Practicing Mindfulness for Teacher Stress Relief

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In the early spring of 2007, I took my first graders on a field trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Back in the classroom in an effort to occupy ten minutes before dismissal, I had my students take out a notecard and write about the trip.

I saw a tulip and a duck and a daffodil. And I was happy.

I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but something about Ethan’s reflection stopped me in my tracks that afternoon. I have held onto that notecard for almost eight years.

Have you ever noticed how little kids play? Those of you who teach PreK and Kindergarten and those of you with young children, nieces, and nephews will know exactly what I’m talking about. Young children play attentively, joyously, and presently. They tend to be so absorbed in their blocks, or Play-Doh, or Ninja Turtles, that it never occurs to them to be (physically or mentally) anywhere but here, now. Young children don’t unplug the Easy Bake Oven to take a few minutes to dwell on yesterday, nor do they ditch the Legos in favor of fretting about tomorrow. Young children at play stay in the present moment. Young children play mindfully.

This fall I kicked off my dissertation research project, which aimed to use mindfulness as an antidote to teacher stress in a local Austin school. Mindfulness, as defined by John Kabat-Zinn, is the act of paying attention in a specific way: (a) on purpose, (b) in the present moment, and doing so (c) non-judgmentally.

In other words, being mindful involves intentionally focusing your mind upon this moment right now while simultaneously shutting up the Voice, that tape-reel of judgments and labels with which we attack so many thoughts and ideas.

Research studies document the positive effects that mindfulness practice can have on various symptoms of stress, anxiety, and physical pain. My goal, therefore, was to see if a six-week mindfulness group tailored to teachers might reduce their symptoms of stress. Quantitatively, the jury’s still out (the data should be analyzed some time next month), but qualitatively, participating teachers at this Austin middle school claim to have benefited significantly from the experience. One teacher even said that one six-minute session of mindfulness, in which he sat in silence and practiced focusing on the present, was, “one of the most profound experiences of my adult life.”

Mindfulness practice works like exercise or strength-building (with practice, results build over time), so while this blog post alone isn’t going to Zen you out immediately, my hope is that it might inspire you to start your own mindfulness practice, even just a few minutes a day. My hypothesis for the aforementioned teacher’s reaction, and for my own reaction to Ethan’s botanic garden reflection, is that both individuals were present in their surroundings. Six minutes of mindfulness for that teacher, and a mere six years of age for my student allowed each to stop, marvel, and smell the roses (tulips, and daffodils).

Weekend Sales: 10 Hot Deals for Teachers

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Happy Friday, teachers! TeacherPop has pulled together some epic, and we mean EPIC, sales for this #FrugalFriday. So, cuddle up with your laptop, and enjoy these deep discounts on goods and services you’re sure to love.

Let’s start by feeding our brains, shall we? First up, publisher McGraw-Hill has launched its Big Book Sale! Get 40% off science, computing, and business books.

We all love a good craft store, especially when you receive 15% off your entire purchase. Jo-Ann is making it happen with code TOTAL019, in-store and online, through Monday.

Is your car missing a bumper? We sincerely hope not, but just in case, here’s a coupon from AutoZone for $10 off any purchase of $50 or more.

Stock up on smell-goods at Bath and Body Works with 20% off sitewide (use code: BBWGIFT20) and up to 75% sale items.

Two of our favorite home stores are having great sales this weekend. Williams-Sonoma is offering 20% off with code PRIVATESALE, and Pier 1 is bringing the savings to your tables with 10% off when you sign up for the store’s newsletter.

Teacher favorite J. Crew is offering up to 50% off some final sale items with code SHOPNOW. Ann Taylor LOFT is also keeping some cash in your pocket with up to 60% off sale items.

Not to be outdone, C.Wonder has launched its major, semi-annual Big Sale, offering 75% off your entire purchase.

Finally, you’ve made it to the Finish Line’s end-of-season sale, where you can stock up on exercise gear for 50% off to keep yourself healthy and happy all year long.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Shameless Optimism: Are You Nurturing or No-Nonsense in the Classroom?

