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

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.

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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New Year New Apps

 

Christmas is now behind us and the new year is fast approaching. We have little over a week left before we are back in the classroom so today I decided to get a head start on my new year resolution which is to become more comfortable using technology and apps in the classroom. I have spent some time looking up apps for my two main subjects which are history and religion and have decided to share what I found with others who want to make lessons more interactive. All of the apps which I will explain in more detail below are free to download and are available on iPad/iPhone or android.

The first app I found today is an English GCSE study guide. It comes in different subjects but each subject needs to be downloaded separately. This series of apps is called Study Buddies. I tried the religious education one today to see how useful they would be in the classroom. When you first download you must create an account to sign in. There are two parts to the app one is a quiz like feature. You choose the part of the course and the app will generate ten questions and give you a short quiz. The second element is a section from past exam papers. Students can read the questions but they cannot edit to insert answers. One downside to this app is that in the free version only a number of sections from the syllabus are available. The rest must be purchased. While I was impressed with the initial idea and design of the app I was disappointed with the restrictions.

This next app is for the History classroom and will come in very handy in January or February depending how far along the second year history course you are. This app is an interactive timeline of the American Revolution. The name is easy to remember it is called American Revolution interactive timeline. The timeline starts at 1750 and continues up to 1950. The timeline allows students and teachers to move up and down throughout the time period, view images of artefacts and click items such as an image of the Boston Tea Party to find out some more information about the event or item. Personally this is one of my favourite apps from today’s short search. It is simple but brilliantly designed for easy use and quick access to important information.

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The third app I came across is called brainscape. This app is a flash card revision app. The main app allows a student or teacher pick a subject that they wish to study the app then creates flash cards to help you to study. The flags arc will show a question or a full in the blank the student decides when to reveal the answer. If they know the answer will then rate the question between 1 and 5. 1 means they know the information well so the app will not use this flash card frequently, 5 means they do not know the fact and the app will focus on this information more often. This app has also expended into individual subject apps for example History Brainscape which is purely for studying history. The free download has limited flash cards but for a small fee of 1.99 you can unlock all sections which in my opinion is very reasonable. I will definitely use this app in my classroom this year.

These three apps are only a small selection of the amazing things that are on offer for the classroom. I am looking forward to incorporating more and more apps and web technologies into my teaching in the new year. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the holidays and good luck and happy teaching for the new year.

Homeless Ireland

Last week marked the one year anniversary since a homeless man was found dead on the steps of Dail Eireann in Dublin. According to the Peter McVerry Trust in October of this year over 150 people were sleeping rough in Dublin every night. The minimum number of people homeless at the end of September in the whole of Ireland was over 5,000. This year alone homelessness has risen by 76% in eight months. This includes 1500 homeless people who are under the age of 18, children. (RTE: Sept 15)

The reason I have included this topic in my education blog is because I believe Education is key to helping fight against social injustice and helping bring about positive social change. As teachers and students we may not be able to house 5,000 people but by awakening students attention to the problem and highlighting ways in which they can help we may have a chance at helping even one family find a safe place to sleep.

The internet is an amazing place to find resources on almost any topic. The resources made available on Homelessness are some of the best I have used in a classroom. There are a number of charities that are set up to tackle homelessness and help those affected including:

All of these websites are filled with information, events and resources that can be adapted for the classroom. Some, such as Focus Ireland, even have a section dedicated to school resources. There are people available to come to your school to talk to students. There are plenty of fundraising activities and links to other helpful websites and resources. Below are resources I have used in the classroom. Some are slightly adapted. All taken from TES.co.uk. TES is the place to go for topics such as homelessness. You never know what you will find.

The first resource I found interesting and useful is a list of 100 facts about homelessness. I out students into groups and ask them to choose the most and least surprising. 100factshomeless

This is a power-point of statistics regarding teenage homeless. These teenagers are close to age to some of our students. This will highlight the importance of trying to help but teacher should also be sensitive if a student may be in a similar position. Runaway Children

This is a six part documentary on homeless children in the UK. EVICTED

All of these resources are free to use and completely adaptable to suit age and ability. The number of homeless people in Ireland is rising daily. We need to do our part to highlight these issues and help the charities to tackle homelessness. Our aim should be together to decrease these figures by December 2016.

Advent: Staying grounded this Silly Season

December can be easily identified as the busiest time of year. We are shopping, cleaning, planning and preparing for the silly season. Even in school we are preparing, doing and correcting end of term tests. The silly season in my opinion gets sillier every year. Every year the decorations come out earlier, the shops hang up their gift signs to entice shoppers and the season is dragged out over almost two months. With all the planning, running around and preparing how much time do we actually spend thinking about why we are doing all of these things? 

Today marks the first day of Advent in the Christian Calendar. Advent is the time when Christians across the globe prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Christmas becomes more and more commercialised every year and I think this week is a good opportunity for religion teachers to take time to really explain the importance of Advent to their students and show them the true meaning behind Christmas. Below I have outlined some excellent ideas for the classroom to celebrate advent and Christmas. Some idea’s I have found online, some are from other teachers and some are my own ideas. Please feel free to take anything you find useful or add your own in the comments below. 

