Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday- lundi, nos entretiens en fran├žais

Today, or at least this morning, was all about the French interviews they had been preparing for the last couple of weeks. It was time to share with the class, or at least I thought it was. The first part of the morning, with my class, went better than I expected or imagined it would. Students don't realize that they know a lot more than they realize when it comes to language, so when they actually challenge themselves and present, they start to show themselves what they can do. It is exciting learning, and how the morning began.

Starting with groups of students who volunteered to go first, and were actually ready, helped facilitate the smooth success of the morning. Our meditation, with a focus on confidence and a willingness to put in an effort and do their best, also helped support the experience. Student B was tired, and Student A arrived late today, so the classroom was quiet from the start. There was also an added feeling of relief when I told them they would have a few minutes to practice after we meditated but before the presentations began.

So once I started the music, the longest 6 minute and 47 second track, and turned off the lights, everyone relaxed into the silence. I went through the prompts and the breath count, and into the focused breathing, bringing attention to the nerves they might have as they prepare to present their interviews in French, and their ability to note their presence and continue past them, by inhaling their confidence and exhaling their worries, fears and doubts. While visualizing their presentation, and the questions and answers with their partners, I encouraged them to inhale their willingness to try, to speak to the best of their ability, and exhale their need to worry about how they sound or wanting to pronounce everything perfectly.

Then we moved into the silence, and I found a chair on the corner near the computer, opposite from where I usually sit. I chose the seat because there was no chair in my usual spot, and today when I sat between two girls, they were undisturbed by my presence. I noted how comfortable just about everybody has become in the silence, especially on a quiet morning like today. I closed my eyes and breathed, happy and grateful, and as usual the minutes passed quickly. As the track ended and silence filled the room, it was more tempting than ever to keep the quiet for longer, but with presentations ahead and work to be done,  an extra breath or two would have to suffice. I ended the meditation, and after a little time to practice, about half of the class presented their interviews, their 9 everyday questions, and it was clear they had practiced and were well prepared. It was quite impressive.

Which was partly why, when my switch class came to me in fourth period after gym for the same presentations, I was caught off guard by their lack of preparedness. We had put together the interview questions as a class from a grid of questions we use for conversations, and I had provided a framework to help them build their answers, together with the criteria for the interview. While they present, they also need to provide a written version of the interview that can be seen while they are presenting, either on paper or the computer, otherwise it is too challenging to understand what they are trying to say and support proper pronunciation. It was an essential part of the criteria, and I had clearly demonstrated options to the class for the interview, or so I thought.

As we started the class, before we meditated, I mentioned the assessment and reflection for the interview, and when no one took out any interview pages, I began to get suspicious. I asked who had a written version to share and not one person did. I was a little flabbergasted, and perhaps years ago I might have been angry, but today I realized clearly something had been missed.

I showed them some of the work my class had handed earlier that morning, and told them I wasn't sure how it had happened that they didn't know they needed a written version to share, when everyone in my class had, and also pointed out where it was outlined in the criteria. Then I told them it didn't matter how it had happened and we would move forward. I gave them the classes scheduled for presentations today to complete the written version, and told them we would begin the presentations tomorrow.  I also told them that I hoped they would learn to read the instructions, but there is no point worrying about what is done- we just keep learning and moving, and it was on that note that we meditated.

Once again a fourth period meditation meant a track that was under 6 minutes, and as we had already spent some time talking, we got straight to it. As earlier in the morning, I moved through the prompts and the breath count, but the focused breath preparing for the interview presentation would wait until tomorrow. Today I encouraged them to inhale what they need to get the interview down on paper, and exhale the distraction and blocks.

We moved into the silence and everyone settled, except Student 1. He still seems unable to stop moving and today, shortly after we began, he stated shaking his head from side to side, looking one way and then the other, but nowhere in particular, without stopping. At one point during the breath count, I went over to him and gently put my hands on his shoulders, trying to encourage him to relax. But as soon as I did, he starting moving his hand and shaking his pencil, so I figured I should just let him be, and I did.

As we moved into the silence, and I sat down to join, Student A was still moving his head back and forth. I closed my eyes, took a couple of breaths, opened them again and he still hadn't stopped. I watched him for a few more breaths, equally out of concern and fascination, and at some point he noticed me watching and looked at me. We smiled at each other, and then he put his head down, where it stayed for the rest of the meditation. I don't know if it was that smile, and if it was, why was it different than the encouragement I had offered earlier, but I was happy he could rest, even if it was just for a moment.

In the end, it wasn't much more, as the track ended a few breaths later, but it was a peaceful moment and another nice start to the end of the morning. As soon as it ended, everyone got to work and while they did, I marvelled again at the fact that not one person had done a written version, even the strongest, hardest working students, who always get everything done. After my remarks, one of the girls finally confessed they had thought the written part was optional, which was the consensus around the class, to which I responded, "No such luck," and they got back to work.

I am looking forward to their presentations tomorrow.....with only 3 more get-ups to go!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some Fridays Once Just Isn't Enough

The last Friday of the 2016 school year, and I can't quite capture the level of craziness that escalates over the course of the day among middle school students in words, and even if I could, unless one has experienced it, it is hard to believe. Students who begin the morning fairly calm and rational get wound up over the day with excitement and the buzz of energy. Student A's constant movement, and his in-your-face poking and prodding, also impact the energy level and the volume in the classroom too.

The morning started calmly enough, pretty peacefully actually. Just about everyone was back and with only 1st period with my class, I chose a short 5 and a half minute track. Student A had arrived with a lot of energy, but as the morning began we managed to sit down and plan out the day, which included working on some of the projects in the Minecraft Crafts book we had found at the library the day before. He was pretty happy about that and working on the game design project in Exploratory and so I convinced him he could stay for the first class of LA, in which we would be discussing "Life in the Warsaw Ghetto" after we meditated.

He agreed, and if I knew why we could make real progress, but I wasn't and am still not complaining, and after a couple of final pokes at the person behind him, he put his head down and kept it there. Student B needed a reminder about the choices he makes and his ability to control himself, after emitting a few random noises as I turned out the lights. He calmed and was quiet, and so was everybody else, as I started our meditation on the final Friday of 2016.

I went through the usual prompts and breath count, and then moved into the focused breath, encouraging them to inhale what they need and exhale what they don't to bring a successful end to the last full week of 2016. I kept my words brief as it was a short track and I wanted to maximize the quiet breathing. I was glad I did, because the room was still and silent. The 2 minutes passed quickly and I breathed in my gratitude for the peaceful start, and for Friday. the last Friday of 2016.

The class which followed, and the introduction to Life in the Ghetto, went quickly, as did the rest of the morning. My switch class came for the same LA class as earlier in the last period of the morning, after gym, and their energy, and the general level of craziness was already starting to rise. I didn't waste any time getting into the meditation, and again with the short period I chose the short track.

It took a moment, and a gentle reminder, to help them settle, but everybody calmed pretty quickly, except Student A. Student B once again left the room just as we were starting, reminding me that I had forgotten to talk to him about it, a pretty common occurrence in my teaching life. I noted that I would try to remember, but until I did, I would have to keep letting it go. So I started as he left the room, turning off the lights behind him.

