Choose Mindfulness 

By Erika Murray 
American School of Puerto Vallarta 

As new teachers to ASPV, Laurie (Student Support Specialist - ES) and I (whole school Social  Emotional Counselor), collaborated about what we are passionate about, besides working with  kids. We discovered that we both find deep-rooted grounding in nature, mindfulness, and breath  work. At ASPV, our ES students are not new to the idea of mindfulness, they have calming  corners in the lower school classrooms, and movement breaks during class. What Laurie and I  set out to create, is the consistent use of mindfulness and breath work in our lessons, groups,  and individual meetings. In the upper school, I have noticed that the students are familiar with  the term but don’t really know what it means.  

Laurie and I piggyback our lessons off of one another so the students have built in mindfulness  and breath work two times a week (each lesson is 45 minutes in length). Laurie uses the Zones  of Regulation curriculum while incorporating guided meditations, body scans, sit spots and the  like. In my SEL curriculum, each lesson starts and ends with mindfulness, breath work, chair  yoga, thought bubbles or the like. In one of my lessons, in which I was teaching mindful  drawing, the last part of the activity was to write what you are happiest for in this exact moment  in time. One of my students, who has consistently shown emotional dysregulation, wrote “I am  happy that I am calm”. Other examples since starting the mindful activity in January, is that in  groups that I run for emotional regulation, attention, and social skills, my students will commonly  respond to “how did you handle a difficult/stressful situation?” with comments such as, “I walked  away”, “I closed my eyes”, “I should have taken some breaths”. The students are able to  articulate tools that could or did work, and they are more willing to take the needed break.  

In the elementary school we also have a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) committee. This  school year we created a Zen Den. Our committee created a google survey for our students  with regards to what it might be used for, what things the students would like to see in it, and  what they might need to calm down and become more balanced to return to the classroom  environment. The Zen Den is for students to use when the calming locations in the classroom  are not sufficient for the emotions they are trying to handle. It is not meant to be used as a  punishment or for teachers to send them. The students are being taught that this is a choice  they can make, when emotions get too big, that sometimes a break in a separate environment is  what is needed to recalibrate, along with a check in from me (counselor) or another adult. Since  we introduced the Zen Den at the start of March, and because it is evolving, the current data  that we have is still subjective. Just this last week we started keeping track of the number of  students (5 students in 4 days) using the space. Prior to this date we did have a consistent  number of students effectively requesting to use the Zen Den, while some are using it by the  suggestion of a classroom teacher. Typically, the students quietly use the space, until their  bodies and emotions have settled into a rational state. They do this by using fidgets, mandala  coloring, sitting on the bean bag chairs, listening to music, or following a poster book with  explanations of breath work that they have previously been introduced to. In speaking with the  students that have used the space, I am finding that they are feeling more empowered to be 
able to actively resolve their emotions, and equally empowered by talking about strategies and  tools to add to their emotional regulation tool belt. 

On the Upper School side of the school, we start the day with the Action for Happiness calendar  reminder of the day. The Action for Happiness calendar is a brief suggestion for setting a  personal intention for the day. In my classroom lessons (7th, 8th and 9th grade, 1 x week/45  minutes), I incorporate a mindful minute at the start of class. The students have received  lessons on stress, anxiety, sleep, yoga, and many other topics. The emphasis and reminders  bring us back to deep breathing and how it controls our nervous system to allow space to think  more clearly. I have also invited a yoga and mindfulness teacher to work with my classes twice  this semester for 45 minutes each time. Last week I used 3 different types of mindful activities  during the 45 minutes to introduce my classes to different types of mindfulness because it is not  a one size fits all. I introduced them to a guided empathy meditation, mindful drawing, and a  Shavasana Guided Body Scan. My hope is to incorporate a mindful minute into each class to  allow for the students to settle into their class after the transition from one to the other. Just last  week we started this idea with 6 teachers on our High School SEL committee. The plan is for  these teachers to start class with a mindful minute consistently for a few weeks and then report  back any changes in their students, classroom environment, or teaching. By taking this minute  at the start of class, the idea is that it will hopefully create a habit for the students and for the  teachers to learn to balance their emotions as they move into their daily lessons. The idea is to  create an environment where the students and teachers can feel regulated, balanced, and  ready to face the day of school regardless of what obstacles they are facing in their lives. We  will be collecting formal data in 3 weeks’ time; however, subjectively after 1.5 weeks, teacher  feedback has been that after the first few days of doing this, the more energized students  walked into the classroom with a calmer demeanor, there was a slight decrease in distracting  behaviors from the students, and there is student interest in doing the mindful minute at the start  of class. We have one teacher who has their class working with background music while doing  their work. The music was very low but they were calm and focused on their work, it was done  for 3 days. Another reported that the students have become aware of the here and now that  they are living. The students let the teacher know that they are ready to begin the lesson. The  purpose of emphasizing mindfulness is to continue to empower students in the idea that they  are in control. Our goal is to teach all students that they have the ability and knowledge to  create space to respond rather than react.