Meditation – A Whole School Approach

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Meditation refers to any form of practice where a person trains their mind to focus and to enter a state of relaxation and concentration. Meditation can be traced back throughout history all the way to ancient times. Meditation and mindfulness are techniques that teachers are using more and more in the classroom. However, this usually happens in Religion class and is the responsibility of the RE department. But what if we took a whole school approach to meditation. The aim of meditation is to help people relax and concentrate. If students have ways to help them concentrate this can help stop persistent misbehaviour caused by restlessness or the inability to concentrate. According to studies ‘cognitive benefits of school-based meditation programs for adolescents include enhanced ability to pay attention, improved concentration, and decreased anxiety. Meditation interventions also lead to improved emotional and behavioural self-regulation, frustration tolerance, and self-control.’ [WISNER, JONES, AND GWIN, 2010].

Meditation does not have to take long and with practice and  determination it could be included in the first class of the day and the first class after lunch or break. There are a lot of techniques and ideas on line that range from between 2 and 6 minutes long. While this might seem like a significant chunk out of a forty minute class I think most will agree that if the class is hyper and disruptive to begin with it takes more than 6 minutes to calm them down so why not give something else a go. As the meditations continue they can become shorter and eventually will be apart of the class routine. Some teachers may use it with all of their classes or some may use it for the classes that are a little giddy or worked up. Some students may not like the idea of meditation and they might think it is only for religion class or that they just don’t like it at all. In this case it might be a good idea not to refer to it as meditation but as quiet time or breathing time or settling in time.
Meditationinschools.org is a great website with a heap of resources that any teacher or any person at all for that matter can download for free. This website offers support and guidance for teachers looking to include meditation into the classroom. It also has presentations from students who have used meditation and their opinions on how it helped them in school. The website recommends the newly developed Mindspace app. This is an application which can be downloaded onto your smart phone or tablet. It offers meditations as short as one minute which would be a perfect opener for some classes. the app also gives tips and advice on how to use mediation and news about retreats or events happening near you. Students can also download the app for at home. This could be very useful for exam classes or students who feel pressured or stressed.
The aim of school is to help students develop into fully rounded successfully individuals who can actively participate in society. A study in Australia in 2015 has shown that ‘Students who were taught meditation at school reported higher optimism, more positive emotions, stronger self-identity, greater self-acceptance and took better care of their health as well as experiencing reduced anxiety, stress and depression.’ Why not try it out and see what your class thinks? I would love to hear your opinions or results.
REF: School-based Meditation Practices for Adolescents: A Resource for Strengthening Self-Regulation, Emotional Coping, and Self-Esteem Betsy L. Wisner, Barbara Jones, and David Gwin
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Catholic Schools Week

catholic schools week 2016Catholic schools week will take place this year from Sunday 31st January until the 6th of February. The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2016 is “Catholic Schools: Challenged to Proclaim God’s mercy“.  The purpose of Catholic schools week is to give schools an opportunity to explore the benefits of a Catholic education and to involve students, teachers, parents and members of the community in exploring the Catholic religion in a fun and relaxed way. This week is not only for Catholics but for everyone who wants to learn something new about the Catholic Faith. It is not about convincing people that a Catholic Education is best but to show people what it can offer to everyone.

Schools can embrace Catholic schools week by putting up posters. Some examples like the one below are available from www.CatholicSchools.ie. PP_Poster-A2-2 The website also has resources for lessons in the classroom. The senior cycle resources are really excellent and tie in nicely with the course. Schools can write newsletters explaining what is happening to the school body, parents and people in the local community. Students can hold fundraisers for the local parish or for a charity in the local community. Students can organise an information day/evening and invite people from all faiths to celebrate together. Catholic schools week is also celebrated in the USA. This could be an opportunity to use the web via Skype, Twitter, Blogging etc to connect with a classroom across the globe and compare how we celebrate Catholic Schools week. Skype in the Classroom is an online initiative that connects schools all over the world.

Grandparents day also takes place during Catholic Schools week. This could offer an opportunity to invite elderly people in for a coffee morning. You can invite Grandparents or people in the community who have little or no family. Students may make presentations for the coffee morning on how important Grandparents can be in their lives. Grandparents are often the ones responsible for handing on our different faiths, beliefs and practices. This can be a time when we thank them for it and for everything else they have done or still do for us. Students could write thank you cards or make a story or poem for their grandparent and display them in the school.

During Catholic Schools week most schools will hold a prayer service. During this prayer service it might be a nice time to remember the grandparents who are no longer with us and thank them too for everything they done during their lives. Irish Central is a website which has a page on celebrating Grandparents with quotes and prayers, some of which may come in useful for a prayer service.

Grandparents bestow upon their grandchildren the strength and wisdom that time and experience have given them.

