Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Calm Monday, Crazy Tuesday

The last week in April, and as I reminded my students as it began, the only week in the next five in which we don't have a school event, holiday, PD day or field trip. One of the last full weeks of regular classroom learning, and so as we started the week, we determined to make the most of it, beginning with our breath.

I began the morning with my class and I couldn't have asked for a more peaceful start to the day and the week. As on previous Mondays, I know that much of the quietness comes from their utter exhaustion, as the days get longer, and my grade 7 students grow into that phase of adolescence which entails endless hours of communication on their devices, often late into the night. But I also know they are happy for the minutes to breathe, and this Monday was no different.

The six and a half minutes of silence were a blessing to start the day. They were also what has become pretty much routine when we meditate in the classroom. On Monday morning the hallway was also quiet and so the stillness prevailed from inside and out.

My switch class came for fourth period and with only one period it was a slightly shorter meditation, and as is generally the case with my switch class, it was quiet enough, but not quite still or silent. Student 2 was annoying, trying to call the attention of his friends, but was silenced with a look. And, as is also the case with my switch class, we have a routine and on Monday it brought another mostly peaceful start to our day and week together.

Tuesday, April 25

Another Day 2 and another crazy Tuesday. This morning we welcomed our first of two high school volunteers in my classroom, a grade 12 student, who I taught when he was in grade 7, and has grown into a smart, strong, young man, learning that the consequences to the choices we make in life get more serious as we grow older. He spent the first two periods getting to know students as they worked on their Exploratory projects, and then played games while the others were in choir.

After break, during period 3, Mr. Y offered an opportunity to rewrite one Math test from the previous unit if they were unhappy with their marks. About half of the students from both classes chose to do the rewrite, while the rest gathered in my room. It was an unusual event and strange for both classes, many sitting with their friends, others thrown off a little when they didn't have their usual seats. As break ended, everyone was pretty excited and loud.

Though they settled pretty quickly the room was still loud, and while I had intended to wait until the afternoon to meditate in the library, I decided we should take the time right away. As I told them, even though we would do it again later, it certainly wouldn't hurt to take the time in the moment. As soon as I said it, my volunteer, who had been in grade 7 five years ago, stated how he missed meditating. He was surprised I was still using the same music and that my old music player still works. He was happy to settle into my chair and join in the meditation.

With the different mix of students, and especially the displacement of Student A from his seat to the one beside his "buddy," the boy he likes to bother, I was a little concerned about how it would go, but as I turned off the lights and started the music, quiet washed over the room, and I was instantly grateful I had made the choice to take the time to breathe.

I moved through the prompts, breath count and focused breath, encouraging them to inhale their calm and exhale their excess, hyper energy, and just about everyone relaxed into the quiet. Student A had the Minecraft figures he had crafted and was playing with them, attempting to poke his buddy, but stopped when I moved to stand behind him. He settled for a few moments, but not long enough to allow me to sit down and join in the silence. Instead I stood behind him, and closed my eyes as I took a few breaths before the track ended.

Once again it was not a perfect meditation, but it was quiet enough, and it set the tone for a mostly peaceful period to follow. I was glad I made the choice to take the time to breathe. It is amazing how easy is it to forget that it is always the best choice.

Immediately after lunch, I got the call from my grade 8 immersion class inviting me to join them and I was very happy to oblige. They were chatting as I arrived, but it only took a moment before they quieted, with no prompts beyond setting the lights and music. As we began the meditation, I commented on how much I appreciated being there, especially as they were so ready whenever I arrived.

We began as we always do, connecting with Treaty 1 Territory land and those who came before us, and I remarked that I hoped after our Treaty Day Celebrations next week that they would gain an even deeper understanding as to what that means and why we do it every time. Then I moved through the rest of the prompts, breath count and focused breath, encouraging them to find what they need as they breathed.

We moved into the silence and I sat down and joined them, marvelling at the absolute stillness and quiet in the room. I was grateful for the peace and the opportunity to both facilitate it, and be a part of it. It's different when they are not my students, and it a way it is even sweeter.

As the track ended I lingered in the silence for a couple of breaths before I broke it and encouraged them to return to the room gently. I opened the blinds to let in the light, another benefit of a different classroom. It was very quiet as they came back, and very peaceful. The room felt different than it had when I arrived just 10 minutes earlier.

Before I left I reminded them any bodily sensations may be natural, as are none at all. I asked them if anyone had anything they wanted to share with me, and reassured their blank faces that it was okay if they didn't, and maybe one day they would. Then I thanked them for having me, noting that this was probably the most peaceful 7 minutes of my day. They thanked me as I left them to continue their day and I went on with my afternoon.

After break, both classes came to the library, and has become the norm there, everyone got comfortable at the tables, computers, and a bunch of students, boys and girls from both classes, piled together some beanbag chairs and piled on them. Before we began I reminded them I expected silence even if they chose to sit in what could not be comfortable positions, and once again they lived up to their assurances they could do it.

We had a lot left to do, half had already meditated in the morning, and I still don't have good speakers for the library, so I chose a quick, five minute track. It was another good choice for meditating. It was short and sweet. I moved through the usual prompts and encouraged them to take the time to breathe and make the most of the last hour of the day.

The last minutes went quickly, as I took a seat in the middle of the library and joined in the silence, as did the rest of the afternoon, to end another crazy Tuesday- our last crazy Tuesday in April.

Here's to looking forward to what Wednesday will bring....and to getting some sleep before it comes.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Time Getting Away From Me- The Third Week in April

I can't let another week get away from me, though much like my students, as the days get longer and activities ramp up, at the end of the day, I don't feel much like writing. It is easy to get off the writing track and lose motivation. But as I say to my students, "Suck it up Buttercup," and so I have committed to one hour of writing to get back in the swing and capture highlights of the week's meditations, because time is going very quickly, and soon there will be no more year left to capture.

It was a short week, the week of April 17th to April 20th, with only four days and several large groups, there were fewer meditations and none during PD on Friday. Here are some highlights.

Monday, April 17th

The week began with a Day 2 and I decided to wait until the library in the afternoon to meditate as the morning was already hectic, with one short period for each class to read our novel. I wanted to make the most of all of our time, and the morning reading went smoothly as just about everyone is really engaged in our novel.

Before I met both classes in the library after break in the afternoon, I was invited back to the grade 8 immersion class immediately after lunch, when I have my prep time. I have been told that the students like my guidance and the way I talk through the first part of the meditation. I am always honoured to be asked back.

When I arrived they were a bit chatty, even as I set up the music and dimmed the lights. Even though I hadn't been there is a few weeks, I didn't offer much instruction, but asked if they had any questions, and when there were none, I started the music and the meditation.

As the six minute track began, I wasn't sure if they would need more direction to be quiet as there were a few final whispers here and there. But within a few seconds of beginning the prompts and welcoming them to their time to breathe, there was a stillness that washed over the room and silence filled the air. The room was very peaceful as I guided them through the prompts, breath counts and focused breathing, inviting them to find when what they need and grow it as they inhale, and then exhale the blocks that get in their way.

We moved into the silence and I sat down and joined, marveling in the quiet in the room, and how it had taken a moment in the beginning, but ultimately prevailed with no real action on my part, except for making room for the space. I breathed in my gratitude for the time and the invitation to be there.

The minutes passed quickly as they do and I ended the meditation, thanking them for their silence and sharing some of my observations, including how I felt unsure in the beginning as it was a little noisier than usual, which is perhaps because they are more comfortable with my presence, and how grateful I was to feel the silence roll across the room like a wave. It was remarkable and I let them know I was grateful for the opportunity and always happy to be invited to their classroom. When no one had any further comments to share, I wished them continued peace for the rest of the afternoon and went off to the rest of mine.

Both of my classes came to the library after break and it didn't take long for everyone to get comfortable, with groups of kids in corners on the floor and piled on the beanbag chairs. I debated whether they needed to move aloud, and they assured me they were all fine and could enjoy the stillness and silence, even if they were practically piled on top of each other in some cases.

I took them at their word, turned off the lights, set the music and started the meditation as always. I guess everyone needed the break on that Monday afternoon as the library was quiet from beginning to end. Reflecting their comfort with each other, and their respect and appreciation for the time, even the kids piled on the beanbags were still and silent.

As I moved through all the usual prompts, breath count and focused breathing, there was no need to redirect behaviour, or stand in any particular place, as everyone was still and silent. As I finished the guided part of the meditation, I took a chair in the middle of the library and sat down to breathe. Before I closed my eyes, I looked around at everyone, heads down where they could be and eyes closed in other places, relaxed and enjoying the moment, and I smiled. It was a good start to the week. I closed my eyes and enjoyed a few moments of peace before they too passed, the track ended, and I closed the meditation so we could finish the day.

Tuesday April 18th

We meditated once on Tuesday, when both classes came together for Social Studies for the last two periods of the morning. As we got settled, students got into the groups they had been working in based on the different parts of the world of the countries of their research projects. We have been continuing our discussions of standards of living, by exploring their perceptions of happiness and everything that entails, in different parts of the world.

Throughout the study we had spent time watching different videos which illustrate life, perspectives and perceptions of happiness and freedoms in different parts of the world. As we started Tuesday, we watched a video which highlighted the connection between our perspectives and attitudes, gratitude, and happiness in our lives, so it was with that focus that we meditated.

