By Kristen Larson, AVID Elective Teacher
I am proud to say our school district has gone in a holistic direction by investing in our students and staff by hiring a mindfulness specialist. Having this resource has transformed how I approach the classroom, my students, and my life. I had heard of mindfulness and done a yoga class here and there, but I really had no idea what the term actually meant and how powerful it could be. So, I was curious and thought I would see how we, as an AVID class, could tap into this new resource.
At the beginning of the year, my AVID class also started doing something that we termed “Mindful Mondays” with our new mindfulness education specialist, Mary T. Schmitz. She explained to students that: “Mindfulness is approaching our thoughts with kindness and curiosity, so we can choose our behavior.”
Mindfulness allows us to hold space with our thoughts and observe them—to notice what we are thinking and feeling, and pause and wait for ourselves to react and to do things on purpose. Our thoughts are often in the past or future, but very rarely in the present moment observing what is going on right here, right now. What this looks like in the classroom started with teaching students how to anchor themselves in their breath and mindfully observe any bodily sensations or stressors that their bodies are carrying and “let them settle.” Mary T. taught them that mindfulness doesn’t take away stress, but it does allow us to see our stress with a different lens and choose our responses instead of immediately reacting. Students have learned how to do a short body scan meditation at their desks to calm nerves before a test or presentation, how to mindfully approach social media and technology, and how to use mindfulness tools to help them sleep better. Students learned that a wandering mind is not something to fight, but merely something to notice and redirect. My students have learned how to approach themselves in a more gentle, calm, and loving manner, through deep breaths, mindful movement, and attention to what goes on in their bodies, both when stressed and relaxed. I have also found my students to be more organized (there’s that O in WICOR), as they take more time to mindfully organize their brains, their planners, and their binders. A calm mind is easier to organize!
When I have days where I seem to just be waiting for the bell to ring at the end of the day, I have challenged myself with the reminder of: “You don’t get this minute back, so notice it and pay attention to what is going on right now.” I often start my AVID Elective class with the following phrase: “We don’t get these 50 minutes back, so let’s approach them in a way that is with a present mind and absorb all that these minutes have to offer.” I would be lying if I said I am not often looking at the clock and thinking about what I will eat for dinner and what the weekend might hold, or let’s be real…what summer break might feel like. But it’s okay, I can pull my mind back and say, “My mind wandered because that’s what minds do, and I have this moment to begin again.” Each moment is a fresh new start.
Want more resources on mindfulness? Check out these from TED, Edutopia, and CNN!
Kristen is in her eleventh year of teaching middle school in the Elk River Area School District in Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Social Studies Secondary Education, an additional teaching license in Family Consumer Science, and a Master's degree in Literacy Education. She currently teaches the AVID Elective and Global Studies. She is beginning to believe that the more a teacher is connected to self, the more they are able to connect with students. She loves spending time with her husband, family, and friends, as well as biking, rollerblading, watching documentaries, and has a new interest in yoga, where she finds wisdom and connection on her mat and learns to begin again and again. To contact Kristen, email [email protected]