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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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.

The CAO

This week the sixth years have had meetings with the guidance counselor  about completing their C.A.O choices. For anyone unfamiliar with the CAO, students complete this prior to completing the leaving certificate. Students who wish to attend third level education complete a form in which they  rank ten level eight college courses in order of which they would prefer to attend. Students also have the choice to list ten six/seven level courses as a safety net in case they do not receive the points they are hoping for in the leaving certificate or if they wish to attend a College of Further Education. When the results come out in August the students who have achieved the grades and get the necessary points for their chosen course will receive an offer for a college course.

Students are told to take care when completing the CAO forms. They must insure they complete the relevant information, research the courses they are imputing to make sure they are the correct ones and to put them in the correct order. The order of the courses is one of the most important things in my mind for the following reason. For example let us say a student puts nursing first, teaching second and business third on their list. August comes and the student has done exceptionally and got the points needed for their first choice. They receive an offer for the nursing course but then decide no they really want to be a teacher. If a student is offered their first place they can reject it however they will not be offered any other place on the list. This means a student will have to wait a whole year before they can apply again.

Some of the students I have chatted to about this have told me they feel extremely pressured and unsure of what to do. This is completely understandable. Students are aged between 16-18 and they are being asked to make decisions that will have a huge effect on their adult lives. They also have the stress on pre-mocks, mocks and the actual leaving cert to deal with also. My advice to students this week has been to breath.  Take a moment to sit down and think about your options. To the students who have an idea of what they would like to do I am advising them to shop around for different college courses that offer similar things in regards to the career offered at the end. For the students who do not have a clue I have told them to look at what they are interested in and to research ways they can make these things into a career. I advise all students to look at the level 6 and 7 courses. Some of these courses offer amazing skills. Many are only one year long so if its not what you want it will not last forever and you will still be young enough to start another course the following year.

Above all I am trying to get the message across that if for some reason students to not get the course they want or if they change their minds later it is not the end of the world. Like I said above you can do a PLC for a year and reapply or you could work for a year while deciding what you want to do. Students think that if they do not start college straight away they will fall behind and never go back. That is not the case anymore. People are starting college at all ages and at different stages of life. Personally I made the mistake in the example above. I put business number one and when the offer came in I said No I want to be a history teacher. At the time I was heart broken but I got some good advice from my own teacher and I signed up for a beauty and leisure course for one year. In this year I feel I grew up a lot and I felt ready for college then when the time came. I do not regret my choice for a second.

Students need support at this time in their lives. They have so much to deal with in school alongside any personal things in their home lives. If we as teachers can help them through and show them they have options and different roads to go down I think it will make the journey easier.

 

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 🙂

Working Together

This week I have been introduced to the world of Twitter (I’m a little bit behind I know). I am trying to use my newly activated twitter account to connect with people involved in education from all over the globe in order to learn something new, gather resources and maybe hear some free advice. In return I hope to be able to contribute my own resources and offer any advice I can give as a newly qualified teacher.

Today I came across the picture below and I thought it summarised my new quest perfectly. We all need a little support now and then and it is nice to know there is a whole world of it out there. On that positive note I am off to explore the world of twitter. Happy Wednesday 🙂

RT1

Blogging as a Method of Reflection

When I think about blogging and what I want to put into my blog I automatically think of other people. How can my blog help other people? What resources will others find useful? What have I learned that some other new teacher might not know yet? I never really thought about what I could take from my blog. Yes it is a nice place to keep my favourite resources but how else could it help me as a newly qualified teacher. This thought never entered my mind until I read an article by Maureen Killeavy and Anne Moloney on a study which looked at using blogs for reflective practice.

Reflective practice is a crucial part of being a teacher. No class no matter how well prepared we are is ever going to be 100% perfect. Some do go smoother than others but we still have to ask ourselves what made that class better than others? We are always reflecting even when we do not realise it. So how do we reflect efficiently? We are told to look back and see what went wrong or what worked well and build on that information to improve the next class. It is suggested that teachers, especially NQTs, keep a journal or diary for reflective practice. This is a nice idea but it is often not practical. Some teachers have eight classes a day and it can be hard to find the time to write in detail what made the class great. Often we find ourselves reflecting as we run down the corridor into the room that went downhill yesterday. When dealing with one class or one day this type of reflecting is often all we have time for (Not necessarily a good thing but we work with what we have).
What about the long term? How do we reflect on a month, six months or a years teaching? This is where the report says a blog can be extremely useful. On a blog we can document our thoughts and feelings throughout the year, the classes that went well and the ones that went not so well, our teaching and learning styles etc. We do not have to do a daily update but the report stated that teachers who blogged once or twice a week found it helpful to look back and see how far they had come. Some teachers reported that at the beginning of the school year as a NQT they felt alone, insecure, unequipped for some situations. After a year teaching they admitted to not realising how far they had come until looking back at their first blog posts and seeing that these feelings had improved or disappeared with experience. From the information we upload we can look back to see how we have changed for the good and sometimes the bad. We can see how far we have come as teachers. A blog has the added benefit that we can share it with others who have had similar experiences. People can comment and ask questions about your practice and offer advice and support which in my opinion all teachers need at some stage.
For this post I am talking about a reflective blog in the short term as in up to one year but imagine having something after a 30-40 year career in teaching to be able to look back at and say this is how far I have come and having one place to keep all the memories good and bad you have gathered along the way. This, I think, would be something extremely valuable and remarkable. This article has made me think about blogging in a completely new way and I hope to be able to use this new way of thinking to improve my blogging style in order to create something that can benefit me personally as well as other new teachers who may read my blog.