Despite the different groups and seating arrangement, it didn't take long for everyone to settle as we began the meditation. I moved through the prompts and breath count, and then I encouraged them to inhale their gratitude for all they have, while exhaling the fears that make us want to focus on what we don't have. I challenged them to breathe and find happiness, health and safety in their breath.

The silence was not perfect, there was some movement, chairs shuffling, a cough or sniffle, but it was quiet and peaceful. It was nice. And as usual, it was quick. Before long the music ended and it was time to end the meditation and continue with the group sharing and the rest of the day.

Wednesday, April 19th

Wednesday was the only day of the week I saw both classes individually in my classroom. I began the day with my class for 1 period of ELA, reading and working with the novel. With a short period, it was a short 5 and a half minute meditation, and it was still and silent from beginning to end.

It took no time for everyone to settle, as first thing in the morning my class is always happy to put their heads down, which they did with little prompting. As we planted our feet flat on Treaty 1 Territory Land I noted this act is becoming even more significant as we continue to read our novel and broaden our understanding of the Treaties and the importance of the land, Then I continued through the usual prompts, breath count, and focused breath, encouraging them to find what they needed for the day ahead.

As we moved into the silence, the room was even quieter than usual. There was no movement at all and it seemed that even the hallway was still. I joined in, noting my gratitude for the peace. The track ended and I lingered in the silence for a few breaths more, sad to break it, but sensing it was time. Time to read and move on with the day. But before I did, I thanked my students for the lovely start and remarked on their growing ability to be still, which is no small feat, and never ceases to amaze me.

It spoils me a little too. My switch class came in the period that followed, and while I used more or less the same words, the feeling can't be replicated and it different with the other group. They are not bad at meditating, and still quiet and pleasant enough, but do not achieve the same level of peace and still my homeroom reaches. It really is something special.

But it doesn't diminish the time with my switch class, which for those 5 and a half minutes was just fine. Not completely still and silent, but quiet enough and just fine. The discussions that followed around the novel were also lively, with many students engaging in the themes and sharing their ideas and opinions willingly, which is also different than my homeroom, from which I often need to prod and pry responses. So there are pros and cons to both rooms and I appreciate them both in very different ways.

Thursday April 20

Thursday was our 7th monthly visit to the Millennium Library, marking the passage of time and the growth of our students from the meditation in the morning, to their behaviour and learning throughout the day. It was a brilliant meditation and a brilliant day.

As usual both classes came together to meditate before we got ready to go. It didn't take long for everyone to settle and I started the 6 and a half minute track, using my iPod because I forgot my iPad at home.

I moved through the usual prompts breath count and focused breath. I encouraged them to inhale what they need and exhale what they do not, as they visualized their day at the library, from the morning, through lunch, and into the afternoon. I invited them to picture the day, time, space and the goals they intended to accomplish as they breathed.

As we moved into the silence, I noted the timer on the iPod read we had exactly three minutes of deep breathing ahead. I also noted the room was particularly still and silent. As I breathed, inhaling my own good energy and releasing my fears for the day, I noticed the room remained very quiet. The peace lasted for the entire 3 minutes and a few breaths beyond as the track ended.

As I closed the meditation, I congratulated them on the exceptional meditation and the new silence I felt we had experienced for the full three minutes. I told them that I didn't know if they felt it was different, but I sure did, and I thought it was a great sign for the day ahead.

Whether it was or not, it was indeed a wonderfully relaxed and enjoyable day at the library and a great way to end a short week.

Now we have another big one ahead as we come to the last week in April. Hard to believe that summer will be here before we know it. But until it arrives, I will try to keep on writing and keep on breathing.

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead. Remember to breathe.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ninety-Something Grade 7 Kids in the Gym on Treaty 1 Territory Land

I am working on several pieces to catch up on the last weeks before the break and since, but in the meantime, I need to capture today and the five minutes of meditation I experienced in the gym, with about 100 other people, including the four grade 7 classes in our pod (what we call the different sections of our school), their teachers, the 5 volunteers from the big-vision high school housed at our neighbourhood high school, and their teacher-advisor, who was a former colleague of ours, as part of our experience this morning.

We gathered first thing in the morning to share in the experience of The Blanket Exercise Workshop, (http://www.kairoscanada.org/what-we-do/indigenous-rights/blanket-exercise), which is a simulation designed to help participants understand Canada's history from an Indigenous perspective, including the impact of the Canadian government on Indigenous communities past and present.