Grandchildren bless their grandparents with a youthful vitality and innocence that help them stay young at heart forever.

Together they create a chain of love linking the past with the future.

The chain may lengthen, but it will never part.

– Author unknown.

These are only a number of ideas that can be embraced next week but there are loads more. Please comment if you have something to add or an opinion to share.

Thank you for reading.

NCCA – Being Personally Effective

School is a place associated with learning, often we only think of the content and ‘book learning’ and forget that it is also a place where we develop key skills that we depend on in later life. The NCCA has outlined five key skills that our students should be developing at senior cycle. These include Information Processing, Critical and Creative Thinking, Communicating, Working with Others and Being Personally Effective. In this blog I am going to focus on the last skill mentioned and how we can use Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom to help our students to develop this necessary skill.

This skill contributes to personal growth. It helps students become more self aware and gives the ability to use this new found self awareness to develop goals and life plans. It helps students to learn how to get things done, how to use resources effectively and act independently. There are a wide range of Web 2.0 tools available to improve on this skill they include:

MYLIFEORGANIZED.NET – This is an organisational tool which can be downloaded onto your computer, iPhone or Android. This allows you to create to do lists, create projects, set reminders, plan events and much more. This app is has a cloud based back up system which means you can access it from any device once you have your user name and password.

MIND42 – Mind42 is a website that allows you to create mind maps. This is a simple way of keeping key notes in one place. You can sign up using an email address and it is free. You can explore mind maps made by other people and rest assured all your important exam notes are safe in one place. Maps also save automatically so no worries about losing information and you can go back and look at previous versions of your mind map.

FOCUSATWILL.COM – This is a website which has music which is scientifically proven to help people to concentrate. The music plays in the background and the app has a progress tracker for you to monitor how much you are getting done while the app is open. This has a free trial for 16 days but after that there is a charge. Could be useful straight before exams or you can look up similar music on you tube for free.

MINDTOOLS.COM – This website has many different tools for decision making, stress management, problem solving, communication and many more. Some of these tools are online applications and some are downloadable forms and templates. This website is a gold mind for students and teachers alike who want to learn how to manage their lives more effectively.

NOVAMIND – Novamind is another mind mapping software. You can choose different ways of using this application for example, focusing on study, planning your life or planning a business or project. It is easy to use, you write down your ideas or information and it creates the mind map for you. Novamind Lite is free to sign up to but you have limited access to the tools however there are still lots of features you can use.

I hope some of these apps can be put into use in the classroom to help our students fully develop the skill of being personally effective.

New Year, Fresh Start

January is well known for making New Year resolutions and fresh starts so why not take advantage of this in the classroom. Begin 2016 with a fresh slate. Some ideas which can be incorporated into the classroom at this time of the year include:

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  1. Making a resolution jar. Students write down a goal or wish for 2016 and put it inside a large jar which is kept in the classroom. In May/June the teacher then opens the jar and gives the goals back to each student to see if they are still on track or have the goals been reached.
  2. Make a wish cloud – Create a large display of a cloud or a star. Students create a good thought or wish for the class or school for 2016 and stick them onto the display.
  3. Begin a reward system – If students gain enough points by the end of the school year there will be a reward. This can be done as a whole class or individually. There are loads of sample reward systems online.
  4. Make a plan – Talk to students about what must, should and could be covered by the end of the term. Set clear goals and tasks that students can work on.
  5. Start a class initiative – such as volunteering for a charity or start a pay it forward campaign. This is where students must do a good deed and ask the person who the deed is for to pay it forward by doing a good deed for someone else. You could create a blog or twitter page where deeds are recorded and people can add to it as the initiative grows.
  6. Create a class resolution list – What as a whole do the class want to achieve this year.

These are just a few simple ideas for teachers wanting to do something positive with January resolutions in the classroom. If you try some out I would love to hear about it 🙂 Good Luck

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Student Teacher Tips

On this day for the past three years I have been busily preparing for my teaching placement to start the next day. This has been a day filled with nerves, excitement, fear and anticipation. I almost never slept the night before placement no matter what time I went to bed, how much lavender I put on my pillow or how many breathing exercises I tried. This year for the first time in three years I am relaxed today and excited for the new school term to begin. The reason of course is because I am no longer a student teacher and do not have to go to school for the next four weeks with the dreaded fear of an inspector knocking on the door at any minute. However, all across the country there are student teachers preparing for placement tomorrow whether it be their first, second, third or last so I have decided to dedicate a blog to them and write down a few things I have learned along the way or things I wish I had of known on my own placements. I hope this blog reaches some of these student teachers and helps give a little calmness or confidence during their first day of placement tomorrow.

