Thank God it’s Monday; The Miracle of Mindfulness
When students have experienced trauma, they often relive its effects.
Over and over, again and again, their bodies are being hijacked by their own brains, and the results make their performance in the classroom a challenge. They can’t focus on academics, and they can’t connect relationally to their peers and staff, because they are constantly in the fight, flight, or freeze mode. These students lash out without any apparent provocation. They shut down, run off, and demonstrate all manner of irrational behavior.
If you’re looking for more information on the effects of traumatic stress on the brain, please take a look at this insightful article: http://www.acesconnection.com/blog/the-developing-brain-and-adverse-childhood-experiences-aces
If you’re here, I’m assuming you know a bit about the brain research and are reading for some practical application of this knowledge.
One technique we can employ to alleviate the effects of this heightened state is mindfulness. Helping students to examine what they are experiencing in the present can help them regulate. This is a technique you can employ easily in your classroom, AND it’s a technique that you should teach them to practice on their own.
Before teaching a student how to do it, you should simply model and practice it in your classroom with the entire group. In fact, it’s a wonderful activity for all students in all school settings. Even if we didn’t have the NEED for the technique, it would be a fun and effective language arts exercise. Aside from its therapeutic usefulness, I love to use it when I’m teaching descriptive writing, and the use of sensory details in writing.
You can use any number of available sensory items for this activity, and once you see what I’ve done, I’m sure you’ll come up with all sorts of ideas of your own.
This version of the activity calls for candy. You can choose a creamy chocolate, a super-sour concoction, something with some heat, or anything that will incite a strong reaction…at least to start with. I like to start with the strong stuff and as the year progresses and the students become more proficient at discerning tastes as well as expressing the sensations, I choose flavors that are more subtle. So let’s start with Warheads Extreme Sour.
Explain to the group that you’re passing out something to eat and that they should refrain from unwrapping the candy until you give the signal. Once you’ve distributed the candy to the entire class, explain, without talking, that they will unwrap their candy and place it in their mouths. Direct them to focus on the sounds, sights, tastes, and textures they observe as they unwrap the candy and pop it in. Describe to them that they should concentrate, solely, on what they are noticing, and to write down every sensation, but without judgement.
In mindfulness activities we are trying to eliminate judgements so they can’t describe the candy as “good” or “tasty”. They need to describe what is happening. The entire activity takes about 3 minutes.
After practicing this technique, you’ll find that, in most cases, your students are calm, alert, and attentive. You’ve increased their sense of safety by feeding them a little something, and you’ve provided nurture. You’ve helped them to regulate through your sensory provisions and by leading them through this mindfulness activity. They are perfectly prepared for academics.
This act of being in the moment will aid them in paying attention to the academic moments. This is the aim of every classroom teacher – we all want our students to attend to the tasks at hand; making every moment of a busy day count. There is, after all, always so much to do!
Mindfulness helps to improve concentration and it also bolsters our immune system. There is even evidence that it has aided in the treatment of some psychiatric disorders. In fact, one of the more recent findings is related to the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural networks throughout a person’s life. Through the use of our therapeutic techniques (including mindfulness) in the classroom, we are helping our students to rewire their brains, and achieve healing from the consequences of ACE-s related stress which occurred during the development of their brains.
With the realization of all of these great benefits, it’s hard to believe it can be so simple!
It doesn’t require a doctor’s visit, prescription, tedious diet, grueling physical exertion, or exorbitant economic sacrifice. It’s easy to implement and it’s fun!
When something is effective, easy to implement, inexpensive, and fun, it’s a perfect match for the classroom. It’s like a little miracle.