This past year, I was inspired, as I am sure many of you were, by the story of the Thai soccer team youth who survived in the cave for 10 days before being rescued. Their coach had taught them meditation which they practiced during this time as a means to help conserve their energy and not panic. Closer to home, we can be inspired by a story shared during our fall networking session by an elementary classroom teacher in Ann Arbor. She reminds her students to practice using their mindful breathing during traumatizing lock down drills which they have to undergo to protect themselves in case of an active school shooter. While I am distressed that we live in a world where we need to practice these drills, isn’t wonderful that our students and teachers can have a go-to practice to use during these stressful times. I am grateful to this teacher for having the presence of mind to offer the practice of mindfulness in real time, and hope many other teachers in our classrooms will feel so inspired! - Rita Benn
To begin, I am a teacher. I teach middle school and my primary subject is Spanish. I absolutely love my job and feel privileged every day that I get to work with youth.
I got involved in yoga and mindfulness when I was a new mother. I realized that I could not control what was happening around me and that brought anxiety and confusion. I went through yoga teacher training at Ethos Yoga Studio in Holly, MI and my instructor Kathryn mentioned that she had attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat. I was so intrigued. So my first intense experience was a 10-day Vipassana retreat. I am not sure that I would recommend that to everyone but this was my experience. During that retreat I realized how impermanent things are, how much control I don’t have, and what really mattered in life. I also learned how the techniques were helping me handle my own emotional landscape.
From then on I had a pretty consistent mediation practice because I felt the benefits in my daily life. Then about 4 or 5 years ago, I attended a webinar that MC4ME and the Genesee ISD had put on that talked about mindfulness in schools. My two worlds collided… Teaching in Public Schools and Mindfulness. This practice that had helped me so much was starting to be taught in schools… Amazing. Of course I wanted my students to learn mindfulness but I was afraid of the stigma attached to meditation or mindfulness. What would the community think? Would parents boycott? Would I get in trouble?
Trice Berlinski from MC4ME directed me to take some classes with Mindful Schools. I started right away and was humbled about what I was learning. I took every class that was available and eventually completed course work to become a Certified Mindful Schools Instructor.
I am now teaching two push in hours of mindfulness at my middle school. When this year is over I will have visited 34 classrooms for mindfulness. I still teach Spanish and this year have one section of math. I am also very excited to be starting an after school mindfulness program for our teachers in the district. -Jennifer Casper
Six years ago, I was asked by the mother of a friend to contact her daughter, Kristin Ervin, who was offering mindfulness training in the classroom. I was able to secure several classes where she could initiate mindfulness training for students in the 5th and 6th grades. The following year we presented mindfulness to our grade level mentoring group called Sister 2 Sister. I had the opportunity to be a co-facilitator and witness mindfulness strategies and mindfulness discussions with females in grades 6th-8th for multiple weeks.
At the same time, I completed a Mindfulness 9-week course offered by Rita Benn through Oakland Schools. I then enrolled in the 6 week Mindful Schools online course, attended Daniel Rechtschaffen’s training offered by MC4ME last March and began a yearlong national fellowship sponsored by Daniel Rechtschaffen and other mindfulness leaders, entitled, “Transformative Educational Leadership”. Each one of these opportunities has helped me increase my personal practice and gave me multiple techniques to share with my staff and students.
In my school, I’ve now integrated mindfulness during building wide announcements in the AM and PM, using the acronym S.T.O.P. Staff meetings begin with a mindfulness strategy from deep breathing to figure 8 movements and tapping, led now by several staff members who are embracing the benefits of mindfulness with their students. We have acquired a lifetime membership with Inner Explorer which is typically used with K-5 students after recess or during transitional times.
I ‘ve collected over 100 glass water jars to make “Calming Jars” which gives adults and students a physical item to serve as a calming trigger. They are used during meetings and throughout the building for students who request or need ways to self-regulate.
This past summer 14 teachers and administrators throughout the district completed a 6 week Mindfulness Fundamental course. This experience gave me pause and I now see the fruits of our labor. This year, our mission is to send letters home to our families introducing mindfulness formally, offer training to a new cohort and offer the next level course to the first cohort.
Support from the district had been given through the approval of funds for the online course and my partial scholarship for the TEL fellowship. I’ve also been able to write Mindfulness Education in our school improvement plan. -Paula Lightsey
I am a school counselor for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. I was trained through Mindful Schools to offer Mindfulness Lessons and am beginning my 4th year of doing what I like to call “Proactive Counseling”. My district has allowed me to use my car as my office and I travel to 5 different elementary buildings, offering the Mindful Schools curriculum to students grades K-5. Last year I was able to provide the series of 16 mindfulness lesson to 983 students. We are working towards building a common vocabulary for staff and students regarding what it means and how it feels to have a mindful body and a curious mind. We are working slowly to influence the culture of our buildings in hopes that we can nurture a more calm inner and outer experience for everyone, staff and students alike.
