In this Conscious Classroom episode, Amy Edelstein will share mindfulness tools and tips to raise the level of enthusiasm for learning. She’ll illuminate why mindful perspective taking can shift students from blasé to interested in simple but profound ways. You’ll learn how to inspire your students to seek that experience of “being in the zone.”Support the show
Hello! Welcome to the Conscious Classroom Webinar Series. My name is Amy Edelstein.
September is an exciting and sometimes nerve-wrecking month as we come back into our classrooms after summer break. Our students have grown both in height and in maturity. And our new classrooms of students who just arrived seem really wet under the ears and green around the edges.
They come into our classrooms full of expectation, sometimes nervousness. And what we want to do when we meet them right from the start is we want to put their attention on the excitement, on that blank slate of the year, on that sense of possibility and make that part of their experience so captivating and so interesting that they simply forget to pay attention to the self-consciousness, the nervousness, the questions about whether their peers will like them, whether they will do well in our class, whether they will overcome the challenges they had last year, or whether they will achieve at the same level that they may have achieved their previous year.
When we are preparing our lesson plans, we prepare them thinking about the content, thinking about new ways to engage our students with learning, and sometimes we turn our attention to how do we raise their level of enthusiasm, how do we cultivate their interests, how do we get them to pay attention to us with an open mind, how do we inspire their learning, how do we open their hearts, how do we allow them to see a safe space in our classroom even through in the anxiety or failures that they may have experienced before we ever met?
These are the kinds of questions that loom large in our minds as we walk in to our September classrooms and these are the questions that I want to address today. We are going to use some tools of mindful contemplation and perspective taking to help you inspire your students and also simply to help you get out of the box of your habitual ways of thinking so that you also can create some space for something new.
And that newness doesn’t have to look like the next greatest marketing campaign on Instagram or TV commercial. We often feel like to excel as teachers, we have to come up with media-related entertainment ways to engage our kids. And if we go that route, we are going to compete with multinational companies with millions and millions of dollars to put behind developers and marketers and copywriters.
The way I proposed that you connect with your students’ better halves. Connect with their side of creativity and inspiration, love, and curiosity about learning is to connect with them at the level of your own heart and your own beingness, your own sense of vitality, your own engagement with life, your passion for learning, your own simple creativity.
That authenticity that you bring to your students, that heartfelt respect for knowledge, respect for education, love of the unfolding mind will inspire them. It will resonate with them. It will get them to look at aspects of their own curiosity and experience. It will put them in touch with the person with the parts of themselves that are present, not the parts of themselves that are absent or that they would need to cultivate or acquire some skillset beyond their reach.
Mindful contemplation is not like a pep rally. Pap rallies pump you up. Cheerleaders get your blood going. They get the energy surging. They get everyone to start shouting in unison to root for a team, for a goal, to catalyze energy, to propel sports teams to go beyond their limits and be victorious.
Sometimes in our classrooms, we will want to pump up our students. Sometimes we will want to cheer on the presentors of projects. Sometimes we will want to create jingles that our kids can remember.
In the inner strength system though, we don’t necessarily give you jingles to recite and chants and cheers to use in your classroom. What we do is we give lessons from mindful contemplation, lessons that help the kids settle beyond the familiar and explore their own brain, their own thoughts, their own sense of awareness, their own understanding, and their own capacity to be curious.
With the mindful contemplation, we can challenge our students to think differently, to explore with the different sense stores, to relate to their experience as if they had never had it before and see what they can discover afresh.
When students settle in to mindful contemplative practice, they often emerge slightly disoriented, positively quiet, a little bit confused, not really knowing what just happened. In that little space of not knowing what happened is that germ of curiosity, that sense of being poised on the lip of discovery.
When students are allowed to explore their own consciousness to be curious about how their mental and emotional states changed simply by watching the breath, oftentimes what happens is they emerged completely pumped up, jazzed, excited, overwhelmed with possibility overwhelmed with the idea that they on their own can discover something that they had never known before, something intimate to them, something unique and precious.
