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The Teacher in Me, Honors the Teacher in You

The Teacher in Me, Honors the Teacher in You

In India, people use the sanskrit word, Namaste, as a greeting. It has a few translations, but a common one is “the teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.” As a classroom teacher, I appreciate this. My core value as an educator centers on the idea that students and teachers are on a journey together. Learning is a dynamic dance of give and take, not a one-sided process of receiving information.

As the year comes to a close and I look around my classroom, I see the artifacts of academics. The Mayan Temple, the diagram of the solar system, the poster of geometric shapes. I reflect on the hours of planning and preparation that went into my instruction. I also think about what I have learned this year. I think about what my students have taught me.

I think about bravery.

I think about a student who was incredibly shy. English is her second language and she was self-conscious about possible mistakes. At the beginning of the school year, she wouldn’t share more than one-word answers. At lunch, she would sit and listen, never directly responding to conversations.

Around mid-year, I gave her a journal. By the end of the month, she had filled every single page. So, I gave her another journal… and she filled that too! One day, she asked me if she could share some of her writing. With a clear and confident voice, she read a poem she’d written. It was beautiful. I showered her with praise and through a smile she said, “Writing makes me feel brave.” This is the student that inspired me to rediscover my love of writing! It’s because of her that I am sharing this story.

Reflecting on this student, I felt the need to share with her what she had taught me. However, my thoughts began to multiply as I realized every student had somehow made an impact on me. We had all made contributions to each other. They needed to be recognized. From here, I launched a class-wide compliment challenge: write a high-quality compliment for each student in class.

This got me thinking… what makes a good compliment?

I began by bringing the class to a place of stillness. With our eyes closed, we envisioned our community. The healthy relationships we had built over the year rested on communication, teamwork, and social engagement.

 

 

Working through the CASEL standards for social emotional learning, students were able to demonstrate their understanding of community. I brought in the ELA standards and connected the compliments to the character traits we had been applying during our literacy block.

Side note: if you’re aligning academic and SEL skills in one project or assignment, you can use Kiddom’s free tools to track and monitor student growth across academic and social emotional skills, which is ideal for this type of project.

To teach the compliment process, I used the acronym “ACT.”

A is for ACTION

Think of a specific positive action you observed.

“I observed Nora return her library books.”

C is for CHARACTER TRAIT

Think of a character trait that would describe someone acting that way.

“Nora is responsible.”

T is for TEACH Me

Think about what that action can teach you.

“This taught me the importance of staying organized.”

“Nora, I noticed that you always return your library books. I appreciate your responsibility and it has taught me the importance of staying organized.”

My students crafted compliments for each other using this technique. I encourage you to give it a try as a way to honor students. Take the time and make space to give and receive meaningful compliments. Life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are a learner along with your students.

Here is the compliment I wrote to my writer:

I see before me a girl with a story to share. I watched as you filled two notebooks with your writing. I notice you are always listening. You are always thinking and aware of the world around you. When you shared your writing in front of the class, I connected with your bravery. You taught me the importance of sharing my story. You inspired me to rediscover my love of writing. You taught me to be brave.

Love, Mrs. Kennelly

 

As I watch the bus pull out of the parking lot, I see my students’ smiling faces through the window. I am thankful for how much I have learned this year. The teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.

Stephanie Kennelly is a third grade teacher in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her here for comments and questions.

 

 

Guest Post by: Stephanie Kennelly

Wellness Advocate, Joy Seeker, Public Education Defender, Peace Promoter

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: Three Mind-Body Interventions for Teachers

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: Three Mind-Body Interventions for Teachers

“Teaching is not what it used to be,” says a 40-year veteran teacher at my building. I’ve been around for 10 years, but I can agree, things have changed a lot in the past decade. It’s hard to pinpoint the change is or articulate where it’s coming from. However, I think most teachers can agree that things are increasingly more… stressful.

In the hallway, a typical greeting consists of a grunt or at best, “It’s Friday.” Conversations in the staff lounge center around the uncertainties and anxiety facing our teaching profession from the greater political cultural climate. A recent survey cited 51% of teachers feel significant stress at work several times a week. While technology and innovation have considerable benefits, the new skills and information we are expected to personally process and then apply to our instruction has teachers feeling like hamsters on a wheel. Not to mention the data on us! Teacher performance is being continually monitored and tracked by standardized testing.

