I visited my old school recently to give a pro-bono class on managing toxic stress. While I was waiting in the student personnel office a senior student popped by and lit up when he saw me. He said “Mr Carroll, you’ll never believe what happened to me!”
I said “What happened?”
He said I was at the community college last week to do an orientation. The staff their issued each of us with a dot to stick on our wrist. She said it was to measure our stress levels. I put it on and it turned black. The three colors black, red and green represent levels of stress:
· Black (most stressful)
· Red (Beware you are moving into stress)
· Green (you are in a good place)
He continued “I remembered what you taught us. I found a quiet corner, sat down for five minutes and practiced the techniques. I went up and asked for another dot. I put it on and it turned to green!
I couldn’t believe it was that simple!” He broke into a smile and said thank you as he gave me a hug.
My students walk in from busy bustling hallways. Their loud voices and exaggerated swaggering entrances reveal they still think they are in the halls. Their furtive glances seek someone to avoid, torment or bond with.
It is three minutes since the bell sounded. They only have four minutes to transition from one class to their next. They have to fight their way through crowded hallways to a different teacher with different rules who teaches a completely different subject. Everything seems so fragmented and compartmentalized. This brief transition is like a river cascading over a waterfall. Students, teachers and police officers pour into chaotic hallways – over a thousand people moving at the same time!
I call this the squeeze. In these four minutes I need to recover from any leftover emotional charge from my last class, erase the board, greet students in the hallway, organize my desk, monitor and assess students state of mental and emotional health, remind some about outstanding work, listen sympathetically to excuses for missed or avoided homework or simply be present for unexpected surprises ranging from tears to dramas to pleasant greetings.
The bell sounds. The squeeze is over. I walk down the stairs of my college style classroom and gaze peripherally at my students scanning for anything that feels out of place, different or jarring. I stop at my desk, slowly turn around and gaze up at my students silently. I lean against the desk semi seated, close my eyes and remain silent for three minutes. My students do the same.
At the end of three minutes I look around and see most students motionless with eyes closed. Most look angelic. A few have heads down on desks. Some are gazing back at me.
I ask the first question for the day: “Who would rather be home right now?” About two-thirds of the class raises their hands. Their faces break into smiles. They are ready for math. Their minds are clearer, they feel better and most of all there is love and trust in the classroom.
For more understanding of my work in the classroom and how meditation unclogs the mental chatter and frees emotional stress click here.
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The ground of my pedagogical approach lies in silence and reflection. Silence and reflection slow down the thinking process. 'Thinking' takes time: thinking through time is punctuated by moments of generative silence and imagination. When thinking slows, awareness of our perceptual and cognitive experience (metacognition) emerges. This is foundational to critical thinking, inquiry and learning. (Senge, 2000, 69.) Essential to higher order thinking, metacognition provides a pathway to learning agency.
Interestingly, student agency, when activated, brings the teacher and student closer together.They find themselves engaging naturally in a mutual experience of authentic inquiry.
 Senge, Peter; Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. Doubleday, Random House Inc., New York, 2000.
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports