Friday, December 20, 2013

Yoga Club Is Fun

As 2013 comes to an end I’m happy to report on the success of  the Yoga Club at our public school.  It is off to a great start this first half of the school year.  16 girls and 3 brave boys from 6th and 7th grade signed up to do yoga once a week for an hour and a half.  We have anywhere from 11 to 19 students show up every week.  We incorporate breathing exercises, yoga postures, and meditation into our practice.  The school bought us yoga mats, blankets, and straps and is funding the program for the rest of the school year.  We practice in the cafeteria where the custodians are kind enough to move aside the tables so that we may have a big space to unroll our yoga mats.  Being involved with the relaxation techniques of yoga from an early age will give these students a strong grounding in calmness, concentration and focus that they may carry with them for their entire lives.  It’s been wonderful to see that our whole community understands this, including our administration, parents, other teachers and, of course, the students.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

2nd Year with EFL in Public School

    This new school year I started having the students take mini yoga and meditation breaks as early on as possible in my 6th grade class.  The response is always enthusiastic.  Kids love doing yoga and meditation.  They think it’s cool and they like the challenge.  After completing my Yoga Teacher Training this summer with Ananda Yoga, I’ve decided to start a weekly yoga club after-school.  I am grateful for the support of our new principal, who is willing to fund the project.  The club will start in late October and I will post an update on this blog as it progresses. 
    In the mean time I’ve found a very successful way of expanding our meditation time in our classroom. This summer I participated in the New Tomorrow Summer Camp at Ananda Meditation Retreat and watched Nitai Deranja lead families, with children as young as five, through a series of classes on meditation and yogic principles. (see his blog for lesson plans)
Nitai showed how using a bell to mark the passing of time while children meditate lets them bring their focus back to calmness.  In our class we are aiming at meditating regularly for 15 minutes.  The students easily meditate for 5 minutes at a time so far and I am confident that they will reach 15 in no time.  Ringing the bell at intervals seems to work like magic. They love the challenge and I can see that their little shoulders relax and they are less tense at the end of our sessions. 
    It’s, also,  interesting to see which activities from last year naturally continue this school year.  One obvious activity is the Personal Excellence Qualities. (see Sept. 22, 2012 blog) That seems to be the heart of my attempt at using EFL principles in a public school setting.  It’s such a natural extension of the values that we are trying to instill in our middle school students. It’s also a focus for me as a teacher.  It reminds me to expand these qualities in myself.  We put up our Personal Excellence board right away and had the students pick personal qualities that they wanted to work on to be their true best selves.  We are also identifying these qualities in the characters in our stories and novels.  This time I started out the year asking right away if they knew of anyone who exhibited all the high qualities on our board.  It was interesting to see that the replies were much the same as last year.  The students mentioned God, people like Martin Luther King Jr., and again many said their mom, which was very sweet. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Refreshing Our Bodies and Brains

    The past few weeks the students have had so much going on that we are helping them relieve stress with short hikes around our campus.  I cannot take credit for this idea.  This was suggested and begun by the other Liz on our team.  I was fortunate enough to recognize what a great and much needed activity this was especially as the year finishes with many standardized test from the state as well as the district.  Between all the test taking and the anticipation of summer vacation the students, not to mention the teachers, have been vibrating with undulating emotions and energy.
    My art class (our exploratory class time) has enough flexibility that I can take the students on a 45 minute hike every couple of weeks.  It’s been interesting to see how the students respond to this activity.  The light, feeling students were upset to find garbage along the path the first time we did this.  Now we make sure that we have bags for them to collect the garbage, which they do gladly as a way to help the environment.  The ego-active students use the time to socialize and tease each other.  Even the heavy students find their spirits lifting with fresh air, natural beauty, and exercise.  It was interesting to see my intellectual students bringing their math notes and spiral notebook so they could study for a test.  Yes, they were actually writing equations as they walked along.  We are fortunate that we can get out in nature and refresh ourselves.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Practicing Personal Excellence Qualities

