Written by Rebecca McConnell, R&W Intern
We Need To Teach Kids Empathy, Says National Teacher Of The Year: The Three R’s Aren’t Enough.
This is a headline from a Huffington Post article written April 28th, 2016. (You can find the full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jahana-hayes-teacher-of-the-year_us_572262cfe4b01a5ebde50281). Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, and Jenny Mills, founder of Roots & Wings, are in agreement; we need to teach our students about their emotions, specifically empathy. Current research on mindfulness interventions for students, although still preliminary, has found that “mindfulness-based practices (MBP) offer a promising way to foster social emotional learning (SEL), particularly self-awareness and emotional regulation...” (Gueldener & Feuerborn, 2015). Current research on mindfulness interventions for teachers has found similarly that a mindfulness-based professional development program “may help sustain educational professionals by addressing specific aspects of teachers’ social-emotional competence” (Schussler et. al, 2015).
Pilot data collected by researchers at the University of Penn have shown that the Roots & Wings Everyday Mindfulness for Schools course offers a myriad of benefits for educators such as reduced teacher stress and burnout, increased communication skills, and an increase of acting with awareness.
Jenny has helped thousands of educators across the region to learn mindful ways of being present in the classroom, tuning into their own emotions and the emotions of their students. We reached out to past participants to hear about how they are using what they learned in Jenny’s workshops in their classrooms.
Here's what we found!
Reflection #1: Here’s what a middle school teacher from New Jersey wrote in a reflection after taking Jenny’s workshop:
I know that during my three days of anecdotal note taking, I have not been responsive, but have been very reactive. Even though I know what I’m doing, and thinking of trying to be responsive, I still have been reactive. I say things quickly without thinking them through and I know that I have lost my cool. This workshop was a godsend. I used my notes to help a defiant student, myself, and the situation we kept finding ourselves in. From the notes, I saw that I needed to find out "what was the student's need?" I thought about the context. First of all she is adopted, so she may feel abandonment. Her adoptive parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. With all of this going on around her, she may be seeking attention to feel like she belongs somewhere.
After realizing this, I’m a changed person. I can’t believe what this young girl is going through. How tough it must be?! I feel the compassion now and can attune into the child’s need. I feel horrible for falling short before, but have decided not to dwell on it. What good would that do? I start to do my ten minutes of formal practice. Each day I do the word tracing. I trace the word ‘relax’ while breathing in, and breathing out. I tune into my compassion for the young girl. With this added support, I notice changes to my thoughts and actions. I no longer stress out about this, or think of it as,’ oh no, why is it happening to me?’ It’s not about me, it’s about this student and how I can help her and maybe even her mother.
My thoughts are no longer reactive. I’m not reacting. I’m thinking, I’m responding. Compassion fills me up. I think about how best to help her. I think about all the times that she seeks attention from other kids. I think about the ways to help her learn the right way to make friends with other students. I decide to talk to her, role play with her the different types of situations she might find herself in, ask the counselor for advice. …...
Things are not perfect, arguments still happen, and tears are still shed. However, my relationship with Paige is changed forever. Things are much better and I am no longer stressed in regards to this student. My shoulders are lowered; my breathing calm, and most importantly, I feel compassion for this young lady, who is going through so much. I am already using what I have learned on another student and am excited to see what will happen. I will always try, no matter what, to be mindful of all my students.
Reflection #2: Lisa Russo is an instructional assistant at Ridge Park Elementary School. Here’s what she writes after taking Jenny’s workshop:
Over the past two weeks I made a commitment to practice mindfulness every day. Some days I practiced formally by listening to the Roots & Wings CD and taking a yoga class at a nearby studio. Other days I practiced informally by pausing and noticing thoughts, emotions and sensations. I also incorporated mindfulness into my classroom. The students are responding in a positive way. I see them noticing their attention when I say “put your flashlight on me or on a task.” I am normalizing their thoughts and actions. I am now working on Goal Cards to help them with their impulses.