Remembering names – this is still one of my worst abilities as a teacher. Do not panic if you are bad at remembering names there are loads of ways to combat this. One of the best tips I ever got about names is to ask students one by one to say their name and one random fact about themselves such as – My name is Emma and I like playing piano. Repeat this after the student out loud. The association with piano helps to link the name to an object which makes remembering easier. If this fails have name cards in place for when the supervisor knocks.

Classroom management Create classroom rules with the students and keep them displayed at all times. Allow students to have a say in what will happen in the class. Be fair but firm. If you say something stick to it. Example if you give three warnings but then do not give a punishment work students will see it as an empty threat and you will lose respect and control. Do not hang on to a grudge if a class goes badly deal with it and move on. Students will forget if you do. If you are in the wrong admit it. If you shout at a student by mistake or lose control apologise students will respect this. If you do have to give punishment work try not give something that is pointless (many schools have rules of what to give) If you can give an essay or something students can learn from.

Apps and Online sites I love and use all the time 

Kahoot – This is an online quiz game very useful for revision. Teachers can make a quiz or pick from loads already uploaded. Students need a phone or tablet with internet access to play. Students can work in pairs or groups if the number of phones available are low. I used this in a history supervision on the Nuremberg Rallies with a TY group and the inspector loved it.

Studyclix – This is another revision aid. Teachers can access all past exam papers to create tests and worksheets. Handy for creating end of chapter exams.

Classtools.net – This is a website filled with ideas and programmes you can use in your lessons. They range from name pickers to lesson introductions to fake Facebook pages. The list goes on and on. You could spend hours just playing with the apps this page has to offer but try focus on using them to plan lessons 🙂

Dropbox – With Dropbox you can upload all your lessons, worksheets, power points and videos and can access them from any device with internet access. Everything is saved to the one place and they can be used and reused as you wish. If this is your first placement I would definitely recommend Dropbox because you will reuse the lessons and resources again next year.

Twitter – This I have only learned about this year but Twitter can be an online encyclopedia for teachers if you follow the right people. All you have to do is tweet a question and wait for the responses to fly in. For starters follow Fboss, NCCA, RTAI and Edchatie and see you they follow to get on the right track. You can also check out who I follow @5j16msdunne

See some of my previous blog posts for more apps to use in the classroom 🙂

Plan B This piece of advice is repeated so many times by supervisors and mentors but it is amazing how often we do not listen. it will not happen to us right? The classroom is a very unpredictable place. You never know what is going to happen. The internet may fail, the computer may break or the students may simply react badly to whatever you have planned ALWAYS have a plan B. Whether it be extra worksheets, a different approach or a backup revision game have something that can be adapted for different lessons.

Bring extra work Also a piece of advice that we rarely take on board. There is no worse feeling than a class ending 5 minutes early and you have no work prepared (I speak from experience) It will be the longest 5 minutes of your life. Make some extra worksheets and have enough photocopied if you have an inspection. IF you find yourself in this position and have no work with you do some class revision. Ask students to make a brain storm on the board of the mains things they learned this class, quickfire questions at students, ask students to stand you ask one student a question if they are correct they ask another student until everyone has asked and answered a question.

Ask for Help All teachers were student teachers at some point. Do not forget this. We have all been through what you are going through now. If you need help with a student, a class, a topic or a supervisor ASK there is help and support available. It could be from the staff room, your college or your friends or classmates. You are not alone in this.

Get to know the staff It can be easy to sit down on your first day at one table and stay there for the remainder of your placement but try to move around. Get to know the other teachers. They will be your support network for the next few weeks and you never know who has a friend who is a principal who needs a new teacher next year. Make a good impression.

Look after yourself This might be the most important piece of advice. Ensure you get enough sleep. It can be tempting to stay up all night to make sure your power-points are perfect but what use are they if you have a migraine the next day and cannot see properly. Teaching is a draining profession. You will be tired and you will feel run down make sure you do not take on too many extra classes or extra curricular activities. Eat right do not skip breakfast or lunch. Make some time for yourself to see friends and family even if it is only one hour on a Wednesday evening.  You will be surprised how this can help you through.

Have Fun Teaching can be one of the most rewarding jobs if you let it. Do not take everything so serious. Have a laugh and a joke with the students but ensure you have strict boundaries and the students know this too. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes students relate to you more when they see you are human too. Get involved with extra curricular if you have time (but do not take on too much) Students love to see teachers take an interest outside of the classroom. Do not hold grudges or hang on to mistakes – start everyday fresh. Do not forget to smile – students will see you are happy to be there and feel like you care about their education.

I hope these few small tips might be of a help to some student teachers. If you wish to comment or add to the list please feel free, all feedback good or bad is welcome. Good luck to everyone starting placement tomorrow especially all from Mater Dei and I hope all teachers both student and qualified have a successful and happy start to 2016.