When they start saying, “Oh, I never thought of that before. Wow! There’s so much freedom inside. Nobody ever told me. There’s so much peace. I feel like I do things right. I always feel like everything about me is wrong but when I’m still, I feel in some way like I’m all right.”
These are comments I’ve heard in various forms but some exactly like that from the students that I worked with. And having trained over 6,000 students, not just by myself but with my team over the last few years in the arts and science of mindful reflection, contemplative awareness, the art and science of relationship and friendship, I’ve been able to observe that accessing that spirit of wonder can lift the child from grief and sorrow, anxiety, self-consciousness, even eating disorders to find faith in their own ability to be all right, to be whole, to learn, and to discover.
That’s why I’m so passionate about raising enthusiasm through this kind of contemplative practice. When we raise enthusiasm in this way, we set a tone for the year where the tone and tenor and direction is both collaborative and independent. We build a field together of focused mindful contemplation. But everyone needs to discover on their own. We inspire each other through our shared expressions and discoveries but we each need to find our own edge and have confidence to articulate our own discoveries, value them. That tone helps students be both collaborative but not dependent and autonomous in their learning experience but not competitive, not negatively competitive.
We want to inspire our students with what’s called zero-sumness, which means I win and you win which makes two rather than a zero sum, which means I win, you lose which makes it zero. So when we inspire students to be collaborative and independent, to be respectful of the shared field or inquiry that we are creating through our own conscious attention that rest on every individual finding authentically what their experiences themselves.
We foster the art of teamwork and independence satisfaction. We help students not lean and not lead – be dependent on leading others.
The first practice we are going to do is a practice of mindful contemplation. You can do this with your students and you can do this with yourself before you plan your lessons. So you feel like also are approaching the material you may have taught for 5 years or 20 years freshly where you are taking into account everything you know about your student, everything you know about what’s happening in your school, neighborhood, city, environments, and you let yourself explore this with a fresh slate, a clean slate, and openness to creativity and possibility.
We open ourselves to creativity and possibility through our mindful contemplation by being still, allowing familiar thought and feeling to rest in the background, keeping our attention vast and open.
Let’s do a practice together. Sitting tall in your chair or on the floor if you happen to be sitting on a cushion, let your spine be straight but it rise up from the chair feeling as if a string was pulling your spine up to the sky creating just a little bit of space in between each vertebrae so your disks can plump up oxygenating and lubricating your spine.
Let your legs be uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Notice your weight in the chair. Take a deep breath in and exhale that breath out. Hold the exhale just a little bit longer than normal, allowing all of the still air to leave your body creating space for oxygenated air to fill your lungs, enter your bloodstream and nourish your brain and body.
Take a few breaths at your own pace in this way, drawing the air in through your nose, allowing the air to expand in your lungs letting your body collect the oxygen and letting that oxygen carry throughout your body refreshing your system and exhaling out all of the tiredness and familiar.
Now, be prepared to not already know to approach this experiment of stillness without any preconceived conclusions or convictions about what can or can’t happen in the same spirit the physicist observed those double slit experiments to figure out if light was a way for a particle and found something that confounded their imagination. Be prepared to sit, observe with openness.
Now, just allow your attention to rest on the inhalation and exhalation, letting thought fall into the background and being still.
Notice any change in your experience as you just let yourself rest and let all of your unfinished business fall into the background.
Now, prepare to bring your attention back, wiggling your fingers and toes, stretching your neck from side to side, touching as if you could touch your ear to your shoulder, bringing movement back into the neck and the spine and refocusing your attention on the room around you.
