This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Autumn Troullos and Rachel Miller
We have been on a shared journey of discovery that was kicked off by observing the needs of our students. We were fortunate to share students within a team environment with a common plan devoted identifying and addressing student needs. Although we teach different content areas (math for Autumn and ELA for Rachel) we were part of a cross curricular team that was devoted to teaching the whole child. Through deliberate conversations with our students and their families and regular meetings with our cross-curricular team, we realized how many factors outside of the school’s control negatively impacted student performance.
Being lifelong learners, we set out on a mission to help our students. Because we were only with each child within a class for 45 minutes out of a school day, we needed to find strategies that were easy to teach our students, would have a large impact within a short time frame, and could lead to a self-sustaining and lifelong practice. Taking in these constraints, our research led us to mindfulness. Mindfulness has many benefits including decreasing stress and anxiety, improving self-esteem and self-regulation, and increasing calm.
Now that we had a starting point, we looked for any resources which would help us to learn healthy coping techniques that we could pass on to our students. Specifically, we were looking for techniques that students could employ independently and in any situation. We both underwent online training through an organization dedicated to bringing mindfulness to public schools. Although we started at very different points (Rachel describes Autumn as a woo-woo hippie and Autumn states Rachel is the epitome of practical), through our trainings, we discovered that mindfulness practices were very beneficial to both of us! As we discovered the personal benefits, we were even more excited about sharing these practices with our students.
Armed with strategies and filled with enthusiasm, we began gradually introducing the practices to our students. Our students were equally excited. They immediately began reporting back to us that they were using the strategies outside of school. They began to beg for short, calming guided meditations before class began to soothe their nerves. We found that a few moments dedicated to mindfulness insured that students were more relaxed and subsequently more engaged during the delivery of our academic content.
We observed such a dramatic impact that we proposed a mindfulness elective course for the following year. Students were given the option to sign up for the class if they felt it would be beneficial. It was designed as a one semester course, and very quickly there was a waiting list for the second semester once students heard about what was happening in class. Students were introduced to
strategies such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, and mindful movement. Through class discussions and simulations, students were exposed to the concept that they often have power to control their reactions in difficult situations. It doesn’t have to be just “fight or flight.” Mindfulness gives them the option to pause and consider their reaction.
How often each day do you stop to notice what you notice? Mindfulness is simply being fully and intentionally present in the moment. Our work within the Fluency Project has touched upon mindfulness with the deliberate noticing exercise we have done. The book “How to Be an Explorer of the World” also challenges the reader to examine the ordinary. This poem by William Stafford also addresses awareness:
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
With the craziness of the holiday season, closing out one semester, and beginning a new one, take time to reflect on the here and now.
Autumn Troullos graduated from Ohio University’s Eastern campus in 2002 with a major in Middle Childhood Education (concentration in Math and Social Studies) and a minor in Mathematics. Her Master’s degree in Instructional Communication was earned at WVU. She earned National Board Certification in 2013. Autumn began her career as a teacher at St. Mary Central. From there she taught at Warwood School and Bridge Street Middle School in Ohio County. Currently she is teaching 8th grade Math and Mindfulness at St. Clairsville Middle School. Autumn has been engaged in researching mindfulness and its benefits and incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. She has joined a National Board cohort as a mentor Autumn currently is a member of Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Her special interests include yoga, reading, plants, learning and her family.
Rachel Miller graduated from Bethany College with a degree in communications. After working in public relations and nonprofit management for 13 years, she finally followed her heart and earned her teaching certification from Wheeling Jesuit University. She has gone on to earn a master’s degree from Marshall University and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She taught at Bridge Street Middle School for 10 years and currently teaches 9th grade ELA at John Marshall High School. She enjoys planning travel adventures with her husband and two teenage sons, reading and talking about great books, and taking way too many photos of her dogs.