Relieve Anxiety with Mindfulness

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My brief return to public school


So I thought, when I found that I was going to have to go back to work and a job immediately presented itself, that it was meant to be. I had been blogging about mindfulness in the classroom and suddenly, the opportunity to return to teaching in the public schools, after decades of not, came along.The timing was just too perfect and I'm a sucker for woo woo stuff like fate and destiny and spirit.

I thought I was being called to help kids cope better and learn. I thought I was going to save the world! I was so smart! I was going to create a mindful classroom just by going in and telling everyone to be kind to each other. 

Two days after I started, I began to realize that I was there to learn a lesson of some sort and it wasn't going to be pretty.

And that is indeed what happened. One day, despite trying to build my defenses against such an occurrence, a student got in my face and screamed at me that I couldn't touch him. I don't know what happened. I snapped and started yelling back at him. I did not handle myself well. And another student caught it all on his cell phone!

I cannot tell you how mortified I was. I knew then and there that I would have to quit. I had absolutely no defenses if the parent of that kid decided to do something about my behavior. I had only lasted two weeks, two long long long weeks. Every day of those two weeks had been a lesson in defeat.

Lesson learned?
It's been a little while since I quit and I'm still hurting from the experience, mostly ego-wise. Maybe I'm just not the teacher I thought I was. Now I'm starting to look at it as, what did I learn and where do I go with what I learned? It wasn't until I read comments from Facebook friends on this discussion that I started to understand the message. 

Some friends showed support by commenting on kids these days and the fact that many don't have manners. Parents don't raise their kids to be respectful. That is true to an extent, I think. Some said the school district has problems overall.

Others pointed out that many kids grow up with trauma and tragedy and it is reflected in their behavior. Teachers care about these kids and are there to help them.That is when I felt a little guilt. Why didn't I feel the need to stay in the schools to help these kids? Why wasn't I up to the sacrifice? I care. This was bothering me for days so I thought on it, dreamt on it. 

This is what I came up with -- If I thought that the only way to learn was through our public school system, I would be that teacher who sacrifices her time and money and cries her way home from the classroom each day, hoping the next day won't be so heart breaking. I could see the need for me to be there. 
 
Don't get me wrong. I applaud and support those amazing teachers who do stay in the public schools to make a positive difference. 

But I think we need to drop a system that doesn't work and look at alternatives, and make it about learning, not education, politics, competition, and money. 

I've decided that moving forward for me means that I'm going to be a voice yelling for us to do it differently and kindly. 

I'm going to write my heart out in support of learning and community. The word "test" will never leave these lips unless it's in protest! I will never compare schools and pit them against each other. I will celebrate the unique and creative. I will encourage learning toward a better life.

My success will be measured by how many kids, parents, families, communities, I can influence to learn in healthier, kinder ways. 

I hope you will join me in the discussion that will hopefully lead to positive things in New Mexico communities. Maybe the discussion will lead to action -- the creation of community-designed learning hubs.

Please comment! Let's start this discussion. Wishing you a beautiful and kind New Mexico day. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Bringing mindfulness to the classroom

I am enjoying a restful weekend after my first week teaching 6th and 7th grade language arts at Moriarty Middle School. It was a rough week but one that ended on a positive note, I think. Thirty years ago, when I first taught in the public schools, fresh out of college and looking like one of my sophomore students, I would have spent the weekend brooding over their bad behavior.

But now, much older and with a sense of humor seasoned over the years, I find myself excited to find ways to reach my students and inspire them to learn about our fascinating world. I thankfully found a way to see through the bad behavior to the potential, although it is a day-by-day thing -- it fluctuates.

Moriarty skies
I have to remember, when I'm feeling especially sorry for myself on a bad behavior kind of day, that these kids have had a rough school year so far. There has been no continuity or consistency in this classroom, the one I have chosen to lead.

They had a teacher for only a short time and then a few subs before one amazing Wonder Sub came in and established some much needed order. 

