the afternoon sessions.

I attended an amazing brainstorming session on a writing project the division is taking on in relation to Truth and Reconciliation, and then an interesting discussion on beautifying schools. Topics I would not have necessarily considered, but all conversations I really enjoyed. All in all, even though I had a cold, it was a really great day. I wish every PD day was EdCamp.

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