The New Year is a time when all of us make resolutions to improve, accomplish, and achieve. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein will talk about how to use the tools of mindful awareness and contextual thinking to tap into a student’s passion to learn. When we feed their inspiration and show them how to recognize their own desire to grow, we set the stage for positive classroom culture. As always, we’ll practice mindfulness exercises and other experiential tools.Support the show
Tapping Inspiration & Building Accountability
with Amy Edelstein
Hello and welcome to the Conscious Classroom webinar. I’m Amy Edelstein. Today, we’re going to be talking about tapping inspiration and building accountability. I’m going to share five tools that we can use in the classroom and that we can use in our attitudes that arise out of our mindful awareness practices and expand beyond that and relate to our own self-knowledge in the way that we inspire our students to grow, create and rest their attention on that which is most inspiring and uplifting and important.
At this time of year, many of us make resolutions and turnover new leaves and students are gearing up for the second half of the year. And they’re looking at their grades, they’re aware of testing coming up and projects, final projects coming up that they need to begin working on now. And they all make great resolutions to not procrastinate, to do their best, to pay attention in school. The question is how do we feed and fuel their desire to do well in a way that emphasizes their strengths and talents and their small successes and enables them to build from the positive to the positive. So that they do make the changes in their behaviors and their study attitudes and their own sense of well-being that are going to help them really realize their higher potentials.
What I found both with adults and with students is that we do better when we’re inspired. The trying to motivate students with threats of what will happen or how they will develop if they don’t do XY and Z will and try – will make them generally try to buckle down but not have the momentum to follow through. And that can be frustrating both for teachers as well as for the students. So, when we can inspire them and get them interested and excited and passionate about what they’re doing, their follow through will happen with much less effort.
Students still need to learn good study habits. The distraction of technology is no doubt an issue that everyone needs to work with these days and be disciplined about so that technology doesn’t rule us and we rule how we work with our technology. But being able to institute controls over technology is not so difficult when you have a student who is in love with learning. That’s the first tool is – and it’s not really a tool. It’s an attitude and a focus and a preference and a bias which is to help your students develop an interest in a new way of seeing and learning and even a new way of being. And when they can do that that will inspire them to change their habits around their studies.
So how do you do that? What I found with my students is that what motivates them is when they really feel reserves of inner strength, when they feel calm and when they feel peaceful, when they feel on top of things, when they feel themselves. One student said you know she likes to have the time to really reflect on herself, on her actions, on her life that she never has the time to do that. And when she does that, it makes her feel happy. Even if what she’s seeing is challenging or her less good habits of mind.
So the tools that we can use for that are numerous. I like to allow my students to rest in just simple mindful breathing. The focus on the breath allows the brain to calm down. It allows agitated emotions to calm. And it also generates a quality of alertness and awakeness. That quality of alertness and awakeness is what fills students with that sense of joy and interest and open-ended curiosity.
So, let’s do a short breath meditation right now. And have in mind as you’re doing this, rather than using it as a time to multitask or check your emails or answer a text, really use this as a time to let go of everything you’re thinking about, trust and take the risk to let go of what you’re thinking about. Allow yourself to simply use the breath as an anchor. And as you do that, notice a sense of calming down and being alert, alert just about everything about being awake and present and living your life.
And what this practice will do sometimes instantly and sometimes over time is it will stimulate your curiosity and your passion for living. And students respond to this really much more quickly than adults often because they feel no inhibition about expressing their joy. So, a little bit of mindful breathing on a regular basis can go a long way to helping students with their accountability and with their motivation.
Let’s start by sitting in a comfortable posture, spine tall, head balanced at the top of the neck. Notice the weight of your feet touching the floor and gravity pulling you into the chair. And when you hear the bell, allow your attention to rest. Let the sensation of the air going in and the air going out at the tip of your nose or the rise and fall of your lungs. I’ll sound the bell and I’ll give you a few gentle cues.
Let the breath be natural, not forced. Relax the tension in your face muscles and your jaw.
And if your mind wanders, gently bring it back.
And when you hear the bell, you can bring your attention back.
