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.