Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mindful Learning at TKAS Lanie Wilton

For most of this year our school ran “Passion Classes” where for a about 6 hours a week we (teachers) were given the freedom to facilitate learning around something that we were passionate about, or thought was important for our learners to be exposed too - and hopefully the students could become passionate about it themselves. My teaching inquiry this year has been about “What can I teach that will have a positive impact and inspire our learners?”

Through regular reflecting (from every passion class and regular blogging) I learnt that what I thought should be exciting and engaging was not always the case. I learnt more about the dynamics of the learners, and how sometimes despite all my best efforts, some classes were less effective and some were successful - simply with a different mix of individuals. Through this I learnt not to doubt myself so much. I started off teaching what I know best, thinking that would be fun and exciting. I ended up taking classes on things that are more like life skills, my goal being to have more of a long term positive impact.

Part way through the year a colleague and I attended an Educamp Hui in Hawkes Bay where other teachers shared what they were doing. I realised again just how modern our teaching approach is at TKAS, and the freedom we have here to teach in a way that is student and future focused. (Its awesome!) This educamp reminded me of that freedom and made me think - “what skills do I think are really important to learn?”

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis teaches the importance of ‘calming the brainstem’ before learning can take place. I decided I wanted to incorporate relaxation into my passion classes. Early in the year I combined art and music as much as possible, but found this wasn't enough. I read a book on ‘Mindfulness’ and here I found some gems. My favourite was the ‘chocolate meditation’ that I was only too keen to try out - and knew our learners would love it too. This was a descriptive piece of writing that I read aloud and had the students imagine they were eating a piece of chocolate (worked a charm for me). After completing this successfully they graduated to actually eating a piece of chocolate (and other interesting foods) through mindful eating.

I designed a specific passion class around ‘Mindfulness’. Its something I practice daily, but I realised that not everyone does. I can see the importance of it in all walks of life, especially useful for a student. Mindfulness has been found to ‘boost resilience’ and I know our learners will only benefit with more of it. 

The class opened up the doors for students to learn about Laughter Yoga, Relaxation techniques, Mindful eating and meditation. I had loads of fun creating an introduction video on Laughter Yoga with students from all over the school. In the video we practiced all kinds of laughter and belly breathing. (In the process I also had to learn how to make and edit a movie using iMovie - students taught me alot). I used this as a warm up activity in learning about Mindfulness, as a way to have fun and laugh at ourselves. 

Mindful Eating was a real hit with the learners. I bought in different foods (such as a raisin, nut, bitter sweet chocolate, mystery dried fruits) and we took our time eating as slowly as possible. We talked about the difference between scoffing food and enjoying it, savouring it. I know this had an impact as kids would come to me days later telling me how different things tasted at home when they were mindful.  

During the passion class students spent around 10 minutes doing a relaxing activity of their choice. Most chose to colour in (we had spoken of the benefits), a few played chess and a couple read books. This reminded me of how useful these simple activities are in calming the brainstem, in order to focus on learning. Now I am able to see the usefulness of integrating these activities - with some students in particular, to help them in the classroom. It sounds simple enough, but as a teacher you have to constantly choose your battles, determine when a learner is being difficult or when they are just tired and need a brain break. I don't always get it right, but the more I know our learners, the easier it is to recognise. 

How does Mindfulness link to the NZC? It teaches learners to ‘Think’ and think about thinking, learn about ‘Managing Self’, and how almost everything you do is ‘relating to others’.  At TKAS we teach to our Learning Muscles, and Mindfulness also links to many of these (empathy, imagination, reflection, curiosity, courage, reasoning, experimentation, investigation).
Mindfulness is something I know we need to use as teachers too. Its taking a deep breath and pushing reset. Its switching on, and switching off. Its showing appreciation and knowing when to take a break. Ive learnt a lot about it as I have had times where I haven't switched off, and tried to do too much for too long. As teachers its probably something we all do at times. We care about our students, and worry at times, it can be difficult to put that in a box or leave that in the classroom when there’s a lot going on.  Im learning to not take things too personally. That kids can be kids and sometimes you just need to put on a funny accent, laugh at yourself, or just breathe through it. Team teaching can be really helpful for this at times. 

A new inquiry for me is “how can I incorporate mindfulness in all my workshops”? So often I learn great tips, ideas and strategies for teaching, this is one of them. This is one I want to continue with and to build on in future teaching. 

Mindfulness book:

1 comment:

  1. I was really interested in relaxing the brain through an activity such as colouring. I have always said that when we are painting or drawing in class, the conversations are at a whole different level. Your post gives me an explanation for this that I hadn't realised before. Students seem freer and open up when they are doing art and relaxing. Thanks Lanie, Loved the post!