As I began the usual prompts, Student 1 decided to take them to heart, but rather than relaxing each part of his body, he tensed it. When I approached him, encouraging him to relax, he tensed even more and played innocent, as if he had no idea what I meant. I told him to soften his shoulders and whatever he did, to be quiet. I walked away, letting him be, and went on with the breath count.

He relaxed a little and settled into the quiet as did everyone else. I moved to the focused breath, pretty much as I had first thing in the morning, and then sat down in my spot to join in the silence. Student 2 had returned without calling any attention, taking his sit beside the other boy who likes to read and fidget, who had come back to that spot with the return of another student. The boy didn't bother Student 2, who had closed his eyes and was breathing, but caught the attention of Student 1, who noticed me looking at the boy playing with his pencil.

Student 1 started sshing the boy, putting his finger to his lips, and then did the same to his tablemate, by whom he continues to be bothered, though the other boy doesn't really do anything, or at least anything I have noticed. I gave Student 1 a look, but he continued his attempts to direct the other boys, and so I looked at him, and quietly but firmed said his name, and "Stop It," which he finally did.

I try to avoid directing behaviour aloud as much as possible, but I was glad I did on Friday. Though my voice momentarily distracted some students, who lifted their heads or opened their eyes, they remained undisturbed, and Student 1 finally put his head down, letting everyone else enjoy the last minutes of the meditation as well. It was annoying, but ended nicely, so overall, a good start to the last class of the morning.

After lunch, I continued my learning with my switch class and my class went to Mr. Y for Science. They are learning about Energy and were doing some sort of experiment that involved baggies of water at various temperatures, including ice. Everyone was engaged in the work, and as our classrooms are next door to each other, I could see the general action and hear the volume at times.

As their work wrapped up, and my switch class was working on their tasks, Student A made his way into my classroom. He had done some of the experimental work, but was reaching his limit and starting to disturb everyone. We managed to connect, and he conveyed his desire to explore his MInecraft craft. Luckily, the space was available, and the awesome teacher in charge of the classroom and equipment he needed is exceptionally accommodating and understanding, and so she allowed him to get to work, which he was happy to do.

It is really quite amazing because once he began he was engaged for the rest of the afternoon, a good 90 minutes. He was working with beads and patterns and the work was intricate, but he was focused and undisturbed by others in the room. He just wanted to do the project. Equally interesting is the project he chose from the Minecraft Crafts had nothing to do with the swords, weapons or even the treasure chest, but instead he chose the flowers in pots. So it was patterns of flowers that engrossed all of his energy and attention. In the end, Student A is just a kind, little boy who still wants to create flowers. He is quite a kid.

I was happy he was engaged and taken care of, as when everyone else came back after break it was clear they needed my attention as well. The Science experiment caused quite the stir, and they were pumped and tired. I had already decided we would meditate again, and as we began and it took a few moments for everyone to get seated and settled, it was clear to me everyone needed it. More out of curiosity, than planning to change my mind, I half stated, half questioned, "We are going to meditate again now, okay?"

Most responded with a "yes" that reflected their relief to have a few moments to relax and breath as we went into the last hour of the day. Student B was among those who weren't thrilled about the second meditation, and displayed his disinterest with a few more random noises. I asked him if he needed to take a break, or if he would be able to control himself, and he indicated he prefered to stay and could control his behaviour. His buddy across the room thought that was funny, but quieted after I gave him a look, as did Student B, though he was a little sulky.

It was clear everyone else was happy to have a few minutes to rest, because they all put their heads down within moments. I went through the prompts, emphasizing that we still connect with Treaty 1 Territory land and note the connection each time, then the breath count, and finally the focused breath, suggesting they inhale calm and exhale their excess energy, as we came into the last hour of the day. They had work to do and the time in which to accomplish it, so I encouraged them to visualize what they needed to do and how they intended to do it with each inhale, and exhale the fear and distraction that blocks them from getting it done.

We moved into the silence and though Student B wasn't completely silent, he was only mildly annoying and did not succeed in distracting his friends or calling too much attention. I managed to close my eyes and take a few breaths with my students, giving thanks that Student A was taken care of and we all had a few minutes to breath.

The minutes went quickly, and though it was tempting to maintain the silence and let them rest, I ended the meditation and everyone got to work. Considering the mood of the day, and that it was the last hour of the last Friday of the year, it was pretty calm and productive, and it too flew by.

Often in middle school, the morning has nothing to do with the afternoon and sometimes it is worth it to take the extra six minutes to breathe once more. I sure as glad we did on Friday.

And now the real countdown begins....the final week, and it's a short one...only 4 more get-ups to go

Hope everyone has a peaceful and productive Monday!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday at the Millennium Library

Our field trip was cancelled last week because of the snow, but I was lucky to get a bus for today and so we were off to the library. It was freezing outside, but sunny and warm under the big windows and our students had a fun and productive day, well most of them anyway- everyone managed to accomplish the fun part, and not get themselves in any trouble or be too annoying, and the day was happily uneventful.

Before we left, following our now regular routine, after announcements we all came together in Mr. Y's room. We had to spend an extra few minutes talking about safety and awareness at the library, as there had been an incident the other day when a colleague was there with her students, and they had to alert security who called the police. We talked about staying with their friends, knowing where we, their  teachers, were, and remembering they are familiar with the library staff and even the security guards, who are there if we need them.

Then we spoke of the need to balance our awareness of the dangers in the world and our surroundings with our ability to live, and enjoy our lives in the world and all it has to offer, that we need to pay attention to ourselves and our surroundings so that we don't let fear control us or the things we do, and that I expected we would enjoy our learning at the library again today as we have before, which thankfully is exactly what we did.

It was on that note that we began the meditation. Student A had been a little jumpy in the morning, but had settled as we came together, and even though he was sitting next to his buddy from the other room, put his head down when we began the meditation, as did his friend and just about everyone else. Student B and Student 2 were in different corners, both a little tired and quiet. Student 1 was away again, as were a few other, but everyone who was there was happy to be there, and to be going to the library. Everyone settled very quickly and the room was calm and quiet from beginning to end.

We started the meditations with the usual prompts and breath count and I was able to focus on my words, without having to manage any behaviour or hover in any one spot. I moved to the focused breath and guided them to visualize the library, to imagine the plan they had laid out for the day, and visualize the spot they would sit, whether on the first floor with us, somewhere on the carousels along the stairs, or up on the fourth floor, and the work they would accomplish. I encouraged them to set their intentions for the day, the goals they hoped to accomplish, and envision them with each breath, inhaling their strength and confidence to follow through, and exhaling the fear that gets in their way.

We moved into the silence and it was lovely to find an available chair, and not have to worry about standing near one or two students, or anyone bothering anyone else. I closed my eyes and breathed, enjoying the silence, feeling grateful for it, the day ahead, and the fact that my headache was gone.