Mindful breathing is a time-honored practice that cultivates a new way of seeing. Even though we’re simply watching the breath, that active attention on the immediacy of that life-sustaining act, that action that we don’t need to think about has an effect on the brain, on the body, on our self-knowledge, on our recognition of what’s going on in our own minds. Focusing on the breath without judgment allows us to integrate and process things that we’ve been thinking about without knowing.
For teens, it’s a practice that they can easily do on their own. They can do it during the day. They can do it without being noticed. They don’t need to close their eyes. They don’t need a special quiet place. Incorporating this into your day with the teens, before they begin an assignment, after they finish a quiz, before they transition to their next class, or right when they arrive into your class, you merely generate an environment of spaciousness and ease and trust. And that environment enables to students to feel like they can be more accountable. They’re calm. They’re more aware of what they’re doing. They feel more in control. Their emotions are dialed back. They feel happy and inspired.
So, when we want to build accountability and help students change their habits and realize their higher potentials. We want to give them the means to develop a state of mind and an attitude where being accountable for their actions, their behaviors, their achievements, their homework, their studying, their group collaboration is within reach. And oftentimes students feel so discombobulated, so out of control, so manipulated by their emotions that they feel like they can’t be accountable because they don’t really know what’s going on. A little bit of mindful breathing on a regular basis will help them feel more themselves, more centered in themselves, more aware of what’s going and therefore able to be more responsible for themselves.
The second tool or tip or aspect of creating accountability and cultivating inspiration in our students is helping them become interested in what they’re doing as they’re doing it. We want to allow and teach our teens to assume a posture in relationship to life and to hold a quality of mind and awareness where they are focused on what’s happening as it’s happening. Now, this is something that with a little bit of practice it will sharpen their attention. It will help them be more present.
If you’re like me you’ve probably experienced dozens of classrooms where you feel like the kids just have – even if physically they put their phones down, they haven’t stopped engaging with whatever feed they were in the middle of or whatever digital game they were playing, or whatever video they were watching in the hallway as they walked from class to class. We are really up against an attention grabber when it comes to technology.
And it takes students away from life as it happens. It takes them away from the tasks as they’re going on. It takes them away from your lessons as you’re teaching. And that has an effect on the relationships that you’re able to build with them and they’re able to build with you. And that mentorship relationship is so very important for their overall education. And it also takes them away from the content of what you’re teaching. Because we all know that a distracted mind does not retain information in the same way.
Easy ways to develop presence and immediacy among the kids is periodically during the lesson have them bring a quality of mindful attention to small actions and particularly related to physical sensation. You can instruct them, you know “Please take your self-reflection notebook out of your backpack. As you’re taking the notebook out of your backpack, notice its texture and its temperature. Is it soft or is it rough? Is it warm or is it cool? Is it smooth to the touch? Is it slippery to the touch? How much does it weigh?”
Get them to notice the feel of their desks. Or, if you’re going to ask them to switch desks and move their desks from a row to a group – structure for a discussion section of the class, have them notice the sounds. What’s the sound of the desk being shifted? Does it scrape on the floor? Is there high pitched noise or a shuffle? How does the room sound when you settle down?
Give them small moments of mindful awareness on touch, on sensation, on sound, things that are easy. And that will help them bring equality of presence that will just break up their habitual daydreaming or distraction and bring them together in the classroom paying attention to the same thing, create an atmosphere of gentleness of mind. It’s a quality of awareness that feels soft and pliable and open.
Now, when students feel this, they don’t feel pressured to learn. They feel curious. They’re trying to measure what – how much does the book weigh. They’re trying to gauge or name what is that sound. And you bring them together in that way into the immediacy of something that’s happening and that will help them feel awake, aware and present. And when they’re awake, aware and present, keeping them accountable to tasks and deadlines is a much easier task. We don’t have to drag them to the starting line. They’re already awake and present in the classroom. And then they can attend to the next instruction at hand.
We often aren’t aware of how far away our kids’ minds are. And simple activities that can bring them back. During the course of our classroom time with them, it’s also important to weave in the recognition of interconnection and that everything that we’re doing is not just about us. It is not just for us. Everything we’re doing affects everything else around us. Like ripples in a pond, our actions touch the surface of things and ripple out to the people in our vicinity, the people we know and of course to ourselves.
So, constantly reminding of the interconnection in a positive way can help students again want to be accountable, want to be – want to achieve, what to attain. So, when the room gets quiet, recognize that. Notice how still the room got, maybe you did a mindful awareness practice. See how we all created the stillness that didn’t come from any one individual. It came from our shared effort. It came from our shared collective focus on the breath, on being still.
If there’s a big disruption in the class, if the loudspeaker, particularly if it’s some external disruption, noise outside, a commotion in the hallway or some kind of interruption on the loud speaker. You can point to that and then say, “Look at how that affected the quality of concentration in the room. Let’s see if we can bring our concentration back. Let’s notice the feel of our desks on our hands. Let’s notice our weight on our chair. Let’s see if we can settle the room as quickly as possible even after that distraction.”
Weaving in the small cues, going along with the content that we’re teaching are much more positive way to reinforce, focus in attention and a learning attitude than waiting for things to get out of control and then have to raise our voices or criticize or discipline in a way that further disrupts that gentle quality of awareness. The more we can find ways to build in this kind of inspiration and quiet attention, the more easy it is going to be to reinforce a positive work out ethics and attitudes. And we inspire by simply leading the way with these kinds of reminders and focuses and gentle rest in the middle of a process of learning.
One positive way to stimulate the awareness of our interconnectedness is to have a practice of appreciation, of kindnesses in the class. So we’re cultivating a student’s sense of gratitude and we’re cultivating their awareness and appreciation for all the kind things that are done for them by others every day. You can have the students have their own gratitude book or kindness book, or they can do it in their regular self-reflection journals if they have them for one of their classes.
And at a regular time on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, or Thankful Thursdays, have them bring out their notebook and just take one minute to write down one thing that someone did for them that was kind during the day. They picked up a pencil, or gave them something to eat, or show them what the homework was, or explain something to them, or waited for them at the bus, or anything small that happens during the course of a day. And have them write that down.
Oftentimes teens feel very alone. They feel like nobody sees them. They aren’t aware that other people are expressing kindness and doing kind things for them. They’re not aware of the ways that those small kindnesses influence their day. Bringing a student’s attention to this makes them more appreciative, makes them feel more connected, and makes them feel more inclined to be kind towards another.
And when students feel supported, they’re more able to take on disciplines or commitments and be accountable because they feel like they’re not just trying to push the boulder uphill on their own. So the remembrance of kindnesses, both if they receive and that they extend is very important when you’re trying to in a positive way, change a student’s habits for the better.
The fourth way to help students maintain an inspired commitment to improving their study habits, their behavioral habits, their personal habits is to have them care about themselves. The more they feel an authentic genuine care for themselves, not a conceit or an arrogance or self-centeredness but a real care and appreciation for themselves, the more they’ll be able to adjust their behaviors and stay on track.
The simplest way to do it is to regularly have them practice a love and kindness exercise, expressing love and kindness towards themselves. They’ll get in the habit of doing that. They’ll get in the habit of encouraging themselves and supporting themselves and being their own best friend themselves which most teens are not. And this can go a long way to alleviating a lot of negative rumination, a lot of self-criticism and self-doubt.
So, let’s do a short love and kindness practice towards oneself and this is something that you can do with your students. Or have them lead one of these practices in the class. So let’s use the bell to focus our attention.
Take a moment to notice your weight on the chair and your feet on the floor, and the rise and fall of your breath.
And then turn your attention to these words. Send yourself good wishes without any self-criticism, without any hesitation, full-heartedly, may I be happy? May I be peaceful? May I be confident and free from worry? And may I experience love and kindness?
So, really send yourself those wishes, allowing yourself to choose the words that most resonate with you. May I be happy? May I be peaceful? May I be confident and free from worry? And may I experience love and kindness?
And you can keep repeating those wishes or other wishes to yourself, allowing yourself to experience those wishes being sent to you by yourself.
And when you hear the bell, we can finish.
And the fifth and final habit that I’d like you to share with your students in order to support them in their desires to cultivate better study habits, learning habits, behavior habits is this exercise that will help them redirect and disregard negative patterns of mind. We want to help our students let go of negative thought processes and let go of recrimination and rumination and all the different ways that teens have that talk them out of their higher selves, talk them out of success, talk them out of doing what makes them happy and allows them to pursue those things that are more negative.
And for this exercise, letting go of negative patterns of mind, the students that I’ve worked with find the thought bubble most helpful. They find it most easy to allow themselves to let go of negative patterns of mind when they’re watching those thoughts and consciously letting them disappear. And thought bubble is an easy exercise. It’s a little bit like a video game. And the way we do it is every time you notice a thought you put it in a bubble of any size, shape, color and let it float away. And let it disappear from your awareness. Don’t let your mind get cluttered with bubbles, just let them all go and each time you notice a thought, let it go.
This exercise helps kids see what’s going on in their minds. And when there’s a constant negative refrain, it does break that. So, even if they have a negative thought that’s going on. They’re afraid of something. They feel they’re going to fail at something. Being able to put that in a bubble and let it float away breaks that pattern of thought even for a short while, even if they go back to it again. Now, over time they’ll realize that they are able to break that negative pattern. They are able to look at something else. And they are able to let that thought bubble go. And letting go of those undermining voices in their heads is a huge part of enabling and empowering them to realize their higher aspirations.
So, I encourage you to bring this exercise in to the classroom regularly. It really is one that the kids find easy and they like it. And it helps them before tests. It helps them after tests because some of them go into tailspins thinking that they have done terribly, some of them check out, some of them don’t want to know. They sort of do a disappearing act even though they’re sitting right in front of you because they’re afraid of what they’re going to find out.
We want to help students let go of that negativity and be able and prepared to deal with reality as it is, get the support they need and keep moving on, keep moving and realize that life is one constant flow of events and that they’re always able to find opportunities, to improve their course to get support and to gain some autonomy over their experience. Let’s do a short thought bubble meditation. When you hear the bell, we can begin.
Let your attention rest. And when you’re ready, the next thought that you notice, it could be a sound, it could be an idea, it could be an emotion or it could be a sensation. Simply put it in a bubble and watch it float away.
If you forget and just start thinking a train of thought, put that whole train of thought in a bubble and let it all float away.
And if your thoughts are so many that you can’t keep track of them, put the distinct thought and bubbles and let them float away and create one big bubble for all the other thoughts and just let them float away.
And the more you watch, the more your mind will settle down.
And you can begin to bring your attention back and when you hear the bell, we can finish.
That was great. So, we’ve gone through five tools that you can use to tap your student’s inspiration and build accountability. So that you can focus on their higher goals, help them use this time to learn how to stay on track, how to follow through.
And the first of those five attitudes and tools is really foundational. You know, one is you want to help them fall in love with what they’re doing, with life as it’s happening, with the change that they’re interested in and with the process of change. So that they’re not just looking at a goal but they are looking to experience something that they feel happy about. And that inspiration and positivity is going to help them stay on track.
The second tool is helping them be present in life as it’s happening, slowing down using mindful awareness in small moments, to really create that habit of paying attention and being present and not being distracted. That will help both with their inspiration and with their awareness of what they’re being accountable to and for.
The third tool is getting them to see the interconnection, how we all influence each other and that everything we do can support people around us. The more they change, the more they’re going to inspire their friends. And the way to help them recognize this in a simple way is getting them to focus on small kindnesses, the things that they experience and receive from other people every day.
And the fourth tool of our session today is helping your students cultivate care for themselves using the love and kindness, practice getting them to focus good wishes towards themselves, breaking up habits of mind that are negative and teaching them the benefits of really sending themselves the kind of care that they wish to receive.
And the final tool for today is helping them redirect and disregard negative patterns of mind. And we do this using the thought bubble, practice in particular and there are plenty of other ways to do that. These are all positive tools that help students let go of the negative.
I wish you all a very good second half of the year. I hope that your experience in the classroom is one of deepening ease and enjoyment where you feel refreshed and fed as a teacher rather than the opposite and may your students feel greater autonomy in their own learning process, greater command over themselves and greater joy in life and kindness towards others.
So, it has been great to be with you. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And I look forward to talking with you next month. As always, email your questions in to me and I will respond online.
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