Guest Post from a Mindful Teacher, Ashleigh L’Heureux

Guest Post from a Mindful Teacher, Ashleigh L’Heureux

 

Mindful Moments in Our First and Second Grade Inclusion Classroom

In a democratic and inclusive school where students have autonomy and work with a variety of peers, my first and second grade classroom can feel quite chaotic at times. With art supplies spread around, conflicts arising in the block area, and a child crying on the rug, teachers and students can feel overwhelmed. Our class has found mindfulness to be one way to regain some peace and calmness in a busy, fast-paced day.

Our class has a beautifully diverse group of students, some who are in school for the first time and some who have experienced an immense amount of trauma in their six short years. They are still working on understanding how to express their feelings and emotions in productive ways as well as learning how to collaborate and resolve conflicts with their peers. Employing mindfulness has been a way for us to work on some of these skills.

Even the most well-developed lesson plans don’t always work out the way I intended. A classroom full of 20 active bodies can feel chaotic and overwhelming, both for teachers and students. Something as simple as a mindful minute—coming back to a moment of focusing on our breath and stillness has helped us have a break from the busyness and re-center ourselves. We really love to ring a chime and focus on the sound for as long as we can until we can no longer hear the ringing.

It was crucial for me to have an experienced mindfulness teacher lead sessions with my class in the beginning. I was able to hear new language to use when explaining mindfulness to young children. I was able to see ways to also talk about and debrief our mindful practice so that they became more meaningful shared experiences. We would discuss what we noticed about how our feelings changed, how our bodies felt, or how the activity made us feel.

My class of first and second graders really enjoys read alouds and we have been able to incorporate some books about mindfulness into our day. Moody Cow Meditates by Kerri Lee MacLean and Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance have been two favorites. My students also especially love to lie down and practice mindfulness. They often ask, “Can we do a body scan today?” There are times when mindfulness is up on our schedule for the day and I get caught up in other events of the day and forget to do it, but the students remind me – “What about mindfulness?” they ask. It has become clear to me that my students truly enjoy and find value in this experience.

But I didn’t decide to include mindfulness in my classroom just for my students. I too felt the need to find moments of calm and peace in a busy and distracted day. There have been times when I have felt my patience wearing thin and instead of reacting quickly to something, I have said out loud to my students, ”I am going to take three slow breaths and then I can help you.”  This small pause has allowed me to feel more in control of my words and actions as well as helped my body to relax in tense situations.

My idea of mindfulness has expanded beyond just focusing on breath and meditation. As a class, we talk about how to be mindful at recess and notice if we see someone who does not have anyone to play with. We’ve also thought about how to be mindful when we are packing up at the end of the day and there are many bodies in a small space by the cubbies. It has helped us think about how to move mindfully and be aware of others around us. And our discussions about heartfulness and gratitude have connected nicely to our work on empathy and continuing to develop social skills.

As I begin to plan for this upcoming school year, I am thinking about how to incorporate mindfulness even more into my other lesson plans. It doesn’t need to be a separate subject or an additional item on our class schedule. Mindfulness can also be interwoven into what we are already doing. Maybe some writing prompts during literacy about reflecting on our mindful experiences. Maybe some closing circle prompts that help us engage in mindful activities. I have also included mindful experiences as part of children’s homework packets. I have found that the more it is incorporated throughout the day in various ways, the more it begins to become a habit and a tool that children can access and use on their own when they need it.

Ashleigh L’Heureux teaches a combined first and second-graders at The Mission Hill School, a Boston Public Pilot School.


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