I have taught High School Mathematics for seventeen years, both in Australia and the US. I have always loved teaching, and mathematics has been a fascination since High School.
More recently I have been fortunate to introduce another of my great passions into the classroom, and that's meditation.
For the last five years, I have integrated meditation into my mathematics classes. You might be surprised at the success I've experienced bringing this right-brain activity into the decidedly left-brain context of mathematics.
Introducing students to meditation for the first time can be challenging, but if you stick with it, the rewards are worth it. How do you introduce meditation into a classroom if: each teacher has a unique style of teaching; each class of students has unique individual and collective needs; and everybody has confusing ideas and beliefs about what meditation is and how it works?
I've worked with educators from around the world, helping them introduce meditation into their classrooms. In the process, I developed the following principles to ease their challenge. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a mentor, these principles can guide you to implementing meditation successfully. Always adapt these principles to suit your students, environment and teaching style.
THE 7 GUIDELINES TO INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO MEDITATION ARE:
• Selling it
• Establishnig clear behavioral guidelines
• Diving in, script and all
• Debriefing your students
• Monitoring the results
• Adjusting your guide-lines
The best way to sell anything is to be smitten by the bug yourself. You can do this in a many ways. Become informed about the benefits of meditation. You don't have to go far these days to find respectable sources praising the virtues of meditation: Time Magazine and Harvard University to name two.
Being informed is a good start. Practicing meditation is even better. Combining experience and knowledge will earn you respect when you introduce meditation to your class. Get guidance from an experienced practitioner whom you respect and resonate with. He or she will help you discern and cut through confusion. There are many meditation techniques so choosing what is right for you is important.
I like to sell it to my students from day one of school. I ask them, "How would you like to come to my class and do nothing... every day this year?" Needless to say, I've captured their attention. I arm myself with data and anecdotes ready to prove how meditation supports better thinking, reduces stress, improves health, and creates peaceful classrooms.
Building anticipation about how much this can change their lives is key to securing their buy- in. Without their buy-in, you won't get out of the starting gate.
ESTABLISH CLEAR BEHAVIORAL GUIDELINES
Students need structure. Clear consistent guidelines are essential to prevent your first meditation from being a disaster. Imagine closing your eyes in front of thirty teenagers and expecting them to instantly do the same. Forget it.
I like to elaborate to them about what "doing nothing" actually means. I demonstrate what I mean as I explain. "It means sitting in a relaxed position, feet flat on the ground below your knees. Sit up straight. Hands on the desk, palms down. Eyes relaxed or closed."
Encourage students to copy your demonstrations. They may giggle or make eye contact with each other. Respond gently to what is happening. For example you might say, "Leave everyone else alone. That means no eye contact. This is your time. We need to agree. The universe will leave you alone, but you have to leave the universe alone. That includes the virtual universe. Cell phones away."
Explaining in a spacious organic way helps set the tone for the students. As their leader, you need to model relaxation and alertness. These qualities are essential to developing good habits for meditation. Be clear with your students about the consequences should they interfere with others. Present these consequences as choices rather than punishments.
I'm sure you get the idea.
Sometimes you need to start before you are perfectly ready. The reason I say this is because you are developing a new class routine. The things that work and do not work will give you valuable feedback for your next session. Remember this is a step in a process that will become more refined over time. Intoducing new routines can be a valuable lesson for students about taking risks, developing and growing processes.
I like to guide the meditations for the first month or two. Guiding meditation requires you to participate also. The tone and rhythm of your voice will affect the students' meditation. Be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Speak slowly and with ease. It's OK to read a script or play a recording. Listen in advance to any recordings you play for your students for suitability. With a bit of research you can buy excellent downloadable meditation audios. Check my site for classroom meditations.
This is so important. The post-meditation state can be sensitive, quiet and calm. Some students may feel vulnerable. To help transition from meditation to the lesson plan, I go around the room and ask each student to describe how they feel in one word. I might pause if I suspect confusion or someone upset and simply ask him or her to say more.
No matter what experience students express, pause and honor it, even if it surprises you. It is important for students (and you) to acknowledge that meditation reveals a unique experience and no two meditations are alike.
Many people believe meditation is only successful if the mind becomes quiet. This is just not true. Unfortunately, ideas like this lead many people to believe they can't meditate. In fact, you can argue that meditation is something you are always doing, and the practice of meditation is simply getting in touch with that fact!