As the track ended, there was no time to dawdle as we were heading out for the day. But before we got going, Mr.Y, who had been sitting at the front of the class, and rarely comments on meditations, took a moment to point out the growth he has observed over the last three months. He noted that when we first began, he used to look up and notice students fidgeting or calling attention, but now he hardly sees that anymore, He told them he sees their silence and their growing maturity.

It was nice that his comments echoed what I have noticed and told them as well, and even better that their choices throughout the day reflected the intentions they set for themselves. Student B was focused all day long, was productive and felt very accomplished, and even though there were a few tentative moments, Student A managed to pull it together when he needed to and make the most of his day too- we even found more Minecraft books.

Our meditation was a great start to a great day, and the perfect day for a Thursday. And tomorrow is not just Friday, but the last Friday of the 2016 school year. I am sure it will be a little long and a little crazy, but it is the start of the last week before the holidays, and only 5 more get-ups to go. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quiet Wednesday Morning

I went to sleep with a headache, and despite all my efforts to ward it off with medication and extra sleep, it was still there when I woke up.  I made the decision to go to school for the morning, put the day in motion and prepare for tomorrow, and see how I felt for the afternoon.

As soon as I got there and faced the glare of the florescent lights, together with Student B greeting me by shouting in my face, I knew I wasn't going to make it through the day, but the first two periods in the library would be okay, before they went to TAA and I prepared for the afternoon. Some with outstanding work and writing to catch up on, and everyone with a new reflection on some of the learning we have been doing,  I knew there was lots for them to work on, in the morning and then later in the afternoon.

Everyone was present this morning, but as we went off to the library, Student A chose to go to his extra gym class, which made us both happy, and also made for a nice quiet start. With only my class in the library, and not everyone needing a computer, they spread out throughout the space. no one sitting too close to anyone else, and Student B sitting in the corner beanbag chair. Before we even began the library was quiet, and as they settled around the space, I wished we could spread out like this more often and was extra happy for it today.

I didn't have to give any reminders, or manage any behaviour, as they were respectful of the space and me, once they knew how I was feeling- one of the funny benefits of letting them know I have a headache. I dimmed the lights and set the music. I went through the usual prompts, the breath count and focused breath pretty quickly, not rushing but not talking too much. I reminded them that they know what to do and how to breathe to find what they need. Then we moved into the silence and I sat down and joined them.

As we were doing all of this, the only other people in the library were two grade 8 girls who were working on a body systems project, in which they replicate the entire human body. As I sat down, I noticed they had opened a picture of the lungs, and I whispered to keep it open and work in a different tab, which they did. When the meditation ended, I brought their project and the picture of the lungs to the attention of the class, showing them how big our lungs really are, stretching from the top of the shoulders to the bottom of the rib cage, illustrating how long it takes to take full, deep inhales and exhales. It was one of those perfectly timed teachable moments, and then it was done, everyone got to work, and I was grateful for the continued peace.

My switch class came about 30 minutes later and I was again grateful the continued peace. The students also seemed pretty happy to be in the library, and immediately spread out onto the beanbag chairs and other parts of the library, and got ready to meditate. A couple of kids even chose to sit on the floor. For the second time that morning I didn't have to give many reminders or manage any behaviour. Everyone got comfortable, and though some were sprawled on their chairs, everyone was still and silent.

I turned off the lights and started the music, again moving quickly through the prompts, count and focused breath, encouraging them to inhale the strength and confidence to work and write, and exhale the fear and worry that blocks them, before enjoying the silence, which they did.

I would have too, had my head not been pounding and the pain not moved into my eye. I was still very grateful for the silence, and instead of sitting up, I put my head in my hands and massaged my eyes. At one point I lifted my head and noted the people passing by the window, and imagined I must have looked very strange, but didn't really care because I was in a lot of pain.

As the track ended, I was grateful for the moments of silence, my classes, and the fact that I was going home to bed shortly after that. Again I was grateful that the next 30 minutes went by quickly and quietly, kids got work done, and that I have a job that allows me to take care of myself instead of suffering through the pain. When my students went to TAA, I booked my sub, did what I had to do, and was home before lunch.

I hope the afternoon at school was as peaceful as the morning for Mr. Y and my students, but whatever it was I am glad I slept through it, and when I woke up my headache was finally gone, as we have a big day tomorrow.

After tomorrow we will also be done to a one-hand count....6 more get-ups to go and already Thursday. Hope you have a happy day!


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Full Moon or Something Tuesday

I feel better when I read other teacher's posts, and see it is not just me who is experiencing the challenges of the upcoming holidays, the phases of the moon, and all the other influences on the lives of kids as they navigate middle school, that makes some of them, and the days, just crazy. Today was another one of those days that I am now grateful is done. I am also grateful that this is really as bad as it gets, or at least I hope so.

Student A came in a little calmer and seemed a little more settled in the morning, and went of to Mr. Y's room for Math with the rest of my class, while my switch class came to me first thing in the morning. Just about everyone was back in class, and Student A arrived just a few minutes late, and just as we were about to meditate. The lights were already down when he quietly came in and took his spot with the group.

I moved through the prompts, connecting with Treaty 1 Territory land and giving thanks for the warmth indoors with the frigid temperatures outdoors, the breath count, and then the focused breathing. I encouraged them to bring all of their attention and energy to each inhale and each exhale, and as they inhaled to breathe in their strength and positivity, and as they exhaled to let go of their fear and negativity, to make room for the next inhale, building more strength and positivity.

We moved into the silence and I sat down in the empty chair beside Student 2 and looked across at Student 1. He was pretty quiet as he came in visibly tired, and put his head down as soon as we started. Noticing that he was quiet, and that Student 2 was also sitting quietly beside me breathing, I closed my eyes and joined in the silence.

As I breathed, I listened to the sounds in the room, the shuffling of feet or a chair, people shifting in their seats, not real noise, but not silence. I also noticed just about everyone remained relaxed and undisturbed, enjoying the peace, at least for a few breaths. It was broken when the boy beside Student 1started drumming his fingers on the table.

I heard the noise, opened my eyes, and watched him moving his fingers back and forth against the edge of the table, with both hands. Student 1, who was also bothered by the noise, looked up and also watched the boy beside him for a moment, and then he watched me, watching the boy. When we made eye contact I smiled at Student 1 and kept watching, not quite sure if the student was even aware he was making noise. Student 1 nudged the boy beside him until the boy finally looked at me, saw me looking at him, sort of smiled back at me, and stopped drumming his fingers. Then the room was quiet for the last few breaths.

As the track ended, I encouraged students to come back slowly, taking a couple of breaths before they moved too much or opened their eyes. Then, before I got up to turn on the lights or start the class, I spoke to them from the desk where I was sitting in the circle. I reminded them how we are all working together, and that the idea is to be more mindful, to be aware of the moments, the room and each other before they moved, illustrating the shuffling of the chair, pulling of a paper, or drumming fingers and the noise it makes.

I spoke quietly and gently, making a point of showing them I wasn't angry or upset, and that I wondered if many times they even noticed they were moving or making noise. I told them that if I was the meditator their noises wouldn't even bother me, as they don't many students in the class, but because I am the teacher, I am here to notice these things, and that these are the things we are here to learn, and why meditation is also considered a practice, with some days better than others.

