Last year we tried earning a pizza, but lost it at the eleventh hour because of a serious transgression.
We tried earning free time on Friday but rarely got it.
We tried extra recess to expend energy, but they fought often, which sometimes necessitated going back in.
We tried charts, stickers, prizes, and emails…
We limped ourselves to the end of the year and finished with a concerted “flop,” having worn each other out, completely.
This year, I have the same group of students and everything is different.
I don’t need to dangle a “carrot on a stick.”
We don’t need a pizza party.
We don’t need extra recess for decompression.
We don’t require stickers or prizes.
In fact, we don’t require group incentives at all.
This year, we meditate.
We meditate for five minutes at the start of every math class, and that has changed everything.
The transformation is nearly miraculous because the current situation qualifies as a veritable perfect storm – ripe for failure – for a group of students whose default mode can be impulsivity and stirring the pot. Mostly boys, they come to my resource room for the last two periods of the morning; a double math period that is sandwiched diabolically between specials class and lunch. By this time, they have been following directions, listening, and producing for almost 4 hours, and the only thing standing between them and recess+food – is me.
Despite these tremendous odds, we get two full periods of math in every day without incident, and enjoy ourselves in the process. I almost always send them off to lunch with a “Good job today, guys! I’ll see you for science later on. Well done!”
Meditation and mindfulness.
From the start of class the children enter a darkened room lit only by the soft glow of strands of white lights hanging on the wall behind them. They hand in their homework and sit at their desk or table and lower their heads down on folded arms, usually choosing to close their eyes, sinking into softly playing music in the background. Almost immediately they begin to quiet and I begin – inviting them to pause their day, inviting their bodies to relax and their minds to be somewhere else, or nowhere at all.
One day they are jellyfish floating on the sea, their cares and worries sliding down their tentacles, rippling away on the ocean swells.
Another day they draw a mind castle and explore it, room by room.
Another day they find a rainbow and lay beneath it, noticing the bands of color arching over them, each one representing a positive quality within themselves.
Yesterday they sent a golden glow of kindness from their heart to someone they thought might need extra care, imagining that person surrounded by the soft light of love, from them.
And so it goes.
The meditation draws to a meandering close and the children gently wiggle their fingers and toes, bringing their awareness back to the room. Floating their eyes open, they settle in to the lesson just before lunch, quiet, calm, focused.
Through this interlude, they experience the notion that handling emotions and behavior is a simple matter of going inside to a place that is peaceful, safe, and accessible, wherever they are.
It’s just a matter of mind.