I encourage teachers to collect data about their classes' social and academic performance. Get first hand results about the effects of meditation. Information like the change in the number of student referrals, the classroom tone, and test results will help you gain confidence in the positive impact meditation has on students.
Also, include yourself in this evaluative process. You can pay attention to your own mood swings through the day and track how meditation is affecting your teaching.
As I said before, each teacher and class has unique styles and needs. You may find something doesn't work. Simply adjust your instructions before the next meditation. Examples of adjustments I have made include: turning lights off, remaining silent for longer periods of time, reducing the debriefing time, changing student seating arrangements, keeping the board clear of notes.
Introducing meditation into class is radical. It takes you out of your comfort zone as a teacher. It may feel challenging and awkward at times. Some students may claim they cannot do it because they have ADHD.
My experience has shown me that persistence overcomes the objections and challenges and dramatically improves class atmosphere. In a day and age when our mental health can be compromised through entertainment and over-stimulation, meditation is arguably the greatest tool an educator, parent, or mentor can use with themselves and their students.
If you find this post helpful please share with a parent or educator.
Education of the mind, without education of the heart, is no education at all - Aristotle.
For services and information check out my website at http://www.awakenteenleadership.net/workshops.html
For an extensive bio check out http://www.awakenteenleadership.net/about.html
Thanks for visiting.
How do you feel about your education? Do you feel met by every teacher you have? Do you find some teachers “have it” and others don’t? Have you ever stopped and wondered what are the differences between effective and dysfunctional teaching?
Most importantly have you ever considered "How do you learn?"
After 15 years of High School Math teaching I thought I could recognize learning abilities in my students readily. Over the last 3 years I have discovered that the way I was judging and perceiving intelligence was incomplete and that I was not seeing major chunks of observable and measurable brilliance in my students.
The more I read and observed my students the more I discovered (and continue to discover) how much more there is to learn about learning. Not only that buteverybody learns differently!
So what do I mean when I talk about learning about learning?
Take a moment and answer this question: “How do I learn best?” This question alone may unlock many blockages for you as to why you find some teachers easy to follow and others confusing or boring. What can you do about this as a student? How can you help transform your teachers (if they are willing) into a better teacher for you? How can you expand your learning "styles" to be able to learn more from every teacher and every class?
Firstly find out how you learn best. You have eyes, ears, mouth and a body. These are your major learning organs which determine which style of learning you prefer –
· Having music playing in the background while you work or study?
· Connecting what you learn to the natural world?
· Moving your body while learning?
· Taking short breaks during class?
· Having fun or laughing in a lesson?
· Having work presented to you in color, symbols or drawings?
· Working alone, in pairs or in small groups during activities?
· Rephrasing or restating something that is taught to you in your own words?
· Needing the work to have meaning and significance to you?
Once you have asked yourself these questions (and more) start to notice which teachers include these qualities in their lessons and how you respond in thiose moments.
Next become more familiar with learning styles and how they work by approaching a professional or reading books and articles. I recommend you read “Quantum Learning: Unleashing the Genius in You” or my blogs (see below) I have written on my work in the classroom. You can also hire a Teen Coach to help you understand how you learn, what your needs are and how to have these needs met in your life.
Lastly determine a request you feel you want to make of your teacher to help them modify their teaching approach and include your needs into the way they present a lesson. Find a respectful way to approach them and simply make your request in a non-demanding way. I suggest you practice this with a good friend, your coach, a parent or someone you trust first. Good luck!
Last night I found myself in the middle of a Republican fund raiser. There was a broad spectrum of demographics present. I was very curious how I would react amidst a group of people whose political rhetoric was different from mine. I had a mixed experience and spoke at length with my wife, who had played piano for the event, about it. We both learned a lot about how embedded prejudices are within us.
Many of the conversations would end in a passionate but brutal critique of the Democrats. When I spoke with my wife later we marveled how similar this experience was to the Republican bashing many of our family and friends drop into.
My wife said "That's why I love music. It is universal and free of the isms. That's my message." As she said these words I remembered an article I had written several years ago on my experience of discovering my own isms and working with them in what turned out to be a powerful and ongoing healing process. I'd like to share it with you.
Recently I spent a weekend in a "Coaching for Transformation" class with thirty-five of my life coach peers, mentors and teachers. We were in downtown New York on a spectacular Fall day. The topic we were exploring together was: coaching minorities in the light of racism, gender discrimination, sexual orientation, age-ism and other isms that tend to isolate or ostracize people. About half-way through the weekend, an African-American woman mentor coach spoke up and said she felt that the real issue of racism was not being brought into the room in a way that was real. Her vulnerability and passion surprised me. After what seemed a long silence, people voiced their agreements. The majority of the coaches in the room were white. The minorities in the group included one Asian, several Latinos and four African-Americans.