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As a first-year teacher, I struggle, along with many others, to find a balance between being no-nonsense and nurturing in the classroom. How do you show your students that your high expectations are meant to help and not hurt them?

I learned late last year that a teacher’s tone is just as, if not more, important than narration and relationship building. Previously, I thought firmness equaled harshness and muffled anger. I even believed that I had to sound angry in order to get my point across.

Recently, I’ve discovered these four ways to be both firm and fair in the classroom:

  1. Speak Less: Don’t waste time trying to explain the value of obeying your rules. It can be very counterproductive and students may resist more. Talking is a good thing but the more you “nag” or “complain” about their behavior, the less likely they are to change it.
  1. Give Emotionless Consequences: Don’t bother being angry; nobody wins. The last thing you want to do is take misbehavior personally. The best way to show students that you mean business is by setting clear consequences and being consistent. When they realize there are consistent consequences for misbehavior, they will change their behavior (even if it takes a while).
  1. Have a Heart to Heart: If you find yourself getting angry by yelling for misbehavior, follow up with a calm heart to heart. Assure the student that, even though you may have raised your voice, you were not angry but disappointed because he/she was not living up to his/her true potential.
  1. Smile a Lot: Rewarding students when they are doing the right thing is just as important as consequences when they aren’t. A smile is often a nice reward for your students because it shows them that you are happy to be in school with them and that you appreciate when they work together to create a comfortable environment. Be firm in your expectations of students to create a joyful environment when they are at school and encourage them to be kind to others.

Tell us in the comments: How do you strike a balance between no-nonsense and nurturing in the classroom?

Shameless Optimism is a new column by Deniann Grant about keeping calm and maintaining a positive attitude in the classroom.

New Year’s Resolutions: Ignore Goals, Embrace Systems?

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It’s that time of the year—the time when we reflect upon things we would like to improve in our lives and set goals for doing so. Unfortunately, as many of us can relate to, New Year’s resolutions are often abandoned after several weeks (the average resolution is kept for eight days).

For this week’s post, I want to share an article with you in which the writer offers a very different perspective on goal setting. While his arguments may seem counterintuitive at first, I think he makes a strong case for a method that can help us be our best selves. He cites entrepreneur James Clear, who urges everyone to distinguish between goals and systems (or the actions you take).

Clear writes:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your systems, would you still get results?…Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.

Read the rest of Clear’s thoughts as well as three reasons why you should focus your energy on systems instead of goals at Inc.com.

5 Effective Ways to Teach Writing

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The first time I taught writing as an English teacher was a complete disaster. The district was collecting an ACT writing sample from each of my students in early October, so I assigned a short paper for practice. The few papers I got back were a mess, teeming with run on sentences and stream-of-consciousness ramblings. When the sample scores came back, my students had averaged 3.37 out of 12.

I started making a list of errors and marked little tallies every time the issue recurred. Over the next few weeks, I designed a persuasive writing unit that responded to the specific issues found in my students’ writing. In December, shortly after the writing unit was over, my students were re-tested for growth. This time, they averaged a 4.2. My students had grown by almost a point in just two months! Looking at my student data made me realize that the kinds of things students need to improve their writing can be taught and learned quickly.

Here are five ways to improve your students’ writing:

  1. Get Back To Basics: One Page, Indented Paragraphs, Capitalization, Periods, and Commas. It’s not a waste of time. No matter the level of the student, reviewing writing essentials is key to helping students learn standard essay structure.
  2. Teach Students to Annotate Writing Prompts. Ask students to underline each potential argument, restate confusing language in the margins, and circle the question they are being asked to respond to.
  3. Model Brainstorming and Outlining. Although teacher talk time should be as short as possible, modeling thinking with the prompt is crucial.
  4. Have Students Write In Class. Every. Single. Day. My expectation is that students will write at least one paragraph for their exit tickets every day. This is a great way to find widespread writing issues and correct them with quick mini-lessons and practice.
  5. Show Students How to Manage Their Time. I actually display a ticking pie-chart clock, divided into increments, based on where students should be in their responses.

How do you practice writing with your students?