Some days the practice is in patience, which is a large part of meditating, teaching and life in and out of middle school, especially just before the holidays, and especially with Student A. I spent a large part of my day working to support his needs, get him to the spaces where he could self-regulate, and managing his behaviour, because he was bothering so many kids so much, a couple of students were at the point where they might hit him in the face.

It was Day 3 today, and so I didn't see my class as a whole until the final period of the day, which by then had been a long day, especially for Student A, who had finally become engaged in his game design in the class before. As my students came back from Band and got settled, I had been trying to coerce Student A to sit down and join us to meditate.

After he had refused to leave Mr. Y's room, where he had been involved in the game design, Mr. Y jokingly rolled Student A back to my room in his chair. We tried to cajole him from that chair to his seat, but Student A wouldn't have it. He continued to circle around the room, and once everyone else was ready to go, and my patience was running thin, I told him I wanted him to sit down and join us, but he chose to leave the room instead. He knows what to do to take care of himself so I was not concerned, I was also just as happy for the quiet and I started the meditation.

As it was the last period of the day, I chose a short track, and about a minute in Student A came back. Before he entered, he made a lot of noise throwing himself against the window, and then opening to door, stating loudly, "Time to meditate." Student B, and his friends across the room stifled their giggles and managed to keep it together for the moment.

As soon as Student A came in I stood behind him, encouraging him to relax and let go, as I went on with the meditation, but he was fixated on the boy beside him. At one point, he seemed calmer and so I began to walk away, but had to come back pretty quickly when Student A started putting pencil shavings on the head of the boy beside him. Student B and his friends were doing everything they could to keep it together, especially after a couple of looks and a reminder to Student B that he is better than the attention he seeks, but it was only a matter of time.

At one point Student A relaxed again, allowing me to move away for a few minutes, yet never having a moment to sit down. Within a breath or two, he had started again, and this time I took a seat between Student A and the boy he was bothering. The whole thing was too much for Student B and especially his friend, the boy who always gets hurt, across the room. They thought the whole thing was hilarious. I gave them a couple of looks, but in the end smiled with them as they quietly giggled.

As the track ended, today's five and a half minutes seemed incredibly long, I encouraged them to stay with their breath and not move too quickly. Then we all took a deep inhale and an audible exhale, letting go of all our frustration. I had them repeat that, and then I had everyone take a deep inhale and on the exhale, start laughing. I encouraged them to laugh and make noise and let it all out, because on a cold and crazy afternoon like today, what else were we going to do?

It was amazing that almost all of them used the last 20 minutes of the day to work on the French interviews they are preparing, especially once Student A got involved with his Minecraft, and we ended on a pretty positive note.

It wasn't much of a meditation, but at least the day ended peacefully enough, and whatever tomorrow brings, now there are only 7 more get-ups to go.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Crazy Monday

There is no doubt that the holidays are coming, and no doubt that today was Monday, and by the end of the day, the kids, especially Student A, were losing it a little. It was one of those crazy days. Day 2s, when we begin with Band/Exploratory and Choir, and have TAA in the afternoon, makes for a more relaxed teaching day, but it sometimes harder on the kids, especially when they need to focus and work, and so requires more behaviour management. There are less opportunities for meditation on Day 2s. the day we need it the most. So I tried to make the most of the time we had, and I take solace reminding myself that there are days like this, and they too pass. And if this is the worst of them, I am pretty lucky.

I saw my switch class after break in the morning and there were quite a few students absent, but Student 1 was back and his presence noted immediately. As he sat down, he picked up a few large blobs of Plasticine, with which he promptly began playing. I reminded him that fidget toys shouldn't require his focus, or make any noise, and encouraged him to relax along with everyone else.

As I turned out the lights and started the music, Student 2 got up to leave the room, supposedly to go to the bathroom. He does that occasionally, and as he comes and goes he is relatively mindful, yet it can be somewhat annoying, and a conversation we will eventually have, but for today, I let it, and him, go, as I began the usual prompts, breath count and guided breath, with a focus on a positive start to the week.

Student 1 was unsettled from the beginning, fidgeting with the Plasticine, which jiggled the table calling the attention of the person beside him, who responded by spreading his elbows out into the middle of the table. As they attempted to call each other's attention I stood between them both, encouraging them to focus inward and relax by bringing their attention to their breath, and letting everything else go.

As we moved into the silence, I sat down in the empty seat beside Student 1, and though he never stopped fidgeting and rolling the Plasticine, he didn't bother the student beside him anymore, nor was he bothered by him. He looked over at me every once in awhile, I think to make sure I was still there, and then kept playing, but he was quiet. So was everyone else.

I was happy Student 1 seemed calmer, and really impressed by the power everyone else had displayed in their focus- no one else was bothered by Student 1, or the coming and going of Student 2, or anything else. Head up or down, everyone else was quiet and pretty still, enjoying the time to breathe. It was a good start for a Monday, not the best meditation, not the most peaceful, but good enough for a Monday.

The morning should have been an indicator of what was to come in the afternoon, but if it wasn't, once everyone got together and seated, if not entirely settled, in the library after break, it was clear it we weren't going to reach the depths of peace and silence, and if we achieved mostly quiet it was going to be good enough.

My class got to the library first and as we hadn't had the chance to meditate, though I was planning to anyway, when one noticed and asked if we would, I turned the question back to them and asked if they wanted to meditate. There was a resounding yes, which was clearly louder than the few audible groans I also heard. A minute later, Mr. Y's class joined us, and though they had already meditated, I told them they would be joining my class who hadn't yet had the chance. They spread around the room, filling the empty spaces, some at tables, some in front of computers, and others on the beanbag chairs, including the one Student A often uses, even though I had urged him to take it while he was waiting for his computer to load.

I was grateful he didn't bother the boy who had taken his spot, and just sat down in front of the computer, but still wished he had the spot later, when he was drumming his fingers on the keyboard and mouse, trying to disturb my Breather, sitting beside him and me, asking him to stop. At one point the noise was wearing on me so much that I momentarily considered asking the boy in the beanbag chair to move for him, just so he could be quiet. But I couldn't disturb the boy who had just sat there, nor could I reward Student A's poor choices. 

Thankfully, by the time I had to give all my attention to Student A, Student B and his buddy,  who were once again sitting together, had quieted. As we began the meditation, they were having a staring contest and trying to make each other laugh, so I stood between them and placed a binder to block their view. I am pretty grateful they lost interest in bothering each other, because Student A had a tough day and a hard time settling.

I made my way over to him and his agitation and the noise it was producing was the worst I have seen, and he did not respond to my initial requests as he has in the past. I stopped the breath count and other guidance, reminding my students that they knew what to do, so that I could direct my attention to Student A in quiet conversation. I again encouraged him to tell me what he needed, and then when he couldn't, I encouraged him to relax. I tried to soothe him, telling him to give himself the chance, encouraging him to put his head down and breathe. Eventually he did, and was quiet for the last 2 or 3 minutes, but not as calm as he has been in the past. But, again for a Monday afternoon before the holidays, I'll take it.