Then someone suggested we coach each other on the issue. My heart began to pound as a voice from deep within me said "you are Australian and Australians are really racist." As no one else had volunteered, I shakily spoke up and said I would like to be coached about my racist tendencies. I was going in blind, not knowing what would be revealed in exploring this with my peers. Another African-American woman, and recent friend I had met in the coaching group, volunteered to be the coach. I was nervous, as I intuited that my deepest fears and darkest secrets would soon be exposed to everyone. Little did I know what was about to unfold.
The woman was about my age. She trusted me implicitly and asked me to explore what it was that made me think I was racist. The terms and expressions from my childhood flooded through my awareness. I was afraid. She leaned forward and invited me to utter the expressions aloud to the hushed room of fellow peer and mentor coaches. I knew I could not do it. I faltered and broke down in tears feeling a deep spiritual pain of remorse. It was deeper than my own personal pain. I was looking at a woman who had spent a lifetime being ignored, under-valued, rejected and isolated because of the color of her skin. I felt deeply implicated and began to confess the myriad of "small" ways this prejudice plays itself out in my life as a school teacher in a school of many and varied minorities.
She and the teachers held the space in the room for everything to emerge safely in front of the group. The teachers admitted that what had opened up in the room was new and they were not sure where to go from here. Our group had many other options to explore that day. Many had suffered from the wounds of prejudice based on gender, sexual orientation, racism and age. However the overwhelming consensus was to stay with what had opened up and to reverse the roles. One coach astutely pointed out that racism was less explored from the African-American viewpoint and so hearing from my friend would in fact take us all into deeper unknown territory. I would now coach my friend and peer so she could share her experience.
We broke for lunch and when we resumed I stepped into the coach's role. I found this challenging. Within minutes the depth of my friend's despair started to surface between us. My friend was frustrated. She felt very little if any, real change in eradicating racism in this country. She recalled her painful experiences at school when her teachers could not conceive of an African-American student as successful. I floundered. I had not known this pain and despair, having grown up in Australia as a privileged white male. I felt awkward as I coached her in front of my peers.
As our coaching time together was coming to an end I fumbled to help my friend go forward. I asked her to reflect and come up with ways to move forward. To my surprise she unhesitatingly rejected my request. "What? You want me to endure more?" I felt deeply embarrassed and unconscious of how deep her wounds went. I could only try to hold the space for her to explore her feelings and options. My teachers, like angels on my shoulders, guided us until the end. All I had to offer was my presence. I could not "fix" anything. It was too wide, too deep, too vast. At the end of our session my friend was impacted and reflective. The miraculous healing brought about through listening with an open heart was present between us.
Simultaneously, I felt an emotional schism between us. I felt my friend had shared a deeply personal wound that was the product of forces that existed before we were both born. I felt our conscious coaching had made the "elephant in the room" visible. The hidden forces of embedded conclusions and unconscious denial of racism had emerged between us and, it seemed to me, had pushed the whites and blacks into their colored corners. We had stepped out of our comfort zones and I could not imagine what would unfold from this spontaneous exploration.
When I returned to school the next day, I was acutely aware of the subtle ways prejudice was playing out within and around me. I embraced conversations with my minority students with heightened care and curiosity. I saw them blossom and open up to me in miraculous ways. Several spontaneously shared intimate facts of their life openly. It was as if they sensed the safety in my new-found awareness. On one occasion an African-American girl in one of my classes shared with me (and the class) that her mother helps her prepare to overcome anxiety in her tests. I felt very moved as she spoke. At some point I felt my friend's presence from the day before enter the room. At first it was as if she was witnessing this moment with me. Then, quite unexpectedly, the young student seemed to look and sound like my friend. It was as if I was seeing her in front of me, as she had been at school four decades earlier.
Something mysterious happened that I alone bore witness to, and this was because my friend and I had dared to explore this painful ism on a sunny day in New York.
What do you do as a teacher when the temperature is a muggy 90 degrees outside and your lethargic students have just eaten lunch?
I peruse my room. Students are slumped over their desks barely able to stay awake. My carefully planned lesson seems strangely alien in this atmosphere of reluctance. The vision of students struggling enthusiastically to solve challenging problems is fading as I take in the panorama of sleepy minds and bodies in front of me.