I am amazed how the mindfulness practice has made me more present and aware. Before taking this workshop I thought mindfulness meant relaxing, but now I know the goal of mindfulness is to notice and be aware. I have learned to notice and to be aware. I feel less stress and anxiety. I notice my triggers that make me react, but instead of reacting negatively I pause before responding. My goal now is to pass this on to my students.
Reflection #3: Teri Borucki is a music teacher/director of choir at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches Pre-K through 8th grade students and has a choir of about 70 members, grades 4 through 8. Here’s how mindfulness has impacted her inside and outside the classroom after taking Jenny’s workshop:
After practicing these techniques for two weeks, I am finding that I am a different person. I think of them all the time, and use different techniques all the time. I’m looking forward to a few days off to read some of the books to help me continue using these techniques. I am a more relaxed person; normally I’m very uptight, worry about everything, never let anything go. Now I’m realizing it’s ok to let things go and it’s ok not to have to strive to be perfect all the time. If something does get into my head I accept it and breathe, or jot it down on a pad and move on.
I’m finding that I’ve accomplished a lot more in my work life and my home life, and not feeling resentful that I have so much work to do. It’s truly like I’ve become a different person. Students don’t bother me as much, the husband doesn’t bother me as much, and the kids don’t bother me as much with some of their bad habits.
I look forward to continuing these practices in my life forever. It was one of the best, most useful classes I have ever taken at the National Liberty Museum.
Reflection #4: Dawn Marie Orlando teaches second grade at St. Monica School. Here are her thoughts about how learning about mindfulness with Jenny supports her work in the classroom and tutoring.
After attending the Mindfulness Workshop, I learned how using breathing activities helps to control stress. I enjoyed learning about and trying the different calming activities. I wish I found out about the exercises we learned before I started tutoring Brad. I think that our tutoring sessions would have been more pleasurable and successful. I was amazed to find out how easily you can control your stress by taking the time to pause and notice what is happening to you, then use your breathing exercises.
I am trying to work on getting Brad to recognize his triggers, and think before he reacts. I will now begin our tutoring sessions by doing a mindfulness activity with Brad. I will use simple activities like “Tracing a Circle” or “Finger Breathing”. I think these activities will not only allow him to feel calm, but also help him develop a positive attitude in school.
Now that I have learned that using mindfulness activities promotes positive student behavior, I am going to introduce these activities to the students in my classroom at the beginning of each new school year. I am also going to use these activities with children that I tutor. I feel like even in my own life, I am given responsibilities that can become overwhelming. Before I allow my stress level to rise, I am going to practice the breathing exercises that I have learned.
After listening to the explanations about the mindfulness activities and trying them, I was amazed at how relaxed I felt just by controlling my breathing. I intend to teach my students to notice their triggers and to think before they react especially in a negative way. I intend to do this at the beginning of each new school year so the students become accustomed to using the mindfulness activities. It is beneficial to take 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to allow the students to relax so they become successful learners.
Reflection #5: Michelle A. Kiesel is an ELA teacher for grades 7 and 8 at the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School. Since taking Jenny’s workshop she continues to utilize mindfulness techniques for herself and teaches them to her students.
Interacting and participating in the Mindfulness Workshop, presented by Jenny Mills, has offered many techniques and strategies for assisting students and the teacher involved with isolating and unpacking the behavior of the other, exploring one’s own triggers, beliefs, and biases, and developing preventative strategies and teaching in the moment techniques to self-regulate.
I found that practicing mindfulness prior to going to work helped me set my day in a positive light especially with self-regulation. In between class periods, the Insight Timer app assisted with monitoring and directing away from distractions. Utilizing the mindfulness intervention techniques and activities has assisted me with focusing more, reacting less in a negative way, and regrouping in order to respond in a positive way.
Through participating in the Mindfulness Workshop and adding mindfulness intervention strategies to my own life and my students' lives, my classroom and my own interaction with the stressors of daily life have become much more bearable. I have always been the type of teacher and person who self-regulates, however, utilizing in-the-moment techniques along with breathing techniques has proved to be very successful.