Once he quieted I was able to devote my attention to the group, encouraging them to stay with their breath and the silence. Most appeared undisturbed by any of the more restless students, including my Breather, who was sitting right beside Student A. For the second time today I noticed that the majority are finding their power in their ability to focus inward and enjoy the quiet time and a few minutes to breath regardless of what is going on around them,

Though again it was not perfect, the 5 and a half minutes still went by quickly, as they usually do, and though I didn't leave Student A's vicinity, or even close my eyes, I was glad he did and had enjoyed a few quiet minutes. It didn't last for long and once the meditation was done, he had a hard time focusing and didn't even want to work on Minecraft. This was the biggest indicator that something was up, and as tough and annoying as his behaviour may have been for me to deal with, whatever is going on, I know that it is way more difficult for him. I just hope tomorrow is a better day for him, and everyone. 

Eight more get-ups to go!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Finally Friday

It was finally Friday, the Friday after the storm. It was a very long week, which simultaneously flew by, and everyone was happy it was Friday. Student A arrived a few minutes late and was clearly unsettled, immediately circling the room, grabbing people's papers and posters, and when he finally sat down, poking his pencil through the papers I had provided for drawing.

Part of me wonders if his anxiousness had something to do with my absence the afternoon before, and part of me imagines that whatever happens in his life and head has little, or nothing, to do with me. I also know that on one hand it doesn't matter, and on the other hand I speculate, because I really wish I knew, and it would be so much easier if Student A could tell me himself. I consistently try to remind him that he can tell me what he needs, but I am not really certain that he is able. I feel that if he could then he would, and many of his challenges in school are based on the fact that he cannot voice his needs.

After announcements and before starting our day, I managed to take a minute to sit down with him and set our schedule for the day. This has proven helpful, as when he knows what the day has in store, and that he will have time for Minecraft and some days, extra gym, then it makes the day easier for him and me, even if he doesn't always stick to the schedule.

On Friday morning our talk helped him to settle a little, but he kept poking the pencil through his paper, and making noise each time he did. until we were ready to start the meditation and I reminded him the only thing he couldn't do was bother someone else. I told him I wanted him in the room, but if he kept making noise he would have to leave, and that he could choose to focus on his drawing instead. I left him to make his choice and thankfully, after a few final stabs at the paper, he turned his attention to drawing and was quiet while he did.

The next six and a half minutes went by quickly and the room was still and silent. Though both Mr. Y and I had told them that we didn't want them up until midnight the night before finishing their projects, and could take the weekend if they needed, many of them had still been up late and were tired. They were glad when I noted that we had made it to Friday, but were even happier to have the moments to rest. Student B was also quiet, because he was preoccupied with all the time he had wasted and all the work he still had to do, especially when he learned, though it had been said many times before, that we were doing other things and there were no work periods that day. It didn't matter to me that he was quiet because he was sulky and sad- it is all part of our learning in grade 7.

I went through the usual prompts and breath count, and brought attention to our learning in grade 7 during the focused breath. I encouraged them to notice how they felt and find what they needed in each breath, as they reflected on their projects, learning, how they had used their time, their efforts, and their accomplishments, or lack thereof. I emphasized being honest, without using it as excuse to put themselves down, but rather to take the opportunity to examine their habits, to see what they need to keep doing and what they need to change. Then I reminded them to inhale what they needed, like the strength to keep going, while exhaling the fear that blocks them from being their best.

We moved into the silence and the room stayed still. I looked over at Student A and at some point he had put his drawing away and his head down. He appeared calm and comfortable, as did everyone else. I found a seat and joined in the silence and gratitude for Friday and the weekend to come. The meditation ended peacefully and then we moved into the classes of the morning, in which I read them The Holocaust story, The Mozart Question, and they drew as they listened. We didn't quite finish in the first 2 periods, and so I took our French period in the afternoon, and the drawings and impressions were really remarkable. This week, we will have to do some sharing.

My switch class came to my room after gym, during period 4 and with only one period together, I chose a short 5 and a half minute track. They were chatty and energized after gym, and took a few minutes to get settled as we began the class, but calmed once we began the meditation. Though still not as still as my room, the class was quiet, and I once again noted the absence of Student 1, my fidgeter. Without him, there are only as couple of others who are prone to fidget, the boy who sits beside Student 2 and another girl. who is pretty self-involved, and has trouble settling if she has other things on her mind.

Today everyone, including both of them, were pretty still and silent as we moved through the prompts, breath count, and the same focused breathing I had encouraged with my class earlier, though the boy required a reminder before putting his book away. I joined in the silence and was distracted once, by the boy, who I thought would disturb Student 2, who tries to breathe but has a quick temper, but he didn't, and I closed my eyes again to take a few more breaths.

Just before the silence ended, the girl, completely involved in whatever she urgently had to do in the moment, ripped a paper out of her binder, making a loud noise, which was amplified by the silence of the room. As they are gaining the power of meditation, no one in the class was disturbed, but as I am the teacher, I was, and I was annoyed. I opened my eyes, and because she knew she was doing something she was not supposed to be, she looked up at me as I did. In an attempt to speak her language, and not give her the satisfaction of destroying the peace or getting attention, I looked at her and rolled my eyes, conveying my disdain for her selfish actions and lack of awareness and respect for others. She got the message, mostly because she knows she is not supposed to disturb others.

A breath or two later the track ended, and after we were done, but before we started the class, I reminded them that though we are individuals, we live in the world, and the classroom, together, and our choices and actions impact each other, even if it is just shifting a chair or pulling out a paper, and that awareness of each other is what we are growing towards. Then we got on with our learning and another class, and morning, were done before I knew it.

As was the afternoon, the day, and now this weekend. I hope you enjoyed yours as well. Wishing everyone a safe, productive and happy week. And to teachers like me, 9 get-ups to go.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wednesday Night, Thursday Morning

Not far from my school and our community of schools is the Seven Oaks Hospital, and up the street from the hospital is Dial-a-Life, a housing community for people who have to come to Winnipeg to receive dialysis and other treatment for ailments like diabetes and other diseases. Most of the patients come from Northern Manitoba, with all or parts of their family, including children and sometimes grandchildren, who are students in our community of schools.

Last night our school hosted our 2nd annual holiday dinner for the families of our students living at Dial-a-Life, and aside from the fun I had helping supervise the crafts table, as opposed to any of the cooking and serving, I also had the pleasure of catching up with some former students who are now in high school.

One of the young women I got to chat with started grade 9 at the new MET School- a high school with student directed curriculum and internships based on Big Picture Schools in the US- and beyond her general experiences, she also told me about the Wellness Day they had enjoyed that day, with workshops with a yoga instructor and some Mindfulness activities.

We laughed together, as she spent last year meditating with me and had some prior knowledge, as do many of her classmates, who were in my classes last year in grade 8, or the year before in grade 7, or both. She told me about some of the Mindfulness exercises she had experienced and then that she and some of her classmates often talk about how much they miss meditating, realizing how much they appreciated being provided the time to just sit and breath.