An overwhelming wave of futility washes over me. I gaze around the room desperately looking for a natural opening. Unfortunately, there is a force field of inertia so thick that, I feel like I am talking through wet cement. My words fall on deaf ears and wooden desks.
I stop and wait quietly. Several students prop open one eye to make sure I am still there. My natural opening just arose.
Gently, ever so gently, I state: “Today is our last Wednesday together and it is NOT a coincidence that we should be doing THIS question on the board.” Three or four heads pop up and stare vacantly at the question. There is more silence, until one student mumbles, “What’s the coincidence?” His jet black eyes are hidden under long bangs. “Aah” I think, “he’s awake!”
Two more heads pop up like prairie dogs looking for predators. I answer quietly and slowly: “I haven’t worked that part out yet”?
More voices contribute unexpectedly throwing out unlikely conjectures. “Well one co-ordinate has a 3 and Wednesday is the third day of the week!” says one student at the back of the room, beaming with satisfaction. Another chimes in that “the combination of co-ordinates (3,6) adds to 9 which is the number of letters in Wednesday”.
Suddenly over half the bodies in the hot, muggy, depressive room are awake and squawking like chicks in a nest. “Where is this enthusiasm coming from?” I wonder.
Raising my voice I ask “Do you realize how lucky you are to have a classroom ? In some countries, students walk 10 miles to school to stand or sit under a tree. No books, no shelter, and a long walk home.” There is a stirring. I feel like a preacher on a pulpit as I rhetorically declare and ask “Do you realize less than two percent of the entire planet’s population know what a Cartesian Number Plane is and even fewer understand how to create graphs?” Heads are popping up curiously.
“Do you know ?”
There is a growing curiosity in the air.
“Who among you dares to fight this malady of inertia and answer the question on the board?” I challenge.
Unexpectedly a student blurts out the correct answer. We are making progress. “There is still time” I think to myself, “we will get through this”.
“Do you realize this math is only 300 years old?” I ask in an excited tone. “Hurrr?” mumbles someone. “Yes!” I claim exuberantly. “Descartes thought this out while he was eating eggs at a restaurant in Paris. He wrote it down on his napkin! Can you imagine how his waitress responded?”
More students are stirring. One blurts out "I thought the Mayans already knew this?" I was reaching them now. I had them! “No” I said delightedly at his wonderful guess, “ the Mayans invented zero! But” I paused, “Descartes needed their zero to build his number plane. So you are right, in part. The Mayans contributed something,” I pause for dramatic effect, then punch out the all important words “the origin!”
With the Mayans and Descartes at my side I am riding the wave of interest and learning with my students. We complete the problem with relish.
“This is why our last Wednesday together is no coincidence. We accomplished our task together, just like we have on every other Wednesday! Terrific job, ladies and gentlemen”.
The bell swallows up the word gentlemen as it leaves my lips. The students are alive with that peculiar energy that appears from nowhere at the end of every period.
I ponder the lesson's aftermath in my hot, muggy room, wondering "What are the special ingredients that make it possible for students and the teacher to mysteriously come together?"
“Quiet! Listen and sit down!” screeches out.
I cringe as I walk past Mr. Smith’s math room. His voice can be heard from at least three classrooms away. It has a grating pitch, and reminds me of finger nails scratching down a blackboard. I feel sorry for him. He is one of those tortured veteran teachers who should have changed careers long ago.
Further down the hallway I pass Miss Jones English class. As I peek in every head is down, busily working. I feel a pang of jealousy as I remember the principal’s praise for Miss Jones in the last staff meeting, “She keeps her students engaged from bell-to-bell.” His tone had an admonishing ring in my hears. Miss Jones was tough and ruled with an iron fist. In her classes it was her way or the highway.
I turned a corner and bumped into a stranger. He appeared neat and intelligent. He looked out of place in our school. He viewed me dispassionately through his fine-rimmed glasses. “Hi" I said "my name is Lawrence Carroll, can I help you?” The stranger replied, “Dewey, John Dewey. Do you have a moment to speak?”
A small electric shock went up my arm as we shook hands. I thought to myself “John Dewey? I thought you were dead.” The stranger replied “No. I am not dead. I appear from time-to-time, but as you can see and hear, I am very much here and now.” Can you really read minds I thought? Apologetically he said “Yes, that’s part of the package when you move on from this life.”