Using the shorter version, designed for grades 4-8, in about an hour and a half, The Blanket Exercise covered about 500 years of history, from early contact with the settlers through modern history, as a step towards reconciliation, as our participants experienced the devastating events of Indigenous history, including the extermination of half the population by smallpox and other diseases, the loss of land and ways of life, loss of family, culture and language to 150 years of Residential Schools, and loss of rights and freedoms in modern day Canada. They also gained insight into some recent steps towards Reconciliation, like The Apology and other initiatives, as well as the work yet to be done. The experience  is a small part of our greater classroom learning, and will connect to our Treaty Days celebrations at the beginning of May.

When we finished the simulation, we came back together briefly in the big circle, before we split into our classes for smaller sharing circles, as the group was too large to accommodate everyone. Grade 7 students only have so much patience, and we can only ask so much of them, and their teachers. The group, who had been prepped before we began, but could not know what the experience would be like, was amazing in every way. They were willing, cooperative, and exceptionally respectful to each other, and to the process, which had some sitting on the sides for a long period of time, and others standing for the duration. Though there were a few moments of sshing, or redirecting focus and minor behaviour, overall our students gave themselves to the experience.

While many passed as we went around the sharing circle after, several spoke of gaining a deeper understanding the events of history, as rather than just being told, they were led to feel. The reflected on the feelings they had experienced, including shock, fear and anger. I am looking forward to learning more about their experiences when I read their written reflections.

It was a very powerful experience and it began with a very powerful, though not easy, meditation. I chose one of the shorter tracks, but at just under 5 minutes, it was one of those days when the minutes passed slowly, and the time seemed long, probably because in the unfamiliar setting, with so many people, there was more behaviour to manage.

There were four classes of grade 7's, about 95 kids, sitting on chairs in a big circle around the blankets, which had been set up to resemble Turtle Island, or North America prior to European contact. My two classes might meditate regularly, but usually in the comfort of the classroom, with desks on which to lay their heads. I have never meditated with the other two classes, and so it was certainly a new experience for them, one to which I gave little explanation. I just reminded everyone that the only way to meditate wrong was to bother someone else, and with that we began.

We dimmed the gym lights, but it was not as dark as my classroom, and kids felt noticeably awkward as they shifted in their seats and I encouraged them to relax in their chairs, and into their breath, as they allowed themselves to forget about everyone else in the room. The speakers I have been using for the last 5 years broke, and so with just the IPad the music was very quiet in the background, adding to the awkward silence. But at the same time it was quiet and peaceful enough. I continued as usual, with extra attention to the introduction and the prompts.

As we started, I encouraged everyone to plant their feet flat on Treaty 1 Territory Land, the traditional home of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the M├ętis Nation, noting that it was in the spirit of acknowledging and honouring these connections that we were all there today. It was our purpose in meeting, and as we make these connections with the land, the treaties, and the people who came before us, we make steps towards reconciliation. 

I moved through the posturing, encouraging them to sit up straight, and still relax all parts of their bodies, and ultimately close their eyes. I reminded them that it is natural to feel awkward or a little uncomfortable, and to be wondering if everyone else was also closing their eyes or looking at them instead, and challenged them to let those feelings go, trust themselves and close their eyes. Quite a few did.

I led them through the breath count, but kept it shorter than usual taking only four or five breaths, in part due to the short time we had, but also because so many of them were unfamiliar with the count and I didn't want them to get too hung up or distracted by it. I then encouraged them to bring their focus and attention to each inhale and each exhale as they breathed naturally.

As I brought their attention to their breath, I encouraged them to find what they need, inhaling the focus and patience to listen and participate, while exhaling the impatience and distraction that gets in the way. As some fidgeted, as there are students like Students A and Students 1 and 2 in every class, and we had 4 classes, I reminded them to inhale the respect they bring to the experience, for themselves and the people around them, and then exhale the fear that causes them to make the choices that bring them negative attention. I challenged them to look within and give their respect and best selves to the experience. At the same time I applied the old rule of proximity and moved where I was needed, spending the bulk of the minutes near Student 2 and his buddies from the other classes.

We moved into the silence and they managed to keep it together, and though there were a few smirks and glances passed between them, they were quiet, as was everyone else. As I looked around the circle, there was a certain amount of stillness, though some, like Student A, were still a little fidgety, everyone was quiet and no one disturbed the peace.

I closed my eyes where I stood and took a few deep breaths, giving thanks for the quiet and the positive start to the morning. Then I said a little prayer for the rest of the morning, asking for a positive and meaningful experience for my students and colleagues and that the intention and purpose be understood. 

I was standing near the boys and so it was hard to hear the music, but after a few breaths I sensed that it was time to close. I walked over to the IPad as I ended the meditation, and thought that it didn't really matter if the track was actually over, as it felt long enough, only to see the next track had just started. The five minutes was well timed, and like the rest of the morning, it was not easy, but it was certainly worthwhile. It was the beginning of a powerful learning experience and I am grateful for it.