Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Weekend Writer Without Computer

After several hours of updates, my computer woke up with a black screen.  Of course, I freaked out.  My teenage son tried to help remotely, but it didn't work well.  He referred me to one of his teenage friends.  I was too embarrassed to contact him.  I came home from my day job on Friday evening, hoping that my computer would decide to work.  Well, against my wish, it decided not to work.... I was devastated.  Now my dear computer is in Memorial Day Boot Camp at the repair store this weekend.

While I was writing this I found a couple of puns: Boot (computer) and Camp (Memorial day).  These discoveries made me chuckle a little!  Coming up with new things that I have never thought about and changing my perspective on old things is really fun.  In fact, who said no one can use my husband's computer?  I used flexible and creative thinking instead of draining and desperate sighs.  And I am happy about that.  

I also know that it's often hard to think that way.  That's why we need to learn mindfulness.  You can learn how to connect with yourself and embrace your emotions.  Mindfulness training teaches your brain when to respond and how to respond to frustrating situations. Being angry never works.  It makes you even angrier and never brings any solutions.  So, why don't we breathe?

As a weekend writer, when I first found out about the absence of my computer for this long weekend, I felt miserable.  Then, I took some breaths.  I told myself, “If you want to write, steal your husband’s computer or write something in your notebook.  Or else, just give yourself a short break from writing.”  Maybe I will find more adventures that can be used in my future book!

The black screen computer made my disappointed day to one of the memorable (another pun for Memorial Day!) milestones in my writing career.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!  And remember to breathe!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Test Anxiety Buster

I thought I wasn’t.  I thought they weren’t.  But in my classroom, we were all highly anxious about the standardized assessments, even though my students were all prepared for the test.  Here were some signs I noticed.

  1. I had a hard time focusing.  I needed to remind myself to take deep breaths several times a day.  Normally, I exercise intentional breathing just once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and my days are great.
  2. Kids started acting out.  Their behaviors were not major concerns, but they appeared in more people and more often than they had before.

I told them often, “You have everything you need to know in your hippocampus.  We’ll practice bringing that information out by using our prefrontal cortex.”  This was so true.  And I realized how important it was for these kids to connect to themselves to train their own minds.  So this is what I did today.

Me: Today, we are going to prepare our minds to relax and be resilient. Find your mindful body and find your anchor.
Me:  Breathe in, (pause) breath out……(pause)
Me:  You are going to visit your brain.  You walk there until you find a door that says “hippocampus”.  This is a heavy door.  But use your maximum strength to push it open.  (pause) Great.  Now keep walking.
Me: What do you see in this room?
Student: I see several neurons connecting and making sparks.
Me: Interesting.  Now, I want you to find the poster on the wall that says “Calm”.  When you find it, put your hand on your heart. 
Students: (Put their hands on their hearts (almost all of them!))
Me: Now take it off the wall and put it in your bag.
Students: (Some visualize, some act it out with their eyes closed)
Me: Next, I want you to find the poster on the wall that says “Confidence”.  Do not choose “Confused” (students smile).  Look very mindfully; the word is “Confidence”.  (pause)
When you find it, put your hand on your heart.
Me: Super.  Let’s put it in the bag.  
Me: Now, we are going to leave this room.  Open the door, leave, and close the door.
Me: Let’s look for the door that says “prefrontal cortex’.  This door is locked.  Find the key in your bag and pick it up.  Open the door. 
Me:  When you enter, you see someone.  That is “YOU”.  You are going to meet yourself. Pat their shoulder.  Did they turn around? 
Students: (nods)
Me: Now you are going to pull out the two posters you brought, Calm and Confidence.
Students: (visualize or act it out)
Me: And give them to yourself.
Me: Now, breathe in, (pause) and breathe out….
Me: When you don’t hear the bell any longer, raise your hand.
Me: (strikes a singing bowl softly. It echoes)
Students: (Raise their hands as the echo fades out)
Me: Now, open your eyes.
Students: (Another big breath)
Me: You are prepared.  Open your computer and begin your practice test.

Although there were several technical difficulties during the practice test, all of the students exhibited calmness.  After the session, we came back to the circle and discussed what worked for their test performance.  Several students mentioned how and when they used breathing techniques when a problem was too challenging.  One student said she rolled up the posters and ate them.  Another student, who is often quiet in class, volunteered, “I was calm the whole time and never lost confidence.”

The inner contentment and self confidence of students is not measurable on paper or on a computer.  However, it is still incredible that young people experience and notice their own confidence and calmness within themselves.  I am so humbled to be able to share a few silent moments with these youngsters every day.  They make me believe in us!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Relationships that "I NOTICE" Practices Can Build

What have you noticed in the last two weeks?  Take one minute and think about your “I NOTICE” statements.  Here are some of my “I NOTICE” statements I’ve told my students, and their responses:
  • I notice you look happy…. “I am going to my brother’s baseball game, so I am happy!”
  • I notice you look tired….. “I woke up in the middle of the night.”
  • I notice you are working on your morning task…. (smile!)
  • I notice your cool leggings… “I coordinated the color green!”
  • I notice your legs are out of your desk… “Oops.”
  • I notice something on the floor…. (Picks up a couple of pencils)
  • I notice you are struggling…. “I know.  Can I use the fraction kit?”

And then, I noticed someone who came in the classroom mad.

Me: I notice you are angry.
Kid: I AM very angry because Tom is annoying.  
Me: (Hmmmm, she just came in and had no interaction with Tom.)
Me: Hey, shall we step out?  I will be glad to listen to you.
Kid: Fine (fuming!) (Follows me)
Me: So, what’s up?
Kid: Tom is making noises and it is so annoying.
Me: I see.  You are frustrated because of the noise Tom makes, am I right?
Kid: Yes!
Me: OK, why don’t you let me take care of Tom?  I assume you know some calming down strategies for yourself, right?
Kid: Right.
Me: Great. Let me go take care of Tom while you take time to calm yourself down here.  When you are settled down, you are welcome to come back to the room.
Me: (Going into the room)
Kid: (Starts breathing)

After a couple of minutes, she came in and started her entry task.  The entire process took me about 5 minutes.  “I notice” statements give the impression of “I care about you.”  This simple 5 minute interaction saved many hours of instructional time.  Adults who take care of children almost always have good intentions.  Unfortunately, some of these people don’t have clear execution in their communication.  Good intentions are delivered and displayed to others through good listening, instead of just “telling” people how they care about them.  Building relationships with “I NOTICE” statements applies to adults, too.

You have been practicing “I NOTICE” statements with your learners and yourself for the last two weeks.  Keep working on them.  This week, add to your audience your colleagues and your family members.  For instance, try simple complements like, “I notice your new shoes,”  “I notice you have done the laundry,” or “I noticed you lowered your body when you were talking to your student,” etc. “I NOTICE” opportunities are limitless! Then, I want you to notice how your working communities, neighborhood, and your family would change, and what feelings you notice when you get responses from them.  I look forward to hearing about your experiences!