How to Eat Like a Champ

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This article is not about diets.  If you want to learn how to lose weight or maximize your protein intake, Google it. However, this article aims to give some critical solutions to a tragic reality: busy teachers don’t eat right. To wit, here is an account of my typical morning as a first-year teacher:

6:30 a.m. 

I can’t hit the snooze button anymore. I must get up and get dressed for school so I can be the first to the copier to make my prints for the day.

 7:00 a.m. 

First one at school! Congrats. I forgot to grab breakfast. I guess I’ll take a look in my “reward drawer” and see what type of chocolate I have before I start teaching first period.

9:00 a.m.

Hungry. 

10:00 a.m.

Extra hungry.

11:30 a.m.

While walking my class down to lunch, my nose tells me that lunch is broccoli and jambalaya. The kids don’t eat their broccoli. I bet I can get a fork-full from one of their plates! I also owe myself a cookie from my “drawer” since my checks for understanding have been on point. Yum!

In other words, my eating habits were horrible. I skipped meals. I ate fast food regularly. And, as described above, my “reward drawer” was more of a panacea for hunger pains than a special treasure box for my students. Due to my poor nutrition, I had a serious case of malaise. I was tired, craved unhealthy foods, and consistently in a bad mood.

During my second year of teaching, I made a commitment to eat in a way that would provide nourishment and energy. I knew that my eating not only influenced my wellbeing, but also affected my ability to lead a classroom. With this in mind, here are four of the changes I made during my second year that helped me to develop a well-rounded, revitalizing diet.

  • Eat Real Food

“Food products” are commodities that are engineered to appeal to you—but they are not easy on your stomach. They often contain high levels of fats, sugars, and chemicals that are disastrous to your heath and energy. Use Michael Pollan’s “7 Rules for Eating” to discern between real food and food products.

  • Be Prepared

Don’t start the day without having at least two meals already prepared. Teachers have too much to do each day to worry about feeding ourselves three different times! Try meal prepping once or twice per week.

  • Cheat

Whenever you try too hard to avoid something, thoughts of that forbidden behavior will consume you. Yes, I am talking about cupcakes. Live a little! If you’ve earned a snack, have at it. Having a special treat or reward after a week of successful meal prep will help you to stay motivated and positive.

  • Drink Mostly Water

Beverage products are one of the easiest and most identifiable food products to eliminate when on a quest for a more balanced and energizing diet. Juices and sodas rack up unnecessary calories and sugar intake, and spawn cravings for unhealthy foods. Drinking water helps keep your system clear and hydrated, which helps you focus.

What are your nutrition tips for maintaining your energy throughout the day?

 

Why Laughter Is Healthy in the Classroom

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Years from now, if my students forget how to make a green screen on Final Cut Pro and the definitions in our Typography unit, or how to use specific software to edit their videos, that’s okay. Every day when I walk into the classroom, I make it my personal mission to make every student smile. Through my behavior and leadership in class, I try to promote positivity and embody an energy that brings happiness into the classroom.

I always tell my students that if I can be silly and make a fool out of myself in the front of everyone, they can feel comfortable being their silly selves, too. In my classroom I believe that the more smiles and laughter there are, the more enjoyable, accessible, and encouraging the learning process can be. By me just being my quirky self, whether it be when I dance, sing parts of my lesson, or crack jokes, I strive to create and model a learning environment where my students feel comfortable, less stressed, and just happy.

When I think about the teachers who left a positive impact on my life, from my 12th grade Government & Politics teacher to my 8th grade U.S History teacher, I don’t remember much of the content they taught me, the grades I received, or the assignments we completed. Instead, I remember the positive leadership they demonstrated, the motivation they provided, the inspiring and comforting words they shared, the advice they gave me, and the laughs and smiles I had while learning in their class. This is the impact I want to have on my students. Because like Maya Angelou famously remarked, “People will never forget how you made them feel.”

In my five months of teaching, the smiles and laughter I have helped spark in my students—even if just for a little bit—have made my teaching experience more positive, impactful, and memorable than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that the more unafraid I am to be myself in front of my students, the more open, accepting, and fearless our classroom environment becomes. Years from now, I hope my students can look back and remember not just the content I taught, but also the smile I may have put on their faces.

Motivation Monday: Share Your Knowledge

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