Thursday, 26 February 2009

Take it Seriously, But Teach Perseverence!

The first time (ever) a kid came crying to me over a tiny little cut on their arm, I was plain amused at the severity by which he treated the small injury.
Almost disregarded it.

I mentioned this to my mom one day and she happily retorted that I had been much worse when I was a kid.

"You came crying to me with a small cut on your arm and asked me if you were going to die."

Amusing, yes.
But I began to realize that despite how small we think kids' problems are, at that age, they have not yet gained the wisdom of experience and almost everything is a HUGE problem or predicament to them!

Just because we see their problems as small, and cannot understand why they would cry like there's no tomorrow just because they forgot to bring a pencil or the like, doesn't mean we should trivialize their problems.

I've found that the key is in balance.

You see, while it's important to take their little problems seriously, it's a whole other "problem" if we coddle them each time they cry or make a fuss.

Instead, we need to give their "little" problems the due attention and care, but teach them to move on - to learn from their experiences, and to become stronger for it!

Many kids nowadays (and I say this from the point of view of a school counsellor) have difficulties facing the problems in their lives.
They easily become victims of their own faulty thought processes.

We need to equip the children of today with tools and habits of hardiness, and teach them to be active thinkers and learners, developing a tenacious outlook on life.

Friday, 20 February 2009

"So Nice Smell!!"

That's what my kids would say when I first began using aromatherapy in the classroom.

I have about 7 scents - each for different purposes.
Lavender and Jasmine, I've noticed, generally helps to calm the class down (which is many cases is exactly what I need).

Today during meditation I tried something a little different.
I got my kids to focus on 3 main senses one by one - with their eyes closed (thus completely ignoring one sense to hone in on another), I asked them first to feel the cool air from the ac blowing on their skin.

How did that make you feel?
I saw some smiles.

Next, I got them to focus on using their sense of hearing - concentrating on the sound of their breath and on the music they could hear, but blocking all other sounds out.
I saw some very resolute expressions.

Finally, I brought the scent diffuser I have in my classroom around the class.
Telling them to now try to see if they could smell anything specific in the classroom, I moved the diffuser around the room slowly, passing near their noses.

(I could feel myself relaxing too!)

Smell can so often easily be overlooked.

In doing some research about essential oils, I've come to realize that this can be of great aid to the teacher.

There are specific smells that can help us achieve certain states of mind.
Lavender, for example, is a very commonly used scent because of the wide benefits.
It can help with anxiety, depression, guilt, helplessness, irritability, nervous tension, exhaustion...

Scents like lime, orange, grapefruit, or lemon can help lift your spirits, and citrus, mint and pine can help freshen you up!

So far I have more of the calming scents (because my kids are pretty hyper usually)... but I'll soon be getting some of the more citrus scents to play around with when they seem tired or need some perking up. :)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Class Newsletter

Yes, it's a lot of work, but the kids love it, and this way I can keep parents informed.
I've come to realize the importance of working with parents - keeping them in the loop, explaining things to them, and getting feedback from them.

Here are some thumbnails of this year's Jan edition.\:

Included in the monthly newsletters are sections on:
  • Class Awards
  • Featured Student Work
  • The Learning Frontier - Learning about Learning
  • Journal Snippets
  • IT Section
  • Announcements, Birthdays, and Calendar
  • Lots of pictures!

I'm beginning on Feb's issue now.

Morning Music Meditation

The benefits of music have been long hailed.
And when joined with meditation, and visualization techniques... wow!

For the last few months, I spend 5 minutes or so every morning with my class doing meditation.
Each day is different.
Somedays I give more directions, using visualization techniques and a bit of yoga breathing, and other days it's just up to the students themselves.

This video has a bit of everything - mostly just letting them focus on the music and responding to the music (this is music therapy), and if you notice, there is heavy breathing sounds - which is a yoga breathing technique.

Visualization was only used a little in this particular session. Sometimes I use more visualization which has to do with colours and using actions as well.

Notice that I don't say anything in the beginning (when the students are walking in) - I use visual and auditory cues (dim lighting, music in background, PowerPoint slide) that tell the students what they should do. You'll notice that many of the kids just walk in, sit down, and immediately get into meditation "mode".

By the way, the "You Are A Tree" bit has really helped - many of my kids usually have issues with staying still (yep, hyperactive!), an when I first taught them to breathe in and out, they had trouble balancing and staying upright! So using the basics of the yoga tree-pose, I taught them to keep their eyes focused on one point and to ground themselves like a tree. Immediately, the students who usually could not keep still showed resolve and focus in their eyes. No more swaying around and off-balance postures.

Finally, I ended with smiling.
The benefit of just putting your facial expressions into a smile is that your body can't tell the difference between a real smile/laugh or a fake one... sometimes I get the class to just laugh for 30 seconds non-stop. This helps put the kids (and myself) in a good mood at the start of the day!

Results of meditation - my students have feed-backed to me that the daily meditations have helped them feel calmer, happier, more focused...

... but hey, don't just take it from me - try it with your students and see the difference yourself! ;)


I get bored easily.
Pet peeve when I was a student - boring teachers.

So these days, I make sure that if I start leaning towards "boring", I stop whatever I was doing, and get myself interested.

