Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mindfulness in the Schoolhouse

One activity I enjoy outside of school is Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises ideally practiced in a 104-degree room at 40% humidity. I find it to be relaxing, challenging, and a great opportunity to practice focusing my mind. The teachers encourage us to be "present" in the room, which sounds simple, but is extremely difficult, as I, like many people, live in a perpetual state of multitasking. Spending 90 minutes thinking only about my breath and my movement is an act of supreme discipline, as well as a gift.
This post about the possibilities of including mindfulness in classrooms highlights the value of the practice for reducing the stress, anxiety, and feelings of failure many students may experience in school. A key element is of mindfulness is that it rejects judgement. In my Bikram practice, one of the greatest lessons has been to use the mirror in the room for self-instruction, rather than self-judgement. Instead of viewing myself through a lens of imperfect performance, I adjust my form from the mirror's feedback and honor my progress toward full expression of the postures.  Just as this judgement-free approach allows me to take risks by trying harder and possibly falling out of position in the Bikram classroom, mindfulness practice may make school classrooms safer for children to take risks in their learning.
While exploring links in the post regarding mindfulness, I noticed this post about negative brain changes from school stress, and strategies to mitigate it. All of this content is timely for me, as I recently participated in a Title I conference in my district, during which Dr. Tammy Pawloski, Director of the Center for Excellence at Francis Marion University, presented a keynote about brain research. Dr. Pawloski talked to us about the toxic impact of stress from poverty and other factors on brain chemistry and strategies (slide 117 of link) to counteract the effects. I plan to use these resources to support my teachers as they reflect on and continue to develop their repertoires of strategies to reduce students' stress and increase their achievement.

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