These are words I have heard often over the years from former students, and the greatest indicator of the value of the time and experience I provide for my students, even if they are not following all the prompts and breath counts, but just sitting there. I told her I understood what she meant and how she felt, and explained it is one of those things that we can sort of appreciate while it is happening, but because it is a daily event, we often come to take it for granted, and can't appreciate to its full potential until circumstances change and it is gone. Joni Mitchell said it best, "Don't it always seem to go, we don't know what we got until it's gone." Do-wap-wap-wap-wap

Each time I hear this feedback, what it really makes me wonder is, what if more teachers meditated with their students daily? Which is why I keep doing what I am doing, which I shared with my former student, and why I am writing. I also reminded my former student that she could suggest to her teacher that they begin meditating, and that she, and/or any of the other former students, could take turns leading meditations. Afterall, they know how to breathe and that the introduction is just words to set the tone- they can figure it out- or come visit and I will remind them.

Whether she takes on the challenge or not, it was lovely to talk with her again, and get some feedback, and validation, about the value of  our daily classroom meditations.

This morning we were back to it and it was a regular morning- getting colder, still snowy, the new norm of winter. The residential streets were still a mess, but the busses were running and just about everyone was back, including Student A. He wasn't thrilled to be back, but I let him know that I was happy he was there- I even referred to it as home. I sat down with him to set his schedule for the day, and reminded him of our goals at school, that we care about him and want him to be successful, but he needs to do the work and tell us what he needs. Today it meant first thing in the morning he would meditate with us, and then stay in the classroom for one period of LA and join in some of our learning about The Holocaust.

As we went through announcements and getting started, Student A picked up his comics, which I had put out on the table drawing. Though it was dark, he continued drawing about halfway into the meditation, at which point he was done, put everything away, and his head down for the rest of the meditation.

Everyone else was settled from the start, even Student B, who sat up through the five and a half minutes, looking around, but didn't call attention to himself. Perhaps, because as I got into the guided breath, I suggested they inhale their strength and confidence, and exhale their fear and need to call attention, reminding them that they deserve better than the negative attention they call. Or maybe he was just tired.

Whatever the reason, it made for a very quiet and peaceful start to the day. As we planted our feet flat on Treaty 1 Territory land, I drew attention to the fact that we plant our feet on the ground in our warm classroom, in our heated school, which we are lucky to have, as not everyone is, and there are people who have to survive homelessness, often spending hours, if not nights, outside in the cold. We took a breath of gratitude, before I moved on with the prompts, the breath count and the guided breath.

As we moved into the silence, I sat down in the chair of a student who was absent, briefly noting the tensing of the students on either side, that awkward moment when students realize their teacher is sitting beside them, followed by that moment of relaxation, when they also realize that it doesn't matter.

Then I closed my eyes and breathed in the silence, and within a few breaths was deep in a thought process, which was as unexpected as the emotional response which it brought about from within. Just before the morning began, one of my colleagues paid me a huge compliment. At the dinner the night before I got to catch up with her daughter, now in grade 4, who I used to see at our school all the time, but don't this year due to changes in the family schedule. It was lovely to see her and we had a very nice conversation and shared some time at the crafts table. That morning her mom shared that her daughter spoke of our experience, and she referred to me as "the beautiful lady with the long hair who is always talks to me and is so nice," which was extremely touching to hear.

As I was breathing, the moment returned to me and I appreciated the depth of the compliment I had received. I struck me, that the beauty I see in children reflects the beauty they see in me. It also struck me that I am often hard on myself, and forget to see the beauty in myself, though it is so easy to see in them. I habitually call students, both male and female, Beautiful or Beauty, they way others use sweeties, kids, guys, or other general references. I believe that each of my students, and lots of other students I don't teach but still know, know that I think they are beautiful, even if they don't believe me  all the time because they don't know it themselves.

This realization came in a matter of breaths and took me by surprise, and before I knew it I felt my eyes start to tear. I let myself be in the moment, took a breath, and then for no reason at all, my mind jumped to the winter finale of This Is Us, which I had just watched the night before. Don't worry- no spoilers here- my mind jumped to the end of the show- one of those perfect TV moments with a life and death cliffhanger wrapped in a happy feeling, and my eyes started to tear even more. It was powerful and ridiculous and so I just sat and breathed.

The track ended shortly after and I took a full deep inhale and exhale before I broke the stillness and silence, bringing everyone's awareness back to the room, and wiping my eyes without calling attention. I experienced it as a private moment in the classroom, though as we got ready to start the class, I did have a brief conversation about This Is Us with the EA in my classroom, who is also a fan, and told my students they should ask their parents about the show because I am curious to know if anyone else is watching. Then we got started with the rest of our learning, exploring some big concepts around The Holocaust, like Hitler's rise to power. It was a powerful start to the morning.

I was happy to have a bit of a break before my switch class came to my room during period 4, the last class of the morning, and the meditation was quiet and peaceful, especially for this class, and not nearly as eventful for me. Student 1 was away today, which I noted at one point during the silence of the meditation, when I noticed that it was exceptionally still in the room and wondered what was different. I felt a little bad that it was his absence, but then I realized that I can't change the facts.

I went through the meditation, the prompts, connections and guided breath, as I had with my class earlier in the morning. We moved into the silence, for the last two minutes or so, and I joined in, though I stayed more present than I had earlier in the morning. I took a few breaths, and listened, to the shuffling and odd noise in the room and the random noises beyond. I opened my eyes when one student dropped a pencil, which would not have been as noticeable if the room had not been so quiet, but seeing that the student who dropped it had not disturbed Student 2, whom he sits beside and is often annoyed, I closed my eyes again.

A few breaths later the track ended and I took a full breath in the silence before I started to bring their awareness back to the room. This class also stayed with the silence, becoming more accustomed to its awkwardness. Then I ended the meditation and we began our learning, which today involved the picturebook Erika, a woman who survived the war because her mother threw her from a train. It was another powerful class to end the morning.

I am hoping everyone survived the afternoon as I had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment. They had a lot of work to finish for tomorrow, so I imagine it went pretty smoothly. One way or the other, I will find out tomorrow, and at least it is Friday and only 10 more get-ups to go until the holidays.









Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Another Snowy Day

Well, as I predicted yesterday, schools in Winnipeg did not close, and though the main streets were plowed, the residential streets were not, and so there were no school buses today. Despite the challenge of getting to school, almost all of our students managed to make it in today, including Student B, who thought we were still going to the library, and Student 2. Student A and a few others didn't make it in, but the majority did.

As we were supposed to be on our field trip, working at the Millennium Library, we knew that most of our students were counting on time today to finish their Science projects, Novel Studies and Social Studies assignments that are all due at the end of the week, and so we planned our day accordingly. We allotted the morning for work time, and spent a few minutes adjusting the library plans to fit our school schedule, and then we left the afternoon flexible, offering a break from the work, with a movie in one classroom and board games in the other. As always, our students rolled with the punches, adapted to all the changes and made the most of their work and play time.

