Our class has been practising mindfulness for up to 5 minutes almost every morning. I have approached the practice very slowly and initiated by talking to the students about the purpose and getting the students' agreement to engage. The purpose was framed around being able to grow in the ability to influence one's mind purposefully towards peacefulness and calmness. I used the analogy of the mind being like a monkey - often jumping in an uncontrolled fashion from one thing to another. Our purpose would be to learn through practice to control and focus our minds on the thoughts we direct. Anyone is free to not engage at anytime - it is completely voluntary and I have communicated this in many ways. Central to mindfulness practice, in my view, is voluntary engagement and non-judgment.
Our practice started with focusing on the sound of a gong and simply turning hands over when the sound disappears. From there we focused on taking 3 cleansing breaths followed again by the sound. Then discussing as a group how long we were able to concentrate on the sound and breathing before being distracted, and how to redirect purposefully and non-judgementally when we get distracted. We moved to more complex visualizations throughout the year. For example, picturing ourselves at recess including others in our play. I honestly believe from the feedback of the students that this was too much and too complex a move. The students were sharing lovely stories after the practice which they were creating for discussion and had not actually visualized. We took a step back with more concrete visualizations of a tree or flower and purposefully creating a calming visualization of the object.
The results have been interesting. I have a very active group and there is a sense of calm and focus in the classroom after mindfulness practice. On the whole the students are very engaged and report regularly that they enjoy the practice. Interestingly, the students become distracted during the practice with negative emotions which they have examined non-judgementally after the practice. I believe this has helped students develop a great deal of self-understanding as they examine the source of some of their negative emotions. I believe that it is greatly important to allow time for students to process the experience as a group if they choose (which they usually do) or in writing or in a private conversation during the day. I believe that a great deal of self-understanding develops through the opportunity to reflect on the process itself and to hear others reflecting.
I believe our practice is supported by a certain kind of classroom environment and supportive relationships. I undertake many activities, and structure the class, so as to encourage a sense of belonging (sense of community or supportiveness) and a sense of autonomy (sense of voice and sense of opportunity to make choices). I believe this type of environment is fundamental to meaningful mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practice involves looking deep into oneself and, if the student chooses, closing her eyes to concentrate. We also discuss experiences after the practice. This requires a great deal of trust and sense of supportiveness from the students and teacher. At the same time, to be meaningful, this practice has to be entered into completely voluntarily. To support honest engagement, the norms in the classroom need to truly support autonomous choice making.
I also believe that this practice is also supported by the teacher engaging in mindfulness practice outside of the classroom. I have found that my awareness during our mindfulness practice remains more outwardly directed at the students and not internally as is required for true practice. I believe that ethically, a teacher needs to engage in the practice outside of school in order to understand the demands and challenges of the practice and have a deeper understanding of what is going on with the students during the practice. After mindfulness, we take time to reflect on the experience and the students discuss some of the challenges. Being able to discuss my own challenges and how I have tried to understand myself better brings authenticity and mutuality, which I believe encourages trust and honesty from the students and results in more meaningful practice and greater self-understanding. I truly do not believe anyone should engage in mindfulness practice with children without having a personal practice and regular self-reflection.
The students recently reflected in writing on mindfulness practice after we spent a week on a visualization of a flower. We started the week with a very concrete visualization and feeling of calm and throughout the week grew the visualization to include smell, rain, sun, and wind. The writing reflects the students' overall sense of peace and calmness and increased awareness of length of time that they are able to concentrate. The writing also shows how negative emotions arise during mindfulness which can be a source of great self-understanding. You can view the student writing in the link for mindfulness in the gallery. Due to the private nature of the reflections, the students preferred not to have names with the writing.
Three students getting ready to lead our class; an invited class of grade 3 students; and invited guests from UBC; in mindfulness to start off a poetry presentation themed "Reflections on Water". I have never taken pictures of children during mindfulness out of respect for the privacy of the moments - this picture is as close to the moment as I will go.