      One of the strongest concepts that I’m using this school year because of EFL has been the ‘personal excellence’ qualities.  I’ve tried different approaches to help my students build a strong foundation in the many universal principles that make human beings reach a higher potential.  Qualities such as kindness, compassion, love, courage, respect, patience, positiveness, helpfulness to name some of my favorites.  My latest approach has been to work together with each individual class on one particular quality per month.  I went ahead with this idea after reading another EFL blog by the Living Wisdom School teachers in Nevada City. See the link below.
 Sharing Harmony with Teenagers–A Game

    I had both my morning class and my afternoon class list some of the qualities that they had personally been working on.  Then we voted on one quality to work on as a class for a whole month.  Each week they work on their chosen class quality and write at least three example of how they used that quality in their composition book.  We get together and share our experiences once a week.  We share in different ways at different times, either in small groups, as a whole class, or both.
    For example, for April my morning class picked ‘respect’.  I asked  them to define ‘respect’ in their own words.  They came up with, “You should treat others the way you want to be treated.”  We also looked it up in the dictionary and found synonyms like consideration and appreciation.  Some of the examples of how they have practiced respect have included
respecting their environment by picking up garbage and helping to clean up their school,
respecting their parents when they are on the phone by not interrupting,
respecting their dog by not forgetting to feed it.
    The afternoon class voted on the quality of ‘being positive’.  Again they came up with their own definition like “seeing the good in things” and “confidence” which was pretty close to the definition that we found in our dictionary.  There were many examples from my physical students about playing a game in their chosen sport where their team was losing and they did not give up and kept going.  Some won some lost but they all agreed they felt better because they knew they tried their best, stayed positive and they didn't give up.  My favorite example was from one of the physically biggest boys in class who came up with such a feeling example.  He said, “I practiced being positive this past week when my grandmother passed away.  I chose to not be so sad and I thought about all the good times I had with her.” 
      I also asked them the other day, as we looked at our ‘Personal Excellence’ board,  “Can you think of anyone that you know or have learned about that could possibly have all of the personal excellence qualities on our board?”  I loved their answers!  The first girl said, “God!”  Another said, “Moses!”  (We are studying the Hebrews and Judaism in Social Studies.) Yet another said, “Martin Luther King Jr.”  More than one student said, “My mom!”

    It’s an honor to learn and practice these qualities along with my students. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Great Soul Moves On


     This past weekend on April 21, 2013 in Assisi, Italy one of the greatest yogis of our time and author of the book Education for Life, J Donald Walters, also known as Swami Kriyananda, passed away.   Education for Life, which started a new movement in education was one of over 100 books written by this prodigious author.  This does not include the over 400 pieces of beautiful and inspiring music that he wrote, including the oratorio “Christ Lives” or his numerous other accomplishments.  I am deeply grateful to have met him and benefited from all that he shared with the world.  This planet is a much better place, with more hope and light, because he lived among us. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Keeping Myself Light

    One of the great things about being a school teacher is the breaks that we get throughout the year to recharge ourselves.  Teaching requires a great deal of energy and we need to be sure to schedule time specifically set aside for internally recharging and keeping ourselves light.

    This past week was our school’s Spring Break.  I know that the demands of the final 4th quarter at our school are going to be staggering, so I decided to go up to the Ananda Meditation Retreat in the Sierra Foothills here in California to help me get ready.

