Last week Immersed featured guest blogger Carisa Perry-Parrish writing about her presentation to The New Century School staff on how to bring mindfulness principles into the classroom in Stop and Smell the Roses. This week, we’ll hear from some of the TNCS attendees about what they took away from the presentation.
TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali organized this staff development initiative after hearing from several staff members that Dr. Perry-Parrish’s mindfulness workshop for parents inspired them to want to learn more about the topic and how to use it to help them better relate to their students. This meshed very well with Mrs. Danyali’s own overall approach. “My mom always reminds me that when you are on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop, you are instructed to care for self before assisting others. What this translates to for me personally is, the more we take care of self, incorporate deliberate choices to model appropriate behaviors when it comes to support, the more others around us benefit,” she said. Thus, for Mrs. Danyali, practicing mindfulness is an important part of personal and social health.
Although practicing mindfulness is arguably beneficial everywhere, all the time, for educators it has a particular resonance. A central tenet of mindfulness is regulation of emotion, the ability to make a considered response rather than reflexively react, as Dr. Perry-Parrish’s slide at right illustrates. This idea reverberates in many ways inside the classroom, where teachers continuously interact with children who are still in varying stages of development. Teachers must find ways to bridge the cognitive, emotional, and social gaps this interaction entails as well as model for their students the right way to handle various challenges.
This seminar was a very natural fit for the primary teachers, who implement a classic Montessori curriculum in their classrooms. Maria Montessori was a proponent of what would evolve as what we know today as mindfulness practice. Let’s hear from a TNCS teachers who asked for, attended, and learned from this seminar.
TNCS primary teacher Maria Mosby: “It was great to get a more in-depth understanding of mindfulness and its many benefits for adults and children alike. Several teachers that I talked to were excited to read and learn more, and begin incorporating mindfulness into their lives and classrooms. I would definitely like to begin a practice of mindfulness meditation before each school day begins, to help prepare myself for being more present with the children and other teachers. It was interesting to learn how the practice has helped so many others in many different professions and walks of life. Though we occasionally do a group meditation in class (such as the flower and candle breathing exercise), I think it would be a great way to begin every day, as opposed to the typical circle time. When the children are sitting in the peace corner alone or as a group sitting on the rug, you can see them begin to try to quiet their bodies and minds and prepare for the day. It’s a practice we can all benefit from- tugging at the leash, and getting the easily distracted little puppy dog in our minds to focus on the path in front of us. Everyone needs time to breathe between tasks and have a moment to themselves.
The children who have a teacher who is present and is calm, not reacting based on his or her instinctive thoughts in a given situation, are likely to learn better coping and social skills themselves. They will also have more focus and joy in the classroom environment. Integrating mindfulness into any classroom can help everyone to become more focused on each individual task, and improve student-teacher and student-student relations, thus enhancing the experience for the entire class.”
Other non-Montessori TNCS teachers also benefited in multiple and sometimes surprising ways, as well. The elementary teachers, for example, face daily challenges that are different from what teachers of 3 to 5-year-olds might face, but these challenges are no less real and no less vital to handle in the best way for the child.
TNCS upper elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal: “My take-away from this presentation was really simple but something I need to remind myself of is that our students are not adults and they aren’t going to behave that way. After this presentation I have tried to take a step back and just teach in the moment and be present for that moment and not think about past or future difficulties. I try to remind myself of what was important to me when I was 7–11 years’ old. This has helped me better relate to some of the decisions students make on a daily basis. I try to better appreciate the student’s perspective of things, especially those that may have a learning disability or behavioral challenges. Teaching can be difficult because you are constantly looking for progress and, at times times, their progress may appear invisible. But students often need time, numerous examples, and development to start making progress.”
TNCS upper elementary Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch: “I thoroughly enjoyed the mindfulness presentation, not only from the perspective of a teacher but also for myself. As a teacher, it has helped me to take a step back and understand that teaching these skills explicitly is important and essential to do. We often assume these students have learned how to best manage their own emotions, but even older students have not necessarily had someone to help them through the steps they should be taking. Breaking it down for the students and helping them to understand where their emotions are stemming from helps them to reduce a poor reaction at that moment as well as in similar instances that will come up in the future.”
These final words from Ms. Mosby might best encapsulate the experience for TNCS teachers and perhaps all teachers, worldwide: “Mindfulness is an experience we all can and should offer our students each day. It’s easy to become so focused on the specific learning goals and daily tasks of teaching that one doesn’t always stop to slow down and truly listen, observe, and enjoy the children. There are so many wonderful moments that we miss out on this way.”
Anyone reading this post has already hit pause on the day to stop and be in a moment. We recognize that, and we thank you. The kids around you will thank you, too, both for knowing how to be truly present with them now and for showing them how to grow up to be adults who embody this critical awareness in their future lives.