February 16, 2015
The Mindful Classroom
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Feel free to take a five-minute meditation to center your thoughts and come back to this article more fully into the present.
Students all around the world now stretch in downward dog in a more mindful classroom, one that sheds away the hectic bell schedule frenzy that behavior psychologists say leads to anxiety.
In both the public and private sector, schools have found adding mindfulness techniques into the curriculum to benefit student's overall well-being (with the side benefit of increased student creative productivity). One such technique? The sun salutation of yoga.
Yoga studio owner Roberta McGinley says that yoga teaches students to control one's breath and students "can use their breath to control any anger that might arise... breath creates that sense of calm."
And in the emotional roller coaster that is childhood, techniques to help smooth out this ride should be made readily available.
In her fourth-grade classroom, Christina Howard introduced a singing bowl on the first day and students spent the first minute of every class sitting in silent meditation to consciously let go of any stress they had before entering the classroom and arrive more fully present for the lesson that day. Over time, students adapted to this ritual and looked forward to this quick moment of letting go.
During her breaks, Ms. Howard would practice yoga and students passing by would ask her to teach them how to float the body into poses like headstand. So, Ms. Howard kicked her lesson up a notch. She brought yoga teacher Carla Ricciardone to introduce the students to the practice of yoga, which teaches the body to physically let go through a series of poses (called asanas).
Not long after students spread word of stretching into downward dog and standing tall in mountain pose in Ms. Howard's class, the class then decided to put together a yoga fundraiser. Students from all classes were invited to join in. $700 later, students had raised enough money to send the whole class on a field trip to Nature's Classroom, where students soaked up an immersive study of the environment.
On the other side of the United States, Vlad Moskovski works with schools in the San Francisco Bay Area to build what he calls compassionate leaders.
I sat down to chat with Vlad, founder of Compassionate Leaders, to talk about what techniques he uses in the classroom. We discussed something I've also used in my classroom: the power of using writing to center the mind.
Writing kinesthetically slows the brain down and allows us to smooth out our rapid thinking.
Tim Ferriss agrees that writing allows one to think more clearly because the active process of writing forces the mind to slow down and concretize the many thoughts that can fly around in our heads like fireworks.
Much like what Ms. Howard did with her students, teachers can also use the first minutes of class time as a time to journal and write out one's thoughts. Getting the thoughts out of the head and onto paper can be an easy way for students to let go of any emotions that can stifle the ability to learn something new.
For students with a lot of trauma in life, writing can be extremely cathartic. For all students, writing can help push the creative level in the brain to a whole new maximum.
Of course, writing, yoga and meditation can only help build a more mindful classroom when it becomes habitual. After 10,000 hours of practice (a la Malcolm Gladwell), we can only imagine their creative potential in leadership.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on building a more mindful classroom, so please leave your comment below to enter the conversation.
This article appeared on Huffington Post on July 30 2014 and was written by Mark W. Guay.