Every year I teach summer school. It’s three weeks, and as my business is based on the educational school year I have to work – taking two months off is simply not an option. Having taught high school English and Drama for ten years full-time I’ve managed to sidle in with a summer school principal who keeps calling me back every year. So, I go. I work. I teach ‘English’ or even better – ‘English preview’ meaning that I need not mark assignments and that my only responsibility is readying the kids for their grade ten year of English.
Until this year I stuck to the English curriculum with a sprinkle of my usual passions: self-knowledge, character building and the like. But this year, as I’m writing a book for secondary school teachers on using mindfulness in the classroom, I decided to fully immerse these fifteen-year-olds into meditation, identity, self-management and effective communication. In order to really prepare them for next year I’d teach them what I know will make the biggest difference to their education (and life) – how to learn. As I’ve learned over the years (through research and experience) when we are fully present and willing to take some risks – we have a much better chance of attaining scholastic success.
There is nothing more important to me than guiding young people toward healthier and happier futures and I know that at this point in time mindfulness is the way.
On the first day I explained to both of my classes totalling fifty students that this wasn’t going to be their usual summer school experience. That, what I know will impact their education, is their ability to take better control of their minds and to understand and process emotion with less judgment and a lot of courage. That getting to know themselves better, now, will impact their lives in ways that they can’t yet imagine. They stared at me with blank expressions and a tinge of curiosity. I plowed ahead and gave them CAMM tests to determine how mindful they were, their anxiety levels and their self-perception. Emotions were also gauged through these tests which I had them fill out again on their final day of summer school (my own informal, empirical study). I have learned that there were great differences between the first day of class and the final one, after three weeks of daily meditation and mindfulness lessons.
On the second day I explained to the students that their brains were still developing and that they had the opportunity to help build themselves the very best brain they could – after all, they would need it for life. I let them know that their brain and their reactions to life were the only things they could control, and that they should do whatever they could to insure that they’d be ready to handle life (and grade 10 English of course!). And so it began.
I explained that through meditation they could help develop a brain with more neuroplasticity and that it would mean when they wanted to think in a different way, like more positively, they’d have the brain strength to do so. Or that, if they were experiencing pressure from life or social media or various factors beyond their control, they’d feel less anxious. “Does anyone have trouble sleeping? You know, when you can’t stop your brain from thinking?” Many hands go up along with serious nods.
I guide them through various meditations coupled with ‘life lessons’ where I share knowledge with them that I wish I had learned when I was their age. I’m giving them a heads up! They are respectful and sometimes, in one of my more impassioned speeches, they are listening with such intensity and I can see them sincerely taking it all in – even valuing it. I’m emboldened by their listening and continue the process. Every day, for thirty minutes, I guide a five minute meditation followed by a speech about life and how to best prepare yourself to live a happier, healthier and more successful one.
As it’s ‘English’ class I still do my job – after all, I was hired to help them with their writing and oral presentation skills. So, I have them write about mindfulness after explaining how so many people walk around on autopilot, barely able to be present to any given moment – even the ones they’ve looked forward to the most. “Are you mindful or mindless?” I ask them. Think about the way you think – then you will be a better learner and not just in school, but in every facet of your life. They wrote and without using their real names, I will share some of the highlights.
Mindfulness comments from students in summer school with daily morning meditation practice.
When I’m mindful it feels good walking outside and I love listening to the birds and to the silence. I look around at everything that I was missing out on in the world like the flowers, the sky and everything else.
When we started meditating, I can feel that something is changing. You can feel your body moving, hear the sounds of your surroundings, the temperature, and you can actually enjoy walking. All that I can say is that there’s been a big change for me. I’m now aware of what’s happening, and all that is because of practicing mindfulness.
At the beginning of class I had some trouble clearing my mind but now I focus on my mind to clear all the stuff that has been bothering me. Since in class we do this every day I find this helpful in my life and I’m able to clear all my unhappy thoughts I go through.
We need to train our mind to live life. Not like ‘auto-piloting’ though it.
Mindfulness helps us open our inner eye, and that eye helps us see things we have never seen before and notice things that we’ve never noticed. I practice mindfulness and it helps me to explore myself and the world.
When I read their paragraphs I realized that I am on the right track – that these kids need and want this kind of education. Their generation is attached and addicted to their devices and technology and forcing them to just sit, breathe, and accept themselves is a welcome change. With each new day the students would be ready and willing to meditate – sitting up straight without prompting, some even closing their eyes before being instructed to do so. There is nothing more important to me than guiding young people toward healthier and happier futures and I know that at this point in time mindfulness is the way.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, CipherN.