This year, I was asked to do a short introduction to Mindfulness for our entire district at the back to school professional development day. This included 260 teachers and support staff, including the superintendent.
For the first time, I am offering an after school Mindfulness Sitting Practice for K-12 staff and all employees of our district. I will be at Central Office each Tuesday from 4:00-5:00 p.m. for anyone who wants to come and explore mindfulness practices. I will offer a guided sitting practice from 4:15-4:30 and then be available for Q and A. No reservations needed. Drop in any time. I plan to do this all year and see what happens in an effort to grow a Mindfulness community among the staff in our district. -Laura Gourlay
My name is Cindy Kaump. As an 8th grade English teacher, I constantly see students who feel stressed, worried, or unfocused. In January, members of MC4ME came to my district to help us bring mindfulness into the classroom. It was like two parts of my life were coming together, since I’ve been an educator for nine years, and practiced yoga for just as long. One of my favorite benefits of yoga has been the practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps me not worry about things I can’t control, in my past, or in the future. I find my focus is better, and I’m a better listener because of my practice, so of course I thought I should teach mindfulness to my students!
Like any new routine, I first talked about it with my students, giving examples about how being mindful can help them in their life in and out of school. We did the first few mindfulness exercises before tests, with the context of focusing their mind and letting go of stress. After trying a few mindfulness practices, my students reflected on what seemed to help them the most. Some said they like to hold or fidget with something and focus their attention on that, while others like to move mindfully to settle their mind.
Going forward I’d like to incorporate mindfulness practices into my classroom more often. I want to provide my students with what they need in order to get into the right mindset for school, so I’ve created a Donors Choose project to help me create Mindfulness Kits for my classroom. In these kits, I hope will be materials that inspire students to be mindful and de-stress. I imagine students will take these kits into the hall or our team room to meditate or use any materials in the kit that speaks to them in the moment to help them feel ready to learn. I want my students to become more aware of their mindset, thoughts, and actions so they can recognize these inter-connections. Hopefully this will encourage them to create habits and take actions that make them feel good and let go of what makes them feel bad.
As I read a story to an eighth grade eighth-grade class, they were instructed to imagine themselves as the main character and to notice what the character was thinking and feeling. “What’s the difference between a thought and an emotion?” asked one 8th grade student. I was surprised that I had to explain the difference to an almost high-school age student from an upper middle class background. I went on to explain that emotions are sensations we experience in our body, sometimes strongly, sometimes subtly, that tell us how we feel and that thoughts are ideas, words, opinions, interpretations, judgments, etc., that may give voice to that feeling or arise from other outside stimulation, formed in our heads.
I was grateful that the student had the courage to ask that question, for his own sake and for others who were wondering the same thing. This was a powerful reminder to me of how important it is to educate students about what they experience on the inside, regardless of age so they can learn how to better navigate the terrain of both their inner and outer worlds.
Donna Russotto, an early childhood educator from Escabana, reflects on the importance of meeting our thoughts just as a young child wants to be held. Here she shares with us how creating a mindful presence in the midst of a challenging encounter with 4 year-old Anna, revealed to her an inner knowing that helped her move forward.
Anna’s 4 year-old eyes sparkled as we sat and ate imaginary scrambled eggs in her preschool classroom kitchen. This bright-eyed, beautiful blond-haired child had already been in 3 different foster homes. With our eyes still connected, she stood up on a chair, keeping her tiny arms crossed. Her teacher had asked me for help to stop this type of frequent behavior. I did the only thing I knew. I walked over, picked her up, placed her on the floor again and reminded her that my job was to keep her safe. Her feet no sooner hit the floor when, still staring into my eyes, she playfully climbed up onto the next highest object.
I was at a loss for what to do next. Thoughts pummeled in, “Look, what you have done didn’t work! You are supposed to know what to do. The teachers are expecting you to help. You are a failure!” As I noticed these thoughts rapidly unleashing, I invited in some kindness. The thoughts quickly fell away. I walked towards Anna, although I had no plan. Gently, I placed my hands on her arms to lower her to safety, saying, “It looks like you wanted Ms. Donna to hold you”. To my shock, her playful, teasing stature totally shifted. Her body went limp. Sadness poured out of every part of her. Lying on the ground, she looked up at me and said, “No one can hold me now. I’m 4 and too big”.
I took a couple of deep conscious breaths to stabilize myself. I understood now why she had been climbing on top of high objects. I spoke slowly to her waiting eyes, “If you want someone to hold you, you can ask”. She nodded as if I had just revealed a secret code. “If your teacher, Ms. P is busy, you can ask Ms. R. and you can keep asking until someone is available”. She nodded a clear “yes” and sat on the couch until playtime was over.
After class, I suggested to the classroom teachers that they hold Anna whenever she asked. We put a glider chair in the classroom as well. Each day, there was always someone who held and rocked her. The climbing behaviors completely fell away.