Tag Archives: meditation

Get Your Self-Care Ready for Back to School

The school year is quickly approaching! In the midst of the excitement and enthusiasm of a new bunch of students and trying out new lessons is the knowledge that the school year can very quickly get quite busy and stressful! In addition to planning lessons and assessments, this is a great time of year to give your self-care toolbox a quick look and tweak! Just like planning your work schedule, you need to plan your self-care schedule as well. It’s important to start early so that you can make it a habit before your schedule and the school year takes over your life.

Get Moving!

Exercise is one of the greatest methods of relieving stress and anxiety. This does not mean you need to be dead-lifting 200 pounds or training for a marathon. The best type of exercise is the exercise you will do regularly! Scheduling exercise in your day can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for taking a walk around campus to as complex as training for an iron-wo/man triathlon. Try to get in a little bit of exercise every day. If you need some help for motivation, try recruiting a friend or investing in an inexpensive fitness tracker (I wear a Fitbit One that I purchased on eBay).

Explore Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation has been around for a long time but has only recently picked up popularity. While it seems like new-age feel-goodery, the reality is that meditation works. Meditation has been proven to help individuals cope with stress and anxiety, sleep better, and increase resilience. I try to meditate for 10-15 minutes a day (preferably in the morning). If you want some help getting started, check out The New York Time’s article: “How to Meditate.” My favorite tool for meditation is an app called Calmit has several guided meditation options and programs to help you progress and experiment with Mindfulness. Better yet, Calm is free for teachers.

Set up a “Praise Box” or “Praise Wall” for Yourself

I keep a small box of mementos from students – thank you notes, small gifts, etc that remind my why I do what I do. I keep these for those challenging days when the kids drive me up the wall (and they will) or when I feel like the worst teacher in the world. Anytime a student gives you a thank you (sometimes it’s written on a test or a quiz, in a note, or attached at Christmas to a present), be sure to save it and throw it in the box or put it on the wall. This is a great way to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Prioritize Leisure Time

Prepping, grading, and supporting students can take over your life. While none of us got into education for the money or the fame, it’s important to prioritize your life outside of school as well. Schedule time with family or friends (and keep those commitments), schedule an hour for you to read a book that isn’t work related, watch your favorite tv show, and make sure that you get in time for exercise or the gym.

When you’re on an airplane, if you pay attention to the safety instructions (most of us don’t), you are told to put on your oxygen mask first, before you help anyone else. This is because unless you are at your best, you will not be able to help anyone else. The same is true in education. Take care of yourself, prioritize your self-care; you will be a better teacher because of it.

These are the methods that I use to help me stay on track and tackle stress throughout the year. What are yours? Leave them in the comments below!

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Free Meditation & Mindfulness Tool for Teachers

Mindfulness meditation is enjoying a moment in education. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique” and is often paired with meditation practices. Once viewed as a new-age fad, the benefits of mindfulness and meditation have be backed by science, which have found that it helps reduce stress and provides relief for a variety of ailments from insomnia to pain relief. You can find some peer-reviewed studies from the National Institute of Health. Additionally, Harvard recently published findings that brain scans show that the brains of meditators have more gray matter (linked to enhanced senses, increased memory, and executive decision making). 

Dharma_Primary_School_-_Children_Meditating_2015

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With these findings, it’s no surprise that meditation and mindfulness are enjoying some attention in the education. KQED Mind|Shift has published a series of articles on the benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation practices in schools for both students and teachers. Also, Edutopia has published a series of articles to help introduce these tools in classrooms. Many educators are implementing these exercises to help students manage stress and anxiety, improve memory, and address behavior in their schools.

Several years ago, I came across mindfulness and meditation practices in a few educational conferences. It wasn’t until I had a series of stressful events that I listened to my friend Larry Kahn and decided to give it a try myself. It has now become a regular practice for me and I can attest to its benefits. Recently, I learned that one of my very apps (I am a paid subscriber), Calm, has implemented The Calm Classroom Initiative to help bring meditation and mindfulness to classroom across america.