Teacher stress has an unmeasured impact:

As I sit at my back table, administering a reading test, I look up and see the little girl sitting in front of me. Except, I see her, seeing me. Hunched shoulders. Furrowed brows. Clenched jaw. My body communicates what my brain can’t fully comprehend. I am stressed. Much to my surprise and horror… her body language was matching mine. She was mirroring me.

This realization hit me hard. I noticed students all around exhibiting stress signals. Hiding under tables. Making excuses to leave the classroom and wander the halls. Destroying classroom supplies. These behaviors were symptoms of emotional turmoil, and it was standing in the way of students achieving their academic potential.

Now, I know that many of these issues are complex and multilayered. I am by no means blaming teachers for all behavioral problems. However, the first step to an emotionally regulated classroom is to be emotionally regulated yourself.

YOU are the intervention.

The good news is, even if your brain is not yet convinced, you can begin with your body.

Here are three tips to get started.

 

3 Mindfulness Tips for Teachers

#1: Set daily intentions— for yourself, and for your classroom

Before you get out of bed, think about how you want to show up today. Words like strong, healthy, at ease, organized, peaceful. Imagine what it looks like and feels like.

Now imagine the one thing that would make your classroom great today. This intention could be, “students working well together in pairs” or “excitement for a new project.” Visualize these intentions then write them down. I have found that writing an intention down and visualizing the outcome takes less than a minute. And most days, this fortune actually comes to fruition. A worthy time investment.

#2: Take a breathing break to reduce stress

Teachers never stop. Heck, we usually don’t even slow down. I have seen teachers eating their lunch while walking down the hallway! During your prep, your lunch, transitions between classes… intentionally take 5–10 breaths. Inhale for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. I even like to close my eyes and bring back my intention from the morning.

#3: Unwind your nervous system

Good ol’ fight or flight. Your body doesn’t know if you are running away from a hungry predator or if you are preparing to be observed by your principal. All it knows is, it’s time to send in the stress hormones!

Your frontal cortex can’t talk its way out of this response to teacher stress. “Body, I am not being chased by a predator, it’s just my annual observation.” However, there are key trigger points in the body that activate when the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means, if we can release the body, the brain will believe that everything is okay.

  • Jaw: Inhale breath and when you exhale stick out your tongue. For added effect add a nice long “hah” sound. I even like to massage the opening that is created next to my ears while my jaw is open.
  • Eyes: Rub your hands together to create heat and place them on your eyes. And/or gently smooth out the brow line from center to outer eye, say to yourself “soft eyes”. (Yes, unfurl that teacher brow.)
  • Shoulders: Interlace fingers behind your back for a chest expansion and take three slow deep breaths. Teachers spend a great deal of time hunched over students, and simply opening the shoulders can be a total mood changer.
  • Hip Flexors: Lunge back with right foot and left foot forward in a bent knee lunge, take a few breaths, then switch sides. Your hip flexors and psoas are your flight muscles, so release them!

 

Why Mindfulness is Important for Teachers:

I began to realize that same little girl, mirroring my furrowed brow and hunched shoulders, began to mirror my deep breathing. When doing a backbend stretch during a transition she commented, “It feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?” Yes. It does.

This isn’t the magic bullet. However, when we release the tension and anxiety held in the body, teachers are able to be present.The present moment has no stress. This intervention for your body is an important first step for creating a peaceful classroom for your students.

Classroom of students stretching to Unwind their nervous system

As I began this mindfulness work, I noticed other things around me begin to shift. I realized that being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing. I changed my focus and redefined what was important.

This process led me back to my students. How can I bring this mind-body awareness into my instruction? I began working with 1000-petals, an organization training educators in Mindful Movement, to integrate these strategies via Social Emotional Learning standards and Academic Learning Standards. The results were amazing. Follow this blog series to learn more about creating a positive, emotionally regulated classroom through mindful movement.

Stephanie Kennelly is a third grade teacher in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her here for comments and questions.

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