Mindfulness-based practices traditionally value the promotion of empathy, creativity, social relationships, and compassion for self and others, the development of which will help children throughout their lives. I will continue to utilize these techniques to ensure self-regulation and to promote a better classroom environment.
Reflection #6: A teacher writes about how mindfulness has helped her connect with a particularly challenging student.
From the first session of this week, I noticed that I was calmer walking up to the door of the classroom. I approached each session with an open mind; not expecting the student to respond in the way that he previously had behaved, with the yelling and aggressive behaviors to avoid having to work with me. This calmness allowed me to be more available to meet
his needs and be supportive. I was no longer reacting to his behaviors, since the loud noises and classroom disruptions are triggers of mine, but responding with interventions to them. Even though his behaviors did not change immediately, I was able to work on his Math objectives for at least part of our allotted session time as opposed to not seeing him at all. Before, I would spend the entire 30 minutes trying to calm him down and convince him to come work with me. The end result was that I would have to leave for my next class without ever working on a Math lesson with him. I think changing the way that I approached my day and examining my mindset are steps in a positive direction. These two changes as well as the changes to his environment; working with him in his classroom instead of taking him out to my room; allowed me to reach the ultimate goal of providing a Math intervention on his current level without creating a disruption to his classmates' learning environment. Using these mindfulness techniques for myself as well as teaching them to my student will help to create further positive Math experiences for this student and allow him to accomplish the goal of increasing his ability in the subject of Math.
Reflection #7: Margaret Mancini took Jenny’s workshop and wrote this reflection when she was with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at Holy Redeemer. Currently she is working with the School District of Philadelphia.
I have noticed an improvement with my students and myself in dealing with others' behaviors. I have been able to better train myself to respond instead of reacting. I have a better relationship with Charlie and other students because I am able to breathe and step back and not allow their behavior to trigger me. I have been able to stop some of my “almost moments” and deal with my feelings and emotions at that moment. I even find myself mentally using the Goal Chart which is also helping be a better role model for my students and as a result letting them know I do care about them and want them to become the best they can. Using these strategies help me become better aware of my students' feelings.
Reflection #8: Meghann Pollock is a second grade teacher at Chester Community Charter School. She reflects upon how she has incorporated mindfulness into her classroom after studying with Jenny.
The next few days, I helped my students become present and focus. I began the day, after unpacking their school bags, with having the students put their heads down on their desks. I played a relaxation music station on Pandora, and asked them to focus on the sounds. The first few minutes, the children were looking around at their friends. They wanted to see if everyone else had their heads down and eyes closed. I let them get situated, because for most, this was their first time participating in a Mindfulness exercise. I began having the children focus on their deep breathing-inhaling and exhaling. I had the children move their toes (but not their feet and legs). I had them anchor their bodies. Just Relax and Just be. I found this exercise even more beneficial for me. I found myself taking the deep breaths right along with the children. It helped me to focus and become grounded. The breathing relaxed me each morning before the day. I ended each mindfulness session with telling the children to smile and start their day on a positive note.
I loved this exercise, because the children really got into the deep breathing. I have found it really helped Daniel calm his body down. I found this exercise to help other children in the class who are anxious about test taking. Each morning during our Terra Nova Testing, I would complete a mindfulness activity. I also reminded the children if they felt like they needed a deep breath during the test, to take a few deep breaths to calm themselves down.
I have continued this activity past our homework assignment. I find it has made me a better teacher. The activity has helped with my frustration levels. Instead of reacting right away, I take a deep breath and respond. I also decided to give a positive direction or reminder, followed by a “thanks” rather than a “please”. This helps communicate my expectation and the students will comply. It is focusing on the behavior rather than the misbehavior. I was so fortunate to take this seminar. I am so excited to continue this mindfulness tool to create caring, less stressed, kind students.