And as always, we started the day with a meditation. As we were offering flexible work time all morning, we started with both classes together, to set intention for the day, and to meditate. Everyone got settled in Mr. Y's class really quickly, as by now coming together to work and learn in one room is part of our regular routine. We rarely need to do any arranging of seats, or ask people to move around, and we didn't have to again this morning.

As they got comfortable, Mr. Y and I explained the plan for the day, and that with focus and effort, they could likely get everything they had hoped to accomplish at the library done in the morning, and then have some time to relax in the afternoon, and that we would take the time to prepare for a productive morning and a fun afternoon.

A few students asked if we could meditate for a long time, and so I suggested a METTA meditation, to which, of course a few responded with a "What's that?" I reminded them that the METTA meditations were the ones with the statements,  "May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe," and quite a few were pretty excited, but there were some audible groans as well. So I asked for a show of hands, and while it was very close, there was a clear majority who preferred the regular meditation, and so that is what we did.

All the power players were spread out around the room, and Student 1 actually had me a little worried, because he put his head down and didn't move for the entire six and a half minutes.  I checked in with him at the end and he told me he was just tired, but I was still a little concerned as I had never seen him so still.....not that I am complaining.

Like yesterday, and every day, we began by planting our feet flat on the ground, connecting with Treaty 1 Territory Land and the weather it brings. Today as we connected with the land, we connected with the seasons and the fact that we get to experience all four seasons, including the crazy winter weather, when many people do not, which can help us be grateful, even when there is  a snow storm.

Then we moved through the rest of the prompts, with a focus on stillness and the challenge to remain as still as they are silent, throughout the meditation. Then we moved through the breath count to the focused breath. Today I guided them to find what they need, visualizing the work they had planned for themselves ahead and what they wanted to accomplish, just as though we were going to the library, only at school instead. I encouraged them to find what they need and grow it through their inhale, whether they needed focus, confidence or positivity. I reminded them to let go of their blocks, their worries and fears through their exhales, especially the distractions that come from their own minds. 

We moved into the silence and it was powerful. The room was completely still and silent and the hallway was pretty quiet too. I found a chair in the centre of the room and joined in the silence, breathing in my gratitude for my students and their ability to go with the flow, which makes our lives as teachers so much easier. Even though we weren't going to the library I felt it was going to be a really good day and they felt it too.

As the track ended the room was completely silent. I once again lingered, curious to see if anyone would break it before I did. No one moved or made a sound- it was brilliant. I didn't want to push my luck, so after 2 or 3 breaths I spoke gently encouraging them to stay with their breath and the silence and to notice how they feel. I encouraged them to take a few more moments to really consider what how they were feeling and what they needed to do to make the morning successful. 

We took a few more deep breaths before I guided them to bring their awareness back to their bodies and then the classroom. Everyone came back quietly, and then within a few minutes, we were all off to work.  It also turned out that the library was free for two periods in the middle of the morning, so our students were able to spread out, access computers and make the most of the time and space. 

When we met again after lunch, almost everyone agreed that the morning had flown by and that they had accomplished even more than they would have at the library. Mr. Y and I told them how impressed we were with their efforts and accomplishments in the morning, and were happy to provide some well deserved time to relax and enjoy in the afternoon, with a break for their regularly scheduled gym class. Most watched the movie, but a group of 6-8 students, mostly girls with a couple of boys, played charades- they had an app-in my room for the entire afternoon. 

While I would still like to have an actual snow day, and stay home, when the weather is deemed "blizzard conditions," if  days like this are what snowstorms bring, then life is pretty okay. I imagine things will go back to "normal" tomorrow, whatever that means. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stormy Tuesday

The first blizzard of the year, and only a Winnipegger would say it wasn't that bad, because it wasn't as cold at -3 as it will be at -40, but still blizzard conditions. I had no choice but to get to school, and I began the day grateful for the close proximity of my home to my school, and the Jeep, my ex insisted we had to buy, which has now twice outlived the length of the relationship and I often credit as one of his few good choices, that brought me there, but I wasn't at all surprised that the majority of students had made it to school too.

Among those absent happened to be Students A and B in my class, and Student 2 in my switch class, which made for a quiet and relaxing day. This isn't easy for teachers to admit, or at least for me and the teachers I know, because we work really hard and actually like these students- they are great kids and their challenges are not their fault- but they are also very demanding. They are needy and their need is for constant attention in one form or another, which requires so much energy, that when they are away, it is an entirely different feeling- a weight is lifted. So today, though it was stormy and the wind was blowing outside, it was peaceful and significantly quieter in the classroom. It made for quite a lovely day.

Despite the conditions, not only did most of my students make it to school, but most of the school did as well, and the day began with a short assembly celebrating the victories of the Divisional Boys and Girls Volleyball teams in a big provincial tournament over the weekend. It is not something that happens very often at our school and it was a great celebration to start a gloomy day.

Then we went back to the class to start our day with a meditation. I had my class for two periods in the morning, though we were half way into the first when we sat down, and they asked again if we could meditate for a long time. I once again promised them that that day would come, and mentioned that during our work period at the end of the day, if they wanted to put their heads down and rest they could, but for this morning we would do a regular one track meditation. I also mentioned I had already chosen the longest track of the album at 6 minutes and 47 seconds, so they could enjoy that.

Then we began as we always do, by acknowledging that we are planting our feet flat on Treaty 1 Territory Land, and that today as we connect with Treaty 1 Territory land we connect with the storm, the wind and the snow, which reminds us that we are strong, we are resilient and that like every day, we just keep breathing.

Then I continued through the rest of the prompts, the breath count and into the focused breath, encouraging them to find what they need on the inhale, and let go of their blocks on the inhale. They didn't need much guidance. They were  quiet and still, enjoying the silence from the start, and it didn't take long before I did as well. I found a chair in one of the empty seats and sat down and joined in the silence. I breathed in the moment, the gratitude for the peace in contrast to the craziness outside. Even though my eyes were closed, on days like these, it is not so bad having an interior classroom.

Though it was the longest track, the six and a half minutes went by quickly. The track ended and I lingered in the silence before I suggested a few slow, deep breaths and a few stretches to gently bring their awareness back to the classroom. It was the perfect start to some small group discussion, sharing and question forming about the learning we have begun about The Holocaust and it was very interesting to facilitate, without having to manage any behaviour- a real treat.

Break came quickly, then they were off to TAA, and it was after lunch when I saw my switch class. We had only one period together and so I chose a short five and a half minute track. We got straight to the meditation, as everyone settled quickly, especially as there were 5 or 6 kids away in this class, including Student 2. His absence is subtler than the two in my class, but noticeable nonetheless- the room was calmer.

Student 1, my fidgeter, was fidgety as usual. He required my attention from the first prompts through the end, first playing with a bottle which he eventually put down, and then bothered by the elbows of his tablemate, which were spread slightly beyond the halfway point of the table. He was calmed when I went to stand beside him, and put his head down, especially in the silence towards the end of the meditation, when I had to get up and stand beside him. I didn't mind. I looked around as I breathed in the silence and tried to wish him the same calm and peace I was experiencing.