    I did a 6 day seclusion retreat which meant that I was in a wee cabin out in the woods by myself.  It’s incredibly important to take time to realign our internal self with a quiet time out in nature.  I could feel the energy flowing right to me from all the trees, wildflowers, wild life, sky, and even the rain on a couple of days. I think nature loves to share her calm beauty if we gently attune ourselves to her rhythms.  I highly recommend getting away from the demands of everyday life by yourself to contemplate the important things in life.  Then when you return to teaching in this high stress modern world you have even more to give to your students.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Painting with Garden Plants

There’s one last experience I want to share about Outdoor School before I forget it all together.  We did a very enjoyable art activity in the garden while we were there.  After learning about the life of the garden and sample tasting many of the plants, the students used plants to make paints and their own art work.   This was such an enjoyable process and of course it utilized all the Tools of Maturity.  They used what was available this time of the year for the different colors:

brown came from dirt
red from red swiss chard
green from lemon balm
yellow from yellow calendula flowers

Depending on the time of year you could use
beets or strawberries for red,
blackberries for purples.
Can you think of any other plants you could use for different colors?  It’s kind of fun to think about.

 See below for some of the art work.

calendula flowers
Mashing the calendula flower.

student art with garden paints
adult art from garden paints

example of garden paint art

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kids Respond to Nature!

     Every year we take the 6th grade students to Outdoor School or Science Camp for a week, Monday to Friday.  I’ve always thought that it was a great experience for the students as they get to have “hands-on, experiential approach to science education, and focus on adventure, self-discovery, and environmental stewardship”.  They get to explore different eco-systems such as the redwoods, marsh, beach, oaks, and meadows to name a few. 
    This year, as I looked at the program through the EFL principles, I was able to understand the benefits of this experience in even more depth.  The students mellowed with their exposure and close contact with nature.  The jaded facade that they had begun to wear as they grew use to middle school melted away and their childhood wonder came out to shine. What a great experience! 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Buddhist Mani Wheels plus Calming My Energy

     We are still studying India in Social Studies.  We finished with Hinduism and are now learning about Buddhism.  We continue with our yoga and meditation.  The students, even the wiggly ones, are sometimes so quiet during our 5 minutes of meditation.  Some are getting very aware and peaceful.  Others are able to at least relax and honor the quiet and silence in their own way.
    One project that I copied from another 6th grade teacher at our school to make what we are learning more experiential is having the students make ‘Buddhist Mani wheels or prayer wheels’.  They are easy to make and we learned a lot about Buddhist beliefs from doing this activity.  I’m learning also, since I was not familiar with this practice.

    All we used was a toilet paper roll, yellow construction paper the same height as the roll,  the chant ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’ in Sanskrit printed on plain paper, glue, and markers.  The roll is then twirled on a pencil.  It was very easy to make, and fun!
I let the students pick what they were comfortable writing.  Some possible choices were
  1. Paste the Sanskrit chant on roll and write the chant in our English alphabet.
  2. Write the universal qualities that the chant symbolizes, such as generosity, compassion, tolerance, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom. (I had to research the meaning.)
  3. Write your own prayer or wish for yourself and others.
  4. Write the qualities that you are trying to reinforce in yourself.

    Also, remember the energy chart I posted on the wall of my classroom?  (see Feb. 2nd blog) Well, I think I’m the one using it the most.  It’s in the back of my classroom and I stare at it as I’m in front of the class teaching.  I’ve needed many reminders to ‘raise my energy’ as my 6th graders enter their ‘will years’ with the surge of hormones they are experiencing.   Fortunately, I’m taking Usha Dermond’s online Education for Life class this semester and I’ve already learned ways to quickly relax and center myself so that I can clearly address the challenging situations that come up in public school.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Visiting Living Wisdom School

As the first semester ended and the second half of the year loomed ahead I was feeling in need of some EFL inspiration. Luckily, Nitai’s four day visit to the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School (LWS) began with his talk on Consciousness in Education this last Saturday. Forty parents and educators attended from many private and public schools for a very full classroom.  Students from the Living Wisdom high school also came to inspire everyone with their lovely music.

 Unfortunately, I missed the Monday visit to the school, which included more students from both the LWS middle school and high school from Nevada City, CA.  However, I had the chance to visit LWS on Tuesday while Nitai was still there. I visited the different classrooms and found ideas, insights, and creativity. The LWS Palo Alto students, inspired by the music of the older students from Nevada City, performed their own wonderful music while I was there.