I have to be patient with them as well as myself as we all get to know one another.  I have to be mindful, and that is what I'm trying to pass along to them as well -- mindfulness in the classroom. We are all in this together. Let's be kind to each other and help each other learn.

My seventh grade students are friendly and interested in the topics I bring up. I am planning to have them do a school newsletter or blog. I'm giving them a list of topics from which to pick to research and write about for the newsletter. It is a project-based approach. I will guide them and be editor until we appoint a student editor, which might be a little while.

I have two sixth grade writing labs that are pretty much already determined curriculum-wise by other teachers in the department. The students will be creating table presentations at a World's Fair event at the end of the year, I believe. They will research, write and present about a country/region of their choice. I still have to learn the details.

Then I have one sixth grade language arts class. I will be having them write a lot, like my other classes, and they will work on projects as well. They will be researching a hobby or interest they have, looking at how they can turn something they love into a career.

I'm hoping to have guest speakers from the New Mexico community who are making a difference while they follow their dreams, role models who will inspire my students. I want my students to see that it isn't about college or test scores, and it isn't about competition and money. It's about learning toward a better, happier self-image and life. It's about learning toward a healthier planet.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Bullying and Mindfulness

It's no secret that bullying is a problem, not only in school with our kids but also in life in general. People can be pretty mean. I'm sure most of us have been the victim of a bully or have seen bullying happen to others. We study bullying and report its different variations (physical, verbal, mental) and the effects it has on victims, and it seems like the conversation always centers on how to react to bullying. There isn't much talk about how to prevent it in the first place.

According to the Huffington Post (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/franklin-schargel/bullying-what-schools-par_b_4103901.html), schools should do the following, and more, in order to deal with bullying:
  • reduce unsupervised time in the school day
  • better monitor places where bullying happens
  • train teachers to spot and handle incidents
  • encourage all to report bullying when they see it
  • establish a procedure to investigate reports of bullying
These are all well and good but is that really the way we should approach the issue? It seems that it is the responsibility of everyone but the bully to address the problem. Even the victims feel the need to practice avoidance. Why do they have to do that?

I propose that we quit focusing on identifying, reporting, punishment, and the negative and instead look at things from a positive, kind perspective. Let's focus on prevention by teaching our kids, including the bullies, to be more mindful.

According to Edutopia (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-kindness-essential-reduce-bullying-lisa-currie), experiencing kindness in any way changes the brain. It's possible to talk about kindness and show examples of kindness but it really isn't learned unless you feel it.

When you feel kindness, endorphins are released, endorphins that trigger the areas of the brain associated with happiness, social interconnection, and trust. Even the smallest act of kindness can:
  • strengthen your sense of well-being
  • make you more energetic
  • make you feel more optimistic
  • foster empathy
Kindness increases serotonin levels, resulting in, among other things:
  • more effective learning
  • better memory
  • creative thinking
  • better mood
  • greater attention span
We need to shift our focus and our perspective a little when we talk about how to handle bullying. Instead of focusing on the problem and how to get rid of it, let's make it about living a mindful life, one in which we realize that we are all on this planet together and we all struggle. Let's don't raise bullies in the first place.

Teachers, continue to orchestrate a mindful class and help your students learn to be kind to themselves and to each other. We all know there are kids who go home to anger and abuse so maybe schools could also help parents, through workshops, learn to live more mindful lives, too. If we start now, it won't take long for bullying to be a problem of the past.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Horses Heal

Animals provide companionship, help us deal with life in general, and help us heal. It only seems natural to think about animals and the mutually beneficial relationships we can share with them. As I was researching a story about horse vaulting last month, I asked Facebook friends and followers if they had stories to tell about animals in their lives.

One friend, who took care of his father before he passed, told me that he trained his dog Ruby to "check on Dad". When something was wrong, she would bark. This is an example of a dog supporting the son but I'm sure she was also comfort and love to Dad as well.