After you are accepted into the Calm Classroom Initiative, they will send you “tips, suggestions, and best practices to introduce mindfulness to your classroom and get your students excited about meditation.” This is a great way to bring these resources for both you and your students. Please note that Calm has in no way provided me incentives (financial or otherwise) to promote their program. This is a personal attestation to the value of their tool.

Is Mindfulness Right for your School?

This weekend I have the privilege to attend and present at the 2014 Annual SAIS Conference. I am live blogging this event, so please be lenient on spelling errors and composition! The first session I’m attending is about Mindfulness and I’m excited to learn about the role of Mindfulness and meditation led by Patrick Cook-Deegan and Lee Hark, the Assistant Head of School from Durham Academy.

Students practicing mindfulness, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Students practicing mindfulness, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The presenters point out that the key element of “mindfulness” is simply paying attention. It’s important to be aware of when we’re paying attention and when we zone out. This is key element in my role of tech director, as technology is often used to “multi-task,” in spite of the fact that we are notoriously bad at it!

The goal of this workshop is to demystify mindfulness and look at the science behind it. Additionally to look at the good and bad of implementing mindfulness programs.

Mindfulness: paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment and with kindness and compassion.

While mindfulness is often associated with hippy/new-agery, it has a strong grounding in science. In fact, NIH is the primary researcher of the impact of Mindfulness on chronic illness and pain.

We participated in a meditation exercise; a simple practice of focusing on our breathing and focus. Patrick then explains that this practice impacts the

Prefrontal cortex

Prefrontal cortex

fight or flight”  part of your brain by shifting your brain’s focus. In a school, students can use this exercise to shift a student’s mind frame when they are experiencing a high stress event, like a bad test grade. Before engaging students in a discussion, engaging in a mindfulness exercise can help a student return to the present and focus on the discussion at hand rather than reacting to the high stress event. Mindfulness shifts the focus of your brain activity to the Prefrontal cortex, which allows you to respond in a more thoughtful manner. In teenagers, these practices can help students to develop their prefrontal cortex thinking.

People who regularly practice meditation develop better memory and develop empathy while decreasing their stress and anxiety. Mindfulness practices can physically change your brain in a relatively short period of time. If this is done regularly during adolescence (the period of most rapid change in cognitive development), the impact can be profound and enduring.

When implementing in a classroom, there is a 9 week high school curriculum that Patrick uses:

  1. Paying Attention
  2. Cultivating Curiosity and Kindness
  3. Recognizing Worry
  4. From Reacting to Responding
  5. Mindful Movement
  6. Watching through Patterns
  7. Dealing with Difficult Emotions

Most Independent schools have students who are regularly stressed out and they are required to take in information all day. At the same time, we don’t teach them how to pay attention! This is a good inclusion within a mind/body health curriculum. The primary benefits to students are attention and emotional regulation (the key behavioral problems for children and adolescents). The research has demonstrated that in Elementary and Middle School students is: increased attention, self-control, more classroom participation, and more respect for others. In High School, the benefits are: decreased depression, less stress, and greater well-being.

Lee next talks about the implementation of a Mindfulness Program at a school, including some of the failings of implementing a program at Durham Academy. I always appreciate honesty when discussing new programs. It’s effective to learn from the successes and failures from others. As a result of two major tragedies at Durham Academy, the school looked at exploring stress reduction programs at their school. Durham Academy sought out several firms, some that worked well with their school’s culture and others that did not. It seems that picking that right organization that works with your school’s environment is key. Otherwise, you won’t have buy in from faculty, parents, and students and some serious push back from your community. Any program that is a dramatic shift should be implemented slowly and whoever you bring in to your school should be working off of a research based platform and program. Durham found that partnering with an academic institution brought more legitimacy to the program and stripped away the “hippy baggage” and “quasi-religious” elements of a Mindfulness Program. A great example of implementation is at Middlesex. And if anyone wants to challenge the “wimpiness” aspect of meditation, you can point out that the Seattle Seahawks used it during their Super Bowl season.

They end their talk sharing a number of resources, including Patrick’s firm, for Mindfulness programs. My big take aways from this is that a Mindfulness program needs to be implemented in a way keeping with your school’s culture, focusing on the needs of your faculty, students, and parents.