     After such a great visit, I went back to my classroom reinvigorated and shared some of the ideas with my students.  They had been curious when I told them that I was going to a school that was based on yoga.  They asked, “Do they do yoga or do they study it?”

Yoga and Meditation:
    When I returned from my visit I told them about how the LWS students start their day with yoga exercises and meditation.  I wanted to have my students also start the class with yoga and relaxation.  This news was greeted with a few dramatic groans by some and enthusiasm by others but I could tell they were all curious.  Since we are now studying India, Hinduism, and Buddhism in social studies this was right on target with the curriculum.  This week at the beginning of class we practiced 5 minutes each day of hatha yoga - doing Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Chandrasana (Moon Pose), and  Trikonasana(Triangle Pose).  We are only doing the standing poses for now, mainly because of space limitations.  The yoga was followed the first day by 2 minutes of meditation while the students watched the breath (they thought this felt like a long time).  The second day we tried 3 minutes.  I did this with both my morning and afternoon class with varying results.  The most successful was the afternoon class where roughly 90% of the students seemed to do it with ease.  The students want to increase the number of minutes that we relax or meditate and I plan to continue with this throughout the school year. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

    I also shared with them the concept of “energy”.  I told them that at the LWS school the teachers and students talked about the “energy level” of the students, teachers, classroom.  I asked them what they thought “energy” meant in this context and using their words  and vocabulary (with a bit of guidance) we came up with a chart for describing the different energy levels that we experience in ourselves. I made a chart for the wall because I will be referring to that concept and using the vocabulary we developed to help them focus their energy throughout the rest of the school year.  I tied it all back to the ‘Personal Excellence Qualities’ that we have talked and written about all year, explaining that the highest levels of our energy are represented by those high qualities.  We will continue to explore this useful concept of energy.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sharing Education for Life

          This first week back at school I had the opportunity of sharing the Education for Life program with my colleagues.  It gave me the opportunity of reflecting on what I have learned from EFL so far this school year.  Having to tell others about it made me think deeply about the difference in my teaching since my exposure to this program.

          When I started using EFL back in September I told our school principal what I was attempting to do in my classroom.  He, in turn, asked me to share it with the staff.  At our first staff meeting of 2013 I gave a short presentation about this new approach.  I also wanted to inform them of the upcoming free talk by Nitai Deranja that is happening in a couple of weeks on January 26 in Palo Alto.  If you live in the San Francisco bay area I highly recommend going to this event!
As I looked back at what I had done so far this school year I noticed that I had been using EFL in my classroom on the four distinct levels that made sense to me.
  1.      I’m constantly checking to see if what I’m doing is experiential.  Are the students learning through their own experience?  In planning my lessons I try to make sure that what they experience allows them to use all the ‘tools of maturity’: physical, feeling, will, intellect.  This allows everyone to learn through their dominant tool.
  2.     Now more than ever I focus on the positive, I follow the joy.  I notice when the students are the most engaged, enthusiastic, interested.  I’ve learned that one of the things that points us to our highest potential is our passion or our level of engagement and joy in a subject.  This includes, me, the teacher!
  3.     I’ve also been basing my teaching on expansiveness.  There is a way to measure an individual’s expansiveness by using what EFL calls Progressive Development or a person’s Specific Gravity.  With the model of Specific Gravity I can gauge the level of energy behind a student’s actions, this gives me clues as to how to motivate and teach that student.  I learned that other words for energy in this context might be “consciousness or intention”.
  4.     Of course this is all student centered or a better phrase is “child oriented”.  In other words, the student is more important than the curriculum.  I cannot just throw the curriculum at them.  As the teacher, I need to constantly discern my students’ abilities and what is appropriate and expansive for each of them to bring them to a higher level.