In the beginning of the meditation, as earlier in the morning and every day, we connected with Treaty 1 Territory land and all of the weather it brings, including the winter days, as a part of the four seasons and the resilience and strength it brings. We moved through the prompts and breath count, to the guide breath, through which I encouraged them to inhale the positivity and whatever they needed, and exhale the negative, the fear and the other blocks. We moved into the silence, and though I had to get up to stand by my fidgeter, the minutes again passed quickly and peacefully. We took a few breaths to bring our awareness back and then moved into preparing their French interviews.

By the end of the afternoon, after both classes met to prepare for the field trip we will hopefully get to take tomorrow, Mr. Y and I gave them the opportunity for quiet time to work or rest, with an emphasis on quiet. They had lots of choices as to what to work on which they could do in Mr. Y's room, and because they remembered and asked, we gave them the option to rest and breath in my room. I turned down the lights, set the music on play, and let kids either work or rest. A few went straight to the computers and worked quietly, where I was also able to help a couple with things they had to do. A few students worked quietly at their seats, and four or five others sat down and put their heads down.

Over the last half hour of the day, while I helped some kids on the computers, I was also in and out of the classroom, helping students find computers or those working in the other room, and each time I came back to my room I was surprised by the sustained peace and silence. It really was an extremely pleasant afternoon, especially considering there was a blizzard raging outside.

It ended very quickly and as I brought those students with their heads down gently back to get ready to go home, most admitted that they had fallen asleep. I asked if they were ill, but they said they felt fine overall, not sick, just tired, and were happy to have had the time to rest. I guess there are days we all need that, with the lessons about spending too much time on their phones late at night to come later, in Health.

For today, I am grateful for the quiet flow of the day, that I got home quickly after, and then didn't have to go out again tonight. I don't know what we will be tomorrow, with the wind and snow, but I do know that after 14 years of teaching in Winnipeg winters, school has never been closed for a snow day, so I don't expect it will be tomorrow either, though there may not be buses for our field trip, or for kids to get to school. But I do know if schools are open, I will be there, and whoever is there will meditate, and we will breathe our way through the day, and as long as that keeps happening, I will continue to be grateful.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Mondays

Last week got away from me. Between a misplaced computer cord, our school wide United Way campaign, busy evenings, and a prolonged midweek headache, writing was not my priority. My students and I still meditated, every day except for Thursday, when I stayed home sick, and I even had a first time meditation with my staff at our staff meeting last Tuesday, but I just couldn't write. It was a crazy week, and a weekend in which I needed a break, and so I took one. Maybe at some point, I will reflect on the week that was, from November 28 through December 2, but for now I will move forward, to today.

Another Monday, the start to December and three short, though they may not feel that way, weeks until winter break. The snow has fallen, the temperature has dropped and winter is here, and as the day went on that middle school feeling, that slow but steady rise in energy and volume, could certainly be felt through the rooms. On the outside, it doesn't really look different than any other day, but every middle school teacher knows that special kind of crazy that begins right about the beginning of December and peaks in about 10 or 11 more get-ups, when there are 14 more to go. It's a good thing we also have a lot of great learning, and some fun activities, planned for the next few weeks.

Just like we did today. Without having the experience of December in grade 7, the craziness of the afternoon, the energy, excitement, and especially the noise, might be surprising to anyone who had experienced the peace with which the day began. 

As we head toward the end of the year, we have lots on the go and this morning I had time in the library for both classes to work on their next writing piece. Having finished the last one just before Student Led Conferences, I felt it wise to build on the momentum and start our next piece right away. Plus I managed to get some time in the library last week and this, which is where our day began.

After announcements and attendance, my class and I went to the library, where they logged on and as the computers loaded, we took five and a half minutes to breathe. There was nobody in the library when we got there and it was very quiet before we began. Everyone settled very quickly, some flicking off their monitors, but none moving their chairs away as I suggested, instead just getting comfortable in their seats.

I turned off the lights, started the music and began with the usual prompts and breath counts. As I was counting, everyone was still and silent, and through the window I noted the arrival of Student A, who had arrived late. We didn't make eye contact, but I observed that he saw us in the library and I was curious to see when and how he would join us after he put his things away.

In the meantime, I continued through the count and into the focused breathing, inhaling the start of the new week and everything it brings with it, and exhaling the start of the new week and everything it brings with it. As we prepared to write, I encouraged them to inhale to confidence to find their words and exhale the fear that blocks them.

As I was coming to the end of the guided breath, Student A arrived at the door. He wasn't completely silent, banging on the door as he opened it to announce his arrival. But as soon as we made eye contact and I smiled at him, and he knew that I had noticed him, he calmed and came in quietly. He walked over to the computers to log in, and when he saw that the one he wanted was momentarily blocked with someone's binder, he didn't react. Instead, he picked up on my gesture that he join the meditation in the beanbag chair he likes, and then log in later. He sat down and got comfortable for the last half of the meditation, and so did I, after I gave a moment of thanks for his chosen response, already a victory for the day.

I reminded everyone that they could find what they need in their breath, encouraging them to keep their focus and attention on their breath, as we moved into the final minutes of silence. The library was still and I took a few breaths marveling at my students and their willingness, whether they are actually deep in meditation, merely indulging me because they feel obligated to comply, or somewhere in between. Whatever the reason, I appreciate my students, our relationships, and our quiet moments in meditation, especially when the afternoons get so crazy.

After we meditated, my class wrote for the period, and those who were done worked on other things, and before long, it was time to switch with the other class. I had told them earlier to meet me in the library and be prepared to write, and it was evident they were happy to be there as they came in. A few quickly logged into their computers, and then got comfortable on the beanbag chairs, while the rest settled in their seats.

It didn't take long before the library was again very quiet. I once again turned down all the lights and started the music. Everyone was silent and pretty still, though my fidgeter was as fidgety as always, moving his head around in between lifting it up and putting it down again. I moved through the same meditation as I had about 40 minutes before, focusing on a positive start to the week and the confidence to write, while letting go of the negativity and fear. 

The five and a half minutes passed quickly as we enjoyed the silence together. I took a few breaths, looking around, appreciating this group and our time and work together, and the peaceful start to the day and the week. As the track ended, I wrapped up the meditation, and they too got into their writing, which made for a quick start to the morning.

The day that followed was busy and full, and when my class came back to me for French during the last period of the day, a few asked if we could meditate again, others indicating what they really wanted was a nap. I told them that for today we had lots to do, but promised that in the future, in the heart of winter, when they came after break one day, I would invite them to meditate for as long as they could, and if they fell asleep, I wouldn't wake them up, but for today, we had some work to do. And so they started preparing their interviews, and they were loud and crazy, and I kind of wished we could have been meditating instead too.

Alas. I am confident that one day, the value of meditation will be more strongly appreciated and prioritized, and maybe I will be able to choose it over French, of other areas of curriculum, but for now I will take what I can get, especially as it was such a good start to the week.