  1. Create a classroom Advent calendar – Instead of sweets or toys inside there could be a good deed that all students must try their best to complete that day. This calender could be designed by the students and displayed in an area where all students can see and benefit not only one specific class group. 
  2. Project work on Key figures – Students could work in groups and choose a key figure related to advent and Christmas such as John the Baptist, The Blessed Mary or the prophets. Students can research and present on their chosen person. Adventwreath
  3. Create a class or school advent wreath – The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath there are five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of online guides for creating a wreath with students. One can be found here from Catholic Culture.org .
  4. History of Advent – Students can discover when advent began (thought to be the fourth century) and research the origins of items such as the advent calendar or the Advent wreath. They can ask family members about their experiences as a child during advent and discuss with the class. 
  5. The web has a great selection of Advent Movies that have the theme of waiting and preparing for something special behind them. You could spend hours looking for a film or short movie for your class but luckily I came across this blog which has the hard work done. (I love number 10) The Happy Certainty – Christmas and Advent for Schools
  6. Create a Jesse Tree –  The Jesse Tree is a story that day by day durinJesse_Tree_Meredith_Gould_Newg advent is pieced together to tell the story of Jesus by hanging ornaments on a tree. This could be done a number of ways in schools. A school could have one Jesse tree that all classes take turns of designing and hanging ornaments. Classrooms could have individual Jesse Trees and one is allocated to each year group. Students could also draw or paint a Jesse Tree to display and also draw or paint on the ornaments day by day.
  7. Fund raise for a Charity – With the commercialisation of Christmas has come the need to buy presents for everyone we know. Students compare lists of what they have asked for and after Christmas will compare what they received. This is an excellent time to remind students of the people who won’t receive anything this Christmas. A school could organise a carol service with a 2 euro entry fee and all money raised is donated to a homeless shelter. Student’s could invite a speaker to the service or organise a visit to the shelter.  
  8. This last idea may be suited to younger classes but students can design or create a comic or story of advent to display or present to the school. This idea I found on the Loyola Press website and I think it is an excellent way of engaging and helping to remember the story of advent. In a previous post I talked about the app StoryBoardThat. This would work perfectly for this activity or you could do it the oldfashioned way of card and paint. Either way it is an active learning experience that students will enjoy. 

These are a number of the ideas I will be implementing in my class during this advent season. I would love to hear what other people are doing. I hope everyone reading this has a peaceful and happy advent. 

Looking Through the Darkness

I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As a student I was always helping other classmates to study, helping with exams and helping with after school study. When I began my teacher training I would have thought I was very realistic and prepared for what the job would entail. I knew I would have behaviour issues, I knew some children would need more help than others, I knew there would be different learning styles and abilities, I knew not all students would like me, I knew about the long days and the work I would have to bring home with me. Despite all of this I still wanted to do it to make a difference and help students find their potential. What I was not prepared for was the emotional  impact and the heartbreak I could potentially face. I did not think about the children being sick, some terminally, students loosing people close to them, students who come from a bad home life, and the students who have no body to rely on but you. How do teachers as human beings prepare for this? Honestly I do not think we can.

In the schools I have worked in so far I have come across students who have nothing, the students from dysfunctional families and students who have lost those closest to them. In the moments I thought my heart would break. Different people deal with this is different ways. I talked to other teachers and to friends and family (omitting names of course). I also cried for these students and for how unfair their young lives seemed to be but when I was with the students I put on a friendly smile and made sure I was there for them in a supportive role. What I found most difficult is encountering the students who have serious illness. This effected me in a different way. I think this is because there is no way I can physically help them to get better. I can support and offer guidance but I cannot fight the illness. I feel helpless.

I have been struggling to deal with this for a time now but this week I met someone who offered great insight and support even if he did not realise. This person was a chaplain. He has seen a lot of the world and has encountered heartbreak and disaster numerous times. When he was asked how he dealt with this and the effect it has on him personally he said that even in the worst situations light and love in some form can be found. He used the recent Berkley tragedy as an example. Even throughout the horror of the accident the sense of togetherness and support offered by students across Ireland and America created a beacon of love and light in the darkness.

The lesson I learned from this man is that to always look beyond the sadness or tragedy and find some hope. In a school this could be in the form of friendship, love, community, support, family, small acts of kindness. Even in the worst situations there is always some light if we are willing to look. If someone passes away we have the love they leave behind. If someone is sick we have the support from friends and family. If someone has a bad home life we have the care and support from friends or teachers. If there is no light we should try to help create it. This lesson I think is very important for teachers especially RE teachers to embrace in order to help deal with the stories we will hear all the time. Next time I have a child in a bad situation I am going to try look beyond the pain to find the light and help the student to see the light also. This is how I can help in the situations which feel out of my control and what I intend on doing from this point onwards.