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

Team Teaching

Team Teaching is ‘a group of two or more teachers working together to plan, conduct and evaluate the learning activities for the same group of learners.’ (Goetz, 2000) Team teaching is becoming more popular in education today. The advantages of team teaching include: students have two teachers to ask for help and support, students can connect with a different personality, different teaching and learning styles will take place, there is support for the teachers, lessons are planned together incorporating different ideas and creativity and teachers working together model teamwork and cooperation for students to experience. However there are also difficulties with team teaching. These can include a conflict of interests, clash of personality, an unfair distribution of the workload, different teaching styles, marking tests and classwork, different discipline methods and a feeling of unease teaching in front of a peer. The last one I think is a very real fear for some teachers. This week I was asked by a teacher to co-teach a lesson on minority religions. I agreed straight away but when I was planning what to bring to this lesson I found I was much more critical of my resources and approaches than I normally am. This got me thinking about this blog post and how we can overcome these fears of judgement in order to utilise team teaching to its maximum potential. From researching about team teaching I have compiled a list of ten ways to overcome any fears or hesitations you may have when it comes to team teaching. Feel free to add to this, agree or disagree below in the comments.

  1. Be prepared: Get together with your co-teacher and plan the lesson together. Talk about what resources you will use and the approaches you will take. Will you split the class or take turns teaching?
  2. Get to know the Co Teacher: Establish a rapport with the person. You will be working very closely with them for a number of weeks or months it is important to try to get along as much as possible.
  3. Know your content: If you know what you are talking about you will find you are less nervous. No body wants to make a fool of themselves in front of a peer (or anybody for that matter).
  4. Know your classroom: If possible go to the room you will be teaching in. Make sure there is enough space and you can both walk around to interact with students. No body likes an awkward side step or to fall over each other.
  5. Communicate: Talk about your teaching and learning styles with the co-teacher. What are your opinions on discipline? How do you reward students? Try to co-operate and merge your styles to create something that works for both of you.
  6. Be honest: If you are nervous before the class tell the other teacher. More than likely they feel the same or they will understand if you do happen to make a mistake or two before settling in.
  7. Observations: Sometimes peer teachers decide to observe each other teaching first in order to see how they can merge together successfully. Only difficulty is deciding who goes first 🙂
  8. Take it for what it is: The aim of team teaching is not to judge each others teaching abilities but to offer support for the students and each other. Realise that the focus of the lessons is not you it is the students.
  9. Reflections: Meet regularly with your co teacher to talk about what is going well and what needs to be looked at in a different way.
  10. Just do it: No better way to get over a fear than to jump straight in 🙂

These tips have helped me prepare and calm down for my first team teaching experience. I hope they can do the same for somebody else.

Happy Teaching 🙂

Who looks after the Teacher?

In a lecture last week a discussion arose on the role of the teacher. A teacher is many things in the classroom and one of the primary roles a teacher takes on is one of carer. Students look to the teacher for guidance, support, encouragement, praise and so much more. Most of the teachers time in school and at home is spent thinking about his/her students. We think about how to improve their educational experience, we think about what resources and ideas they will respond well do, we think about their well-being, we think about what we need to do to help them in lots of different ways. When you think about teaching like this it is not surprising that teaching has an association with a nurturing role. This role can be extremely rewarding but it can also be extremely draining. If a teacher has eight classes a day with approx 25 students in each class that is a lot of thinking, worrying, planning and nurturing that a teacher does in one day. And at the end of that day who looks after the teacher?

Teachers rarely see themselves as the ones who need to be looked after but they could not be more wrong. In order to be fully capable to look after your students you first have to make sure you are completely healthy – physically, emotionally and mentally. After the discussion on the teacher I went online to look for ways that teachers can look after themselves to ensure they can do their job without burnout. From the different articles and advice columns I found I have compiled a list of advice for teachers. Some might seem obvious but its amazing the little things we sometimes forget to do.

  1. Keep track of your feelings. Note things that make you stressed, worried, anxious and also happy and excited. This way you can try avoid the stress but also be aware of what is happening daily in your life.
  2. Write down 6 highlights from your day. Often we focus on what went wrong in class and the positives get forgotten about. If you have the highlights of each day noted at the end of the week you can remind yourself why you love your job.
  3. Focus on what you can control. Teachers are not super heroes. We cannot control every single thing that happens in a class or a school. Do not take on the responsibility when it is out of your control.
  4. Say No. Again we cannot do everything. Time management is crucial for teachers. Taking on a lot extra curricular activities may make look good on the CV but realistically when will you fit in time for sleep?
  5. Find a stress management technique that works for you. Some people go to the gym, some people read a book or some people scream into a pillow. Whatever you feel works do it!!!
  6. Try to keep a healthy lifestyle A  healthy body can handle much more than a tired worn out one. Healthy eating and exercise might not sound like fun but the rewards are there to be reaped.
  7. Talk. Whether this is to a friend, a family member, a fellow teacher or someone on an online blog. All teachers need support at some stage and there is plenty available if you ask. Like the old saying goes ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’
  8. Have an off switch. Teachers often have to bring work home with them. This happens to everyone at some stage but this does not mean it is ok to sit up until 3am preparing lessons or grading tests when your alarm is set for 5:30am. Set a time limit on school work and stick to it. Make time to have dinner, see family and go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  9. Think Positive If your are having a bad day try to think positively about tomorrow. Smile even when you do not feel like it. It is amazing the power the mind can have over the body.

This list is no where near exhaustive but I think its a good starting point that I plan on using myself. Feel free to add to this list in the comments or add your own stress management technique. It might just help someone else have a good week. 🙂