I'm convinced my own dog Joey is empathic. I am always interested to see who he will sit by when people are in the house and having a conversation. Often it is a visitor he doesn't really know. I think he sits by the person he senses needs a friendly spirit by their side. He doesn't bug them at all, just sits quietly. They often reach down and pet him as they talk. He has a comforting, peaceful presence.

It is not only our house pets that calm and heal us but also farm animals and sea life. I have discovered that chickens are used as therapy in nursing homes, pigs make great companions, and fish swimming calmly in an aquarium is relaxing. Even a spider can calm and heal if someone finds comfort in the arachnid life. Watch a spider build a web -- quite relaxing.

Horses helping people heal
Let's talk specifically about the healing power of horses. New Mexico is a popular home for horses and their human companions, and there are many organizations that offer services to help people heal and find peace in life by building relationships with horses. Just looking online, I was able to find quite a few, including the following:

Riders of the Sage in Santa Fe (http://www.ridersofthesage-nm.com/) offers equine assisted healing. It is run by Jane Davis, licensed master social worker. According to the website:

"Equine Assisted Healing is a modality using horses to promote emotional, spiritual and physical growth without ever getting on a horse...Participants often feel like they should be comfortable around horses to participate in equine assisted healing.  In reality, even those who are uncomfortable around horses, have extraordinary experiences."

Cowboy Up!, also in Santa Fe (https://www.horsesforheroes.org/) is another horse therapy program, staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by private donations. According to the website:
"Cowboy Up! is a unique horsemanship, wellness and Skill-set Restructuring™ program based in Santa Fe, NM free to ALL post 9/11 Veterans and active military (both men and women) especially those who have sustained PTSD*, physical injuries, or have experienced combat trauma during their time serving our country.

From day one Veterans are hands on with our horses, beginning with groundwork and progressing to riding, as well as participating in other aspects of ranch life, including working cattle and more importantly experiencing the camaraderie with cowboys who are Veterans themselves."

New Mexico is home to many horses
Loving Thunder therapeutic riding in Rio Rancho (https://lovingthunder.com/) specializes in helping special needs children and adults, veterans, foster children, and kids "without disability". According to their website:

"We have riders age 4 and older with a variety of life challenges.  Some of those challenges are Autism, Down Syndrome, developmental delays, ADD & ADHD, spinal defects, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries, and many more. We will design a therapeutic riding lesson to fit your rider and all of their needs."

There are more places in New Mexico to find services such as these, providing kind, gentle horses to those who need to heal or just want that kind of relationship in their life. What's nicest of all is that you don't have to know how to ride to benefit.































Tuesday, May 29, 2018

East Mountain Summer 2018


I am sitting at the Moriarty laundromat, getting my laundry done, and looking at the east mountain publication, the Independent. School is out and there is a lot going on for the summer.

  • Summer arts camp: Route 66 Arts Alliance
    • June 4 - 8
    • June 11 - 15
    • 9 - noon
    • kids 8 - 18
    • music, art and more
    • student intern ops
    • mural project
  • Wildlife festival: Wildlife West Nature Park
    •  June 30
    • 10 a.m. - 5 pm
    • raptor presentation
    • special feature film
    • more

  • 25th annual flea market: RV Sales in Moriarty
  • Tijeras park
    • June 9
    • 8 a.m. - 5 pm
    • free space to sell your stuff 

  • YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY
    • summer programs in Estancia, East Mountains, Edgewood, and Moriarty 
There's much more going on this summer and you can see it listed in the Independent. Grab a copy and find out. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tapping to a Mindful Classroom

(This is the second post in a series about mindfulness in the classroom. In the first post, we talked about how incorporating mindfulness practices into the school day can help our kids deal with an ever-anxious world. That post can be found at  http://liveandlearnnm.blogspot.com/2018/04/being-mindful-in-classroom.html.)