Take a moment to notice what your experience is. If there is a sense of maybe being at home, being more relaxed, feeling OK in your own skin, feeling like things are OK, life is OK. And when life is OK, you can look around and see what’s next. Look within and see what your experience is and reflect on how the act of watching the breath going in and out as simple as it is, as basic to human life as it is can reveal so much. And as it reveals so much, it also enables us to feel that most important sense of goodness and possibility, and that goodness and possibility are the foundation or basis of the type of enthusiasm that we are trying to cultivate in ourselves and in our students.
So thank you for participating with that exercise. That was a really nice one.
The second mindful contemplation I want to take you through as a raising enthusiasm exercise, a cultivating curiosity exercise, encouraging students to develop the love of learning and keen observation is an exercise that’s really quite simple. We are going to take a very common object, one that your students will have on them and we are going to try to observe it in many different ways.
Now, before you conclude that this is a futile or useless activity, think about some of the great scientists and social scientists and their powers of observation. They were able to see the familiar and draw – come up with questions about how the familiar worked that illuminated whole new paradigms of thought and new paradigms of living, ways of relating scientific conclusions, new understandings about the nature of natural laws and properties.
So the object that we are going to take is our hands. And I would like you to take your hand and know that you can invite your students to do this exercise.
Look at your hand in front of you and think, “How many different ways can I know my hand?” Now at first, we look and see the customary ways of noticing our hands. You might look at the back of it and see lines and tendons and fingers with digits. You might look at the palm of your hand and notice the lines in the palm of your hand. You might look at the fingers themselves, how they interrelate one with the other. What happens when you touch your thumb to your pinky, to your ring finger, to your middle finger, to you index finger? How does that change the relationship between all five your fingers, the four fingers and your thumb? How does it change the shape of your hand and what’s possible to do with your hand?
You can consider the negative space of your hand rather than the outline or positive space of your hand. Look at the space between each of the fingers. Isn’t it interesting that you have four fingers and a thumb yet you only have the four spaces in between? What can you learn about your hand by looking at this negative space between them?
Then maybe you’ve run out of ways to think about your hand right now, but what about from the inside out? What about looking at the blood and the bones, the tissue, the heat, the wetness or dryness?
You can look at the whole. You can look at the sum of the parts. You can look at the texture. You can look at the color. How does the color of your hand change with pressure? If you press your hand against the table in front of you, what does it look like? What happens to the back of the hand or the front of the hand?
Now first, when you think about looking at your hand, you are just see a hand that’s attached to your – the end of your arm and moves around. But once you start breaking it apart and looking at all the different directions that you can approach it in, you realized that it’s almost endless.
And if you give your students the task of writing about the many different ways to observe their hand and if they run out of ways to do it, have them talk to their neighbor or do small groups and reinspire each other, you will get their juices flowing. You will get them to see that there’s not only one right answer, that there isn’t always only one way to approach a problem, that there are different ways of learning. That there are different avenues for creativity, that their neighbors and their friends have valuable and different insights to offer and they can build one on another.
When you start catalyzing this kind of independent and co-learning enthusiasm, you get the juices going in the classroom where students can really support one another. They can build with one another. They can approach the problems that you may have taught in Math or Science differently. They may even write their own questions that would illustrate the same mathematical or scientific or sociological principle. If you are an English teacher, it will get them to start thinking creatively, enthusiastically, and openly about what’s really possible.
I encourage you to do some kind of enthusiasm-raising contemplation each day whether it’s short or long, whether it’s embedded in your introduction to their assignment or it’s embedded in your introduction to a lesson that you are teaching. Really get them to see that enthusiasm is a thirst for the unknowable and a thirst to know differently that which is knowable. Have your students get in touch with their innate curiosity, a quality that’s so prevalent during the teenage years.
I hope you use these two exercises and I would be very curious to hear from you how it goes. And I wish you all a very good year and may the start of your school year be one that is filled with optimism and positivity where you feel a sense of wind in your sails, a sense of possibility for your students, a sense of your own growth and fulfillment in your calling to help educate others.
Thank you for joining me in this month’s Conscious Classroom Webinar. I look forward to talking with you again next month. Be well.
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