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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom (recommended book)

I've been looking forward to Teach, Breathe, Learn since I had the pleasure of interviewing Meena Srinivasan last year on The Best Children's Books About Mindfulness.

One thing I really appreciate in this book is Ms. Srinivasan's openness about her own challenges as a teacher.  

Her advice on incorporating mindfulness into daily life takes into account how hectic that daily life can be:
  • She began to practice mindfulness when she was so stressed-out and frazzled that she overheard a couple of students complain about how “mean” she was.
  • She started a 20-minute daily mindful walk because she had no place to work quietly—the other option was attempting to concentrate while another teacher taught in their shared classroom.
She also shows how mindfulness has helped her to work with difficult students:
  • A star basketball player rolled his eyes during her first mindfulness class. After class, she calmly asked him to be more respectful, but also promised to make the lessons more engaging by bringing in materials about how famous basketball players use mindfulness. 
  • She was teaching students with special needs at an international school in New Delhi. When she told them the school was hiring a new instructional assistant, one of the boys yelped, “I hope it’s not an Indian!” 
As the only American teacher of Indian origin: 
"I felt extremely hurt by his comment… [but] I politely asked him why... He found it very difficult to understand Indian accents and this made it hard for him to learn... I realized he had no intention of hurting my feelings... instead I saw a young boy who had difficulty learning, a boy who hadn’t chosen to be in India...a boy who felt frustrated.”
After exploring her own mindful teaching journey, there's a full chapter devoted to starting a mindfulness group for teachers and staff.  

Then the last ten chapters outline an eight-week mindfulness curriculum for students, including handouts, homework, and a self-assessment checklist.

The lessons are tied to the United States National Health Education Standards and Common Core State Standards, and focus on
  • Breath Awareness;
  • Body Awareness;
  • Interconnection, Kindness, and Gratitude;
  • Working with Emotions;
  • Mindful Speech and Making Healthy Decisions; and
  • Using Technology Mindfully

I was particularly pleased to see suggestions on employing a restorative approach to conflict, after the recent interview with Dr. Fiona Davis on Restorative, not Punitive Responses to Youthful Wrongdoing.

Ms. Srinivasan suggests asking the following questions:
1. What happened, and what were you thinking at the time of the incident?
2. What have you thought about since?
3. Who has been affected by what happened, and how?
4. What about this has been the hardest for you?
5. What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?

Throughout the book, she emphasizes a theme that’s come up repeatedly in the interviews and recommended books:  Practice what you preach.  Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh says in the Foreword: “We can’t transmit mindfulness if we don’t embody it first.”

Ms. Srinivasan goes even further, recommending that we also encourage our kids to be role models, which will help to spread the impact even more:
Just as you hold students accountable to the class norms, they hold you accountable…  Letting go of some control to create a sense of shared involvement with young people can be scary.   However, ... mindfulness is not about controlling yourself and others, it’s about bringing more authenticity into our lives, but doing so in a skillful way…
When we practice, share, and model mindfulness it touches the lives of not only our students but their families and communities... Over the years I’ve had many parents share with me that their child has taught them mindfulness and encouraged them to breathe during stressful situations or practice gratitude when they are feeling down... 
As a teacher you never know how many lives you will influence—your teaching continues on.
Teach, Breathe, Learn offers powerful testimony to the benefits of mindfulness practice, and gives practical advice for incorporating it into the daily lives of both teachers and students.

related posts:

Child's Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed (recommended book)

Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education  (recommended book)

Pebble Meditation: A Mindfulness Activity to Promote Peace (sample activity from Teach, Breathe, Learn)

Teaching For-Credit Mindfulness Classes (interview)