In today's modern, high-tech world, we are watching our kids becoming more and more stressed out about life in general, and we are realizing that it is affecting their overall health. Our children dread going to school and it breaks our hearts. Learning should be a natural, enjoyable endeavor, not a stressful one. It shouldn't be about standardized tests, getting into college and later getting the really good job that we all know college doesn't guarantee. We don't want them to feel as anxious about school as many of us did. I was anxious in kindergarten!

I'm 56 years old now and only recently became aware of the concept of mindfulness. I'm learning to deal with my anxiety in natural, healthy ways like meditating. I wish I had known about all of this when I was in elementary school, painfully shy kid that I was. If I had learned the techniques I share here, my elementary years would've been much more enjoyable. I think I would have learned to deal with my emotions better. I might not have been so shy.

It isn't always easy to do some of the techniques, at least not at first. Meditation is a biggie in the mindfulness scheme of things. Even at my age, I find meditating very challenging, which defeats the purpose in a way. When I think of how kids must feel in class, trying to meditate with the rest but instead just sitting there with their thoughts racing, I find myself wanting to help them so they can also reap the benefits of a calm, quiet mind.

I've discovered some techniques that can help those who have trouble calming their racing thoughts. One is a simple breathing exercise that slows down your breathing, promoting concentration. Take in a deep, slow breath, hold for 4 seconds then release slowly for 7-8 seconds. Do this a few times.

Tapping therapy
EFT (emotional freedom techniques), tapping therapy, has also helped me meditate. This is a technique I really wish I had known about when I was that anxious kid in school.

According to The Tapping Solution (https://www.thetappingsolution.com/tapping-101/):
          
Tapping therapy is based on the combined principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Tapping with the fingertips on specific meridian endpoints of the body, while focusing on negative emotions or physical sensations, helps to calm the nervous system, rewire the brain to respond in healthier ways, and restore the body’s balance of energy.

I've been tapping for about a month now. It works and only takes minutes to do. I've noticed that tapping helps me concentrate and calm down. It's a kind of meditation in itself. I started out using it mostly for anxiety but now, I will tap once or twice a day just for a more balanced feeling, the kind that acupuncture always gives me. I usually do it when I am in the bathroom. It doesn't take any longer than that.

Just think what could happen if students and teachers tapped a few times during the day. Such a simple thing yet it can make a huge difference. They could do it at strategic times, like first thing in the morning and after recesses.

Best of all, it doesn't take any special training to tap. Look online for several sites that explain the basics. Learn EFT, practice it, and see how you feel. I bet you feel happier and healthier and will want to pass what you learn along to your students. 

East Mountain Goings On in May

Michelle Worley here, blogging as Live and Learn New Mexico! I'm always writing about the laundromat in Moriarty where I like to hang out, do laundry, take a walk, and get my writing zen on.

It's at that very same laundromat where I grab a copy of the local newspaper, The Independent, and find out what's happening in the east mountains. Turns out, there's a lot of good stuff.

Here's just a taste of what's happening in May:

  • May 5-6, 10 a.m. to 6 pm: Kite Festival at Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood 
  • May 8, 6 pm: Route 66 Arts Alliance meeting at the old Edgewood elementary school
  • May 9
    • 10 a.m. Gardening with the Schwebachs, free gardening class, at Bethel Storehouse in Moriarty
    • 10:30 a.m. Land Records class at the Edgewood Family History Center
  • May 19 (a busy day):
    • 8 a.m. to 5 pm: Community Cleanup Dumpsters/Recycling at the Edgewood soccer field park. truck and car loads only. 
    • noon to 11 pm: Crawdaddy Blues Fest at Madrid's Mineshaft Tavern
    • 9 a.m. Trail Work Days at the Tijeras ranger station on NM 337. Volunteers need long pants, sturdy shoes, water and snacks. 
    • 11 a.m. to 3 pm: Car show and silent auction at Pizza 9 in Moriarty
That's it from me. You can read about even more May events happening in the east mountains in The Independent.

It's another beautiful New Mexico day. Enjoy.