I looked around self-consciously and wondered if I was losing my mind. After all this man, arguably the greatest educational reformer of all time had been dead for sixty years! John matter-of-factly said “I appear to teachers and students from time to time to find out what is going on in schools.” He looked down at the floor and sighed. He seemed sad.
“You know I wanted education to be alive and meaningful for kids and teachers. I had such a vision. Education was so dull and flat when I grew up. It lacked spirit, meaning and dignity. It was such a sterile, anti-life institution. Did you know it was modeled after the Prussian military system? Their system was designed to crush the will of the youth?” My eyes bulged in shock. “True.” he said, “To tell you the truth, as I look around these hallways things don’t look much different.”
“John”, I said, “your insights into education are amazing.” Hmmm I thought. Should I have said, “Were amazing?” Talking to someone from the past can get confusing. “Remember when you said:
‘were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked?’”
John’s eyes lit up. His gaze captivated me. “Yes, of course I do! What do you know about that?” he asked passionately.
I paused. I looked furtively at this iconic legend, embarrassed to tell him what was on my mind. “Don’t worry.” He said, “I want to know. Your opinion is important!” I forgot he could read minds.
“Well” I stammered, “Your theories were idealistic. They assumed that teachers could adopt a mind-set independent of the status-quo in which they lived.”
“Mmm. That’s true but I did make it clear that this would not happen overnight. I warned it would take time.”
“True John” I ventured, “But you underestimated what that takes. Philosophers, like you, are misfits. You don’t fit in with society and society doesn’t accept you readily. Look what happened to Socrates.”
John looked down. He was silent for a long time. Finally he asked, “Where do we go from here?”
“Well John, I have discovered that meditation has a profound effect on the way students can learn at school.”
“Of course it does. We’ve known that since Aristotle!” he retorted impatiently. I looked around self-consciously in case he was disturbing Miss Jones’ class. “Fuck Miss Jones” John boomed authoritatively, “This is way more important than what she is doing with her kids.” I agreed but couldn’t help feeling awkward. I shuffled John into the near-by empty staff room.
“But John, when you say meditation, it is not the same as what I mean.”
“What do you mean?” he asked curiously.
“Well”, I felt uncertain again, “We in the west tend to meditate on dogma. It is an exercise of reason. Meditation is influenced, as you know, by the Greco-Roman traditions. The wise men – philosophers - who created maxims or postulates, to both liberate and confine their students’ reasoning.”
“Of course, how else could it work” John scoffed.
“Well”, I continued to venture, “While I studied and practiced meditations from the Eastern traditions I discovered an important distinction.”
John looked unblinkingly at me. He was listening with such an intensity I started to feel a burning sensation around my cheeks. “Go on” he commanded.
“In the East the meditations are not directed toward anything in particular. In fact they are directed at nothing in particular. At first it is confusing because we have so many ideas, beliefs and assumptions about what that means. One of the most challenging requirements for this is to let go of even the most profound insights!”
“But” interrupted John, “that is exactly what the School of Skepticism was all about. The Skeptics refused to accept anything in order to transcend the traps of a closed mind.”
“True John, unfortunately the Skeptic meditations confined their students to a rigid dogma. Similarly the Cynics, Aristotelians, Epicureans and Stoics did the same.
John gasped. The frown on his face started to dissolve. He visibly relaxed. His eyes widened and glowed like burning coals. He was GETTING IT! He understood what I was doing with my own students.
He asked, “How do your students respond to this?” His question was rhetorical. But I answered anyway.
Now it was my turn to become passionate. “John, you wont believe this but the students love it! They become peaceful and at ease. No small matter these days! They express greater tolerance amongst themselves. They think more clearly! They are willing to ask questions. It is a teacher’s dream.” I paused before going on. “John, your theories were overly-influenced by psychology. When my students meditate they naturally start to see how their thinking and emotions affect them. We then explore how to manage .…”
“Mmmm. This is really a foundation for metacognition and freeing emotional intelligence, isn’t it?” he interrupted. “Absolutely” I smiled back, John starting dancing. He was delighted. “Eureka! I can see how this could be the foundation for education to come alive and have meaning. If people get this then I can see they will start to get my work at last.”
I looked at the joyful apparition before me and knew deep in my heart that introducing meditation into schools had come of age.
For further information about my work contact me for a free consultation. I now teach yoga, meditation and breath work to all generations. Go to www.yogawithlaurie.weebly.com for more information.
LAWRENCE CARROLL EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT & LIFE COACH
"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