I mean, seriously - if I get bored by my own teaching, what more my students?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Caught Doing Good Slips

Sometimes, it's the littlest things that help the most.

This is a blank Caught Doing Good Slip:

I have a bunch of these sitting on my desk.
Any time I see a kid trying really hard to do the right thing, I either:
  • Quietly pass him/her a slip, smile/nod, and whisper what they did good. For example "You were listening well." OR...
  • Make a big show out of it to the whole class. Eg:"Class, this morning I noticed that Tommy did not get distracted when he entered the class even though the class was very noisy. He simply put his bag down, went to his seat, sat nicely, and started his own meditation."
After I pass them the slips, they fill them up on their own time, and bring it to me to sign (so that no one "forges" any slips). Here are some example:

After signing, they put the slip into a jar (I use a transparent box I recycled):

Once their names are in the jar, they stay there for the month.
During the month, I can at any point pull out a slip as a form of a lucky draw (the kids love this!). Thus awarding a higher probability of winning to those who have more slips.

I also give an award to the kid who has the most number of Caught Doing Good slips at the end of the month (as mentioned in an earlier blog post).

Quite simple but really effective.

I initially got the idea from Rick Smith, and adapted it to suit my own needs.
Mainly I find that it helps:
  • Teach kids what they are doing good (immediate positive reinforcement),
  • Affirm even the quiet kids,
  • Emphasize certain classroom procedures that are important,
  • Gives them something to work towards.

Hope this helps you!
Please let me know if you adapt this, and what worked or didn't work.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Instant Classroom Mood Changer

Today it took me a good 3 hours to feel humanly awake.

A friend suggested that I hold a class arm-wrestling competition, where the class winner wrestles me, to perk the class up a bit.
I was so intruiged, I did it immediately at the end of my previous class.

Immediately, the mood of the class changed - my students were having fun, laughing, and cheering each other on.

That's one thing I've learned - that sometimes if the classroom climate starts getting to a point where it hinders student learning, that just means it's time to slot in a short Mood-Changer!

Ps: The strongest kid in my class is a strapping Indian boy, and unfortunately for him, he got beat by a girl - me. I've been grinning like a fool ever since. Heh.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

What Will My Day Be Like?


Every day is a challenge.

Not many people realize just how much mental energy gets zapped from the moment a teacher steps into the classroom till the moment she leaves.

Bombarded by a magnitude of stimuli, from dealing with students asking silly questions to having to make informative announcements, check homework, read notes from parents, perform administrative tasks, and prepare lesson plans, a teacher’s job seems a hundredfold more than what it’s made out to be.

We are the care-takers of the mind, the soothers of the soul, and the farmers of tomorrow’s society.
Yet, given these many responsibilities, it is so easy for a teacher to become overwhelmed and despondent – right at the start of the day.

All it takes is a combination of several things going wrong at once.

“Teacher, I forgot to bring my Math Textbook home, so I couldn’t finish my homework.”

“Teacher, what are we doing for Science today?”

“Teacher, I lost my worksheet.”

“Teacher can I go to the toilet?”

“Teacher, Tommy took my pencil! Waaaaaaahhhh….!!!”

Knock at the door.

“Ms Shimona, can you give these letters out to your class? And I have not received your attendance list yet. Can I get it soon?”

Ten minutes pass. Still no homework handed in. An argument breaks out. 5 kids need to visit the toilet at precisely the same time. I’ve misplaced my lesson plans somewhere underneath a labyrinth of homework and textbooks. Kids keep coming up to the teacher’s table to ask questions that have nothing to do with the lesson.

Another ten minutes pass. Students are finally taking out their textbooks, albeit very noisily. We have about twenty minutes left. How will we cover the lesson in time now?

One can easily feel stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed by a situation such as this, especially if this is a normal, everyday occurrence. It would be the most natural thing in the world for a teacher to, at this point, feel her blood pressure shoot up through the roof and start shouting for the kids to sit down. Her mood would steadily get worse and worse, and the classroom climate get more and more tense. The teacher, after all, sets the tone.

Mind you, I am not the most bright and cheerful person first thing in the morning. In fact, this is one problem I often face – feeling like something the cat dragged in –all grumpy and sleepy in the mornings and being tempted to “blast” any kid who irritates me with a silly question or talks too loudly. So instead of letting the day set my mood, I try to take what I’ve learned from positive psychology and make precautionary measures to decide for myself what the day will be like.

This morning for example, I woke up feeling groggy and grumpy as per norm. So I decidedly had a “talk” with myself on the way to school.

“What will your day be like today, Shimona?”

“Will you be grumpy, shout, and take it out on the kids?”

“No! It is going to be a great day! You’re a good teacher, and the students are all fantastic children. You will have fun together, and the school day will be a success!”

Amazingly, those few seconds I spent having that little pep talk with myself worked wonders! I waltzed into the classroom this morning with a huge smile plastered on my face, and the day rolled out before me in a blanket of cheer and goodwill. Being pleasant and humorous came easily, and I found that my tolerance for silly questions was much higher as I deemed the questions not so much silly as inquisitive. My smiles came more frequently and readily, and the kids responded eagerly to my excitement for learning. Soon, we were playing games to learn content matter, and my students were eager to please and behave well.

Isn’t it a wonder what starting the teaching day with the right, positive mindset can do?

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