The Decisive Element

I recently wrote an article for the ISTE Teacher Education Network with a focus on mindfulness. May is mental health month, and that fits so well for us educators. This is a CRAZY time of year to work in school districts. But as the school year begins to wind down for many across the nation, and even though the end of the year business is in full swing, now is the time we can try new things, dip our toes into teaching those soft skills or new technology, and continue building relationships with students. With that in mind, put on your risk-taking shoes for a moment and take a walk with me into a forest full of mindfulness, health and wellness, school safety, and technology. Those things can exist as different trees in the same forest, so here are a few ideas how to make them work for you, your students and staff.

If I Could Stand

Mindfulness can get a bad rap, depending on how you use it and the community you teach in, but it is a very important skill for both educators and students to have. Along with mindfulness comes self-regulation, co-regulation, trauma informed, and believe it or not, those tie in nicely with health and wellness at school, as well as with school safety and technology. Let’s start with our own mindfulness and health as educators. We are, according to Dr. Haim Ginott, the decisive element in the climate of the classroom. With that in mind, creating a classroom climate that is joyous, inspirational, humourous and healing should be the goal each day. The weather inside the classroom needs to be sunny. A cool breeze is fine along the way, but monitoring ourselves and working on our own self-regulation is key to accomplishing this. On days you are really struggling, find that person in your hallway, building, or district who can be your co-regulation partner, the person whose presence can calm you, make you happy, and/or make you feel safe. Be open about this with students too, so that you can model how important it is to have someone who can help regulate you and that we can all be that for someone. I strive daily to be that for others and my students. Those students living out a trauma filled life or having suffered trauma need that, so let’s give it to them.

Beside myself

How? Start by simply being mindful of your current mood and level of self regulation, seek out your co-regulation partner if needed, and then start being aware of the students in front of you. Look for opportunities to find out what lies beneath the unwanted behaviors, meet the anger, apathy, disrespect, and more with kindness. Being flexible means you may bend, but you don’t break, so you can be kind and still keep the classroom environment safe for all students. One example of how I do this is greet tardy students at the door with a smile, and then I say, “I am so glad you made it! What kept you?” I then mark them tardy or not, as the case warrants, and the student does not feel anxious, angry, or humiliated right from the start. Does your school hand out tardy slips to students arriving late? Create new ones with a similar happy message. Above all, be aware of your own feelings and emotions as you respond to students or coworkers in moments where their own emotions are spinning out of control.

Would I see me or maybe someone else

Practicing Mindfulness in the classroom also pays great dividends for yourself and students. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we need to meet these tiers before any learning can begin. Bloom’s Taxonomy has its place, but only after Maslow’s has been addressed. So what does that look like in the classroom?  We can start with knowing how our students are doing when they arrive to class. While there are a lot of ways to do this, there are some educational technology programs that can do it quickly and anonymously.

Check In:

  • Pear Deck offers a nice built in check of how students are feeling. It’s a simple color coded emoji that then appears with their name where only you the teacher can see it. I celebrate when I see green (good), and I make sure I touch base with the reds (bad) at some point during class.
  • Nearpod can also be set up to take a quick poll or multiple choice of how students are feeling emotionally to start of class.
  • Google Forms can also be an easy way to gather this information. Use it as an entrance and exit ticket to see if you were able to create enough of a safe and loving environment for those students who start off in the red zone of disturbed emotions.
  • Google Slides can be a fun way to gather the emotional barometer of the room. To keep it anonymous, have students create a slide or start with a template loaded into Google Classroom. Younger students can drag and drop emojis or characters that represent how they may be feeling onto their slide then turn in. It can be that simple or have them type a short sentence to go along with it. Older students can use their Bitmojis to show how they are doing or feeling. If the class is fine having this not be anonymous, create a Slides deck where each student has their own slide. The process is the same, but now all students can check in on the Bitmojis or emojis of the rest of the class.
Created by one of my sophomore students.

‘Cause it’s hard to please

My classes wanted to share by being on the same slide deck, though still divided by class. They like seeing how their classmates are doing and how they want to be doing, which is a little tweak to the original check in that I added. A few students do not have the Bitmoji app, so they grabbed emoji clipart or gifs off of the internet to use instead. If you teach littles, or you don’t want students to spend any of those extra minutes finding their own clipart or gifs, then an easy solution is to do one of the following:

  • Create a Google Drive Folder to store the emojis that you want to offer as choices for your students to use.
  • Include a selection of emojis off to the side of the slide (template) so that students can just drag the one that best describes how they are doing over onto their slide.

Most Everyone

Because I try to create a close knit community in each of my classes, I take the advice of Tara M. Martin frequently and allow myself to Be Real. So once we started sharing how we were doing on our Slides, my students wanted to know how I was doing each day, so I began adding my Bitmoji to my very own slide too. I debated at first on how real to actually be, but once I started participating, I found it easier and easier to just be me. While I project my very best while with students, I decided that it might help them, or at least some of them, to see that I am human, I struggle, and I always hope for better.

When your spirit’s got you on the run, on the run

So spend some time during the last few weeks of school getting to know yourself and your own triggers. Give students a peek inside at the real you, but still set the climate of your classroom through your own reactions, attitude, and by what you project intentionally. Then, turn your eyes toward your students. Once you know, to the best of your ability, how your students are doing emotionally each day, help them move toward self-regulation. Understanding our emotions is a big step in the right direction. Let’s do this.

Partial heading titles are from the song I’m Okay by Styx.

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