Sunday, December 13, 2015

Conscious Breathing

How important is breathing? I know silly question, right? We would be dead if we did not breath.  Yet, how often do we even notice we are breathing.  Do we notice how differently we breath at different times.   Not only that, but I’ve found that my body often craves oxygen.  How often do you stop to take a deep breath?  Try it right now – stop and take a deep breath.  Fill your lungs all the way to the top and then gently let the air out.…. Notice anything?  When I do that I relax automatically on the exhalation and I can feel that my body is happier and more nourished.

This year at school I have been blessed with an extra art class and less time for everything else,  In middle school this means no extra (prep) preparation time.  I’m enjoying it immensely, truly, because stopping and breathing often is helping me get through all the fun and excitement that middle school provides.  Then again, I happen to enjoy being around 6th graders.  I know, it's crazy.

I’m also continuing to encourage my students to breath consciously.  One helpful use of conscious breathing is during those pesky transition times when we are switching from one activity to another.  For example, when we need to go from our Language Arts lesson to our Social Studies period.  We stand up, we stretch, then comes that time when everyone needs to pull out their new materials and books.  Why does it seem to take forever to pull out just a couple of items?  There’s always tons of noise, talking, and distractions.   This year I had an inspiration as I was waiting and trying to notice who or what was holding us up.  I just told the students, “If you are ready and waiting for your classmates, just notice your breath as you inhale and exhale and start counting you breaths.”  Instantly, the class got calmer.  The students that were dawdling or distracted all of a sudden had the space to concentrate on what they needed to do.  Hallelujah!  Now, we have that as one of the tools we use for getting ready.

Yes, Education for Life has changed the way I teach irrevocably, the way I look at each student, and the way I deal with the energy in the classroom.  This year I continue to rely on everything that I learned through Education for Life.  Each school year has me using some of the same techniques I learned with EFL.  I continue to use more experiential learning and a focus on instilling life skills into my students.  Through it all I center myself and my students through our breath.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Art Class Project
During this past school year I’ve been listening to the Living Wisdom School teachers in Palo Alto talk about having their students BREATH.  They are my go to inspiration for how to follow the Education for Life principles.  So as they talked about their experiences in encouraging their students to breath I paid attention.  After all, I know from my own yoga practice that the breath is a physical way to control our thoughts, emotions, and energy.  Can you use breathing anytime anywhere?  Yes!  You do not need to pull out your yoga mat or meditation pillow in order to stop, breath, and relax.  I tried it with my students and the results were instantaneous!  

The first time I tried it was with Oliver (not his real name) in my art class.  Oliver was wound up and going at 100 mph: talking, out of his seat and bothering even his friends.  I went over to him and out of desperation asked him to stop and take a big breath, let it out, and count the next 100 normal breaths.  I was amazed when he did it with no further prompting from me. As he finished counting his last breath he picked up his markers, went back to work calmer than I had ever seen him before. 

It even works with students that don’t know me.  As I was walking across our large middle school campus on my way to my first class I was going through our crowded courtyard with hundreds of 6th, 7th, 8th graders.  (We have over 1000 students.)  I saw a group of 8th grade boys overly rambunctious and rough-housing with one another.  Instead of hollering at them to keep their hands off each other I told them to stop and take a big breath and relax.  I was amazed when they in unison stopped and took a big breath like they were in the middle of a yoga class and then smiled at me like I had done them a big favor. 

What a useful tool to give these students and it is so simple.   

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our November Gratitude Garden

        Our personal excellence quality for the month of November was, of course, ‘gratitude'.  Everyday the students and I each thought of at least one thing that we were grateful for.  After seeing a unique way to make a thank you card on Pinterest I decided to have each student make their own ‘gratitude flower’.
They wrote one thing they were thankful for on one petal a day and at the end of the month they  each put their own flower of gratitude together.  It was wonderful to see each student get in the habit of looking for all the things that they were grateful for in their lives.  We are so fortunate to have so much bounty in our everyday world and we seldom stop and appreciate how lucky we are.  I put up our flowers on our ‘Gratitude Garden’ wall so that we would remember to continue to be grateful and just so we could admire them.
Students wrote one or more things they were grateful for in their life everyday on a petal.  At the end of the month they cut them out, we hole punched the leaves, and used a brass fastener to hold them together.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Random Acts of Courage

       In case people are wondering if I'm still practicing Education for Life in my public school classroom the answer is a resounding,  "Yes!!"     EFL is becoming part of my DNA.   I work with a whole new batch of 6th graders every year which lets me reuse and expand the activities that I liked, that worked in the previous two years, and that I feel will benefit this year’s 6th graders.   
        One thing that I am doing this year is extending the Personal Excellence qualities or universal principals from previous years.  I’m using a “Word of the Month”.  This is not a new idea.  What is different is the depth of use.  Whatever quality I pick is our theme for the month.  For example, I chose “Helpfulness” for September.  Being helpful is an activity that will lead the students to begin the year successfully, allow them to experience the joy of giving to others, and help them to be the type of person others would want to include as their friend.
       At first I let them practice “helpfulness” on their own while documenting their experiences daily in their writing journal.    We also read stories of people that showed this quality and we looked for this quality in historical figures in Social Studies.  Half way through September the activities were feeling a bit static so I found a “Random Acts of Kindness Board” activity on the web.

      I went ahead re-wrote and tailored it to “Random Acts of Helpfulness”.  By the end of the month the students were in the habit of looking for ways to be helpful in class, at school, at home as well exercising their will to finish the challenge of finishing the "Random Acts of Helpfulness" board.

For October the word is “Courage” and within a few days of practicing courage the students were clamoring for a “Random Acts of Courage” handout.  They were having a hard time figuring out how to be courageous and they wanted the challenge of trying to finish 16 acts of courage.  At first they thought courage meant things like saving someone from a burning building.  But soon they realized that it's the small acts of courage that prepare you for the bigger acts of bravery.  This time they came up with all 16 acts of courage ideas themselves and I just wrote it up for them.  This is what they picked.

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.