The Conscious Classroom

What We Learned from the Pandemic

June 29, 2021 Episode 40
The Conscious Classroom
What We Learned from the Pandemic
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Amy Edelstein explores what we learned about students, teaching online, and essentials during this past year. What supports students' well-being? How do we create relationship even when we are not in the classroom? When we are forced to simplify, what rises to the top as the most important learning tools? The pandemic brought out the importance of well-being, for positive health outcomes and for ability to stay steady in a tense and uncertain world. Amy illustrates how to use mindfulness in the classroom and how to continue to apply the lessons learned during the pandemic in the months and years to come.

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What We Learned from the Pandemic:
Creating a mindful, aware, and conscious classroom 
with Amy Edelstein

Hello, welcome to the conscious classroom podcast. My name is Amy Edelstein. In this podcast. I want to talk about some of the things that we learned during the pandemic. Things that are going to serve us as we move forward and things that we want to make sure that we address and build upon as we both for ourselves as teachers and for our students, as we move back into the classroom in the fall.

I think the three things that we learned immediately is one that self care matters. It makes a difference to our mental state. It makes a difference to our resilience and it makes a difference to our health outcomes. The second thing we learned is that relationship and community are critical. They're vital, and we need to find ways to keep our relationships strong and supportive even if we're socially distant.  We need to keep our community close. And the third thing that we learned is to make our practices relevant to our lives, to make the discussions that we have relevant, to make the examples and the courses that we're teaching relevant. I'm going to unpack each of these three in this podcast. As we move into summer and take that time to restore and refresh and renew, to be able to walk outside and notice the sun, notice the clouds feel that sense of freedom that we feel when we're don't have to bundle up inlots of warm clothes or masks, if you're living in a place where you've been able to be vaccinated and it's safe. 

Summer is a time to allow the busy-ness of the school year to fade into the background, to be more than do. As you move into your summer you can almost feel a sheath, like an energetic sheath around the body that is just fluttering to release stress and tension. We have all been carrying so much. If you live in a city like mine, like Philadelphia in the east coast of the states or in other parts of the world with similar conditions, this year has brought stress both from the pandemic and also from an increase and violence and an increase in economic insecurity. That takes a toll on us. We, we steel ourselves every time we walk outside, every walk, every time we walk by a busy corner, every time we go to a crowded venue. During the summer find parks, places that you can walk, almost anywhere has some public spaces with safe and well-kept trails.

And as you walk notice the beauty of the leaves and the sun on the leaves and the different shades of green and yellow. Notice the shape of the bark. And the twists of the branches and allow that those natural shapes and bendings as he traced them with your eye, allow those shapes and bendings in the natural world around you to help on bend the kinks and tensions that we carry in our body.

It's almost like off- gassing the stress. When you're outside in the sun, allow your body to release, allow your body to let go. 

Self care really matters. We have to take care of our basic needs in Maslow's hierarchy. Those basic needs of survival, which have to do with safety and security. Which have to do with an ability to move around in our world, feeling the ability to connect with others, feeling the ability to be appropriately undefended.

It doesn't mean that we don't protect ourselves, but we don't carry around extra shields of armor that trap all that fear. and tension.  Allowing ourselves to unwind, to let go, to be easy now, before we go back to school, will help us figure out how we're going to weave those moments into our classroom, into our daily schedule, how we're going to teach them to our students and help them teach them to each other.

Activating peer relationships this fall is going to be more important than ever before. So many students have carried so much and disclosing may take time. Maybe they don't know how to, maybe they are afraid to maybe they've buried experiences during the pandemic in a way that they don't bring  up, but they're still unresolved. Creating space for peers , or slightly older students to lead slightly younger students, sophomores of freshmen or juniors of   freshmen, seniors of juniors, seniors of sophomores,  creating these pairs.

We're allowingstudents to take a leadership role, which will help them process their own experiences. And it will allow them to use their own intuition and their own experience to help the younger students unravel and also release that stored up tension and stress.

There's no doubt about it, that we cannot separate self care from academic learning. We cannot expect students who have suffered a loss, students who've been on a block where several people were shot or died within  within earshot or within walking distance from their home. We cannot expect that.

To act and learn as if nothing had happened. We're whole people and whole people need whole care.

Compassion is not  something that is extended human to human from on high it's a posture or attitude or position of the heart. Compassion sees another and says that other not just could be me, but is me. We are one human family we're united  by the same elements. Our bodies are made up of the same organs. We work with the same processes, seeing another in distress  and caring to alleviate  their distress is not a model of extending towards someone who is deficient. It's a model towards someone who is the same, who we care about  as we  care about ourselves, who we care about as  we care about our loved ones

if my finger is bleeding, I band-aid it because my finger is part of my whole body. The human family is one whole family. Our earth is one large biocosm our care for ourselves and our care for others is the foundation of a life well lived. It's a foundation for a world that comes into order and harmony.

As we saw during the pandemic without self care, over time, health conditions get compounded, immune systems get weakened. Ongoing experiences of stress and violence lodge in the body as toxicity, as vulnerability to disease, as a lack of strength with which to come back a virus or other pathogens.

Self-care makes us strong, not invulnerable, but solid, resilient, generative and creative.

As we saw during the pandemic, there is an inequity in fundamental health outcomes among different populations. Those populations that experience more violence, more stress, more insecurity, racism, inequity, under-resourced schools and housing and blocks and communities centers, threats from the structures of society that are designed to protect us, those communities need self care, urgently, urgently, urgently. If you're working in a school where the students are experiencing any of those issues I just listed, weaving self care, weaving whole person health and mental and emotional wellbeing, weaving in techniques to relieve anxiety, stress, grief, and trauma is essential for learning outcomes.

How do we do that in the classroom? Of course, all the mindfulness tools that we talk about are the conscious classroom. Restorative community circles, help creating environments and situations and group formats, where students are able to process with each other or with a caring adult, makes students feel like their lives matter.

Like they're being heard now. Oftentimes students are shocked. And creating that environment takes time not pushing and seeding those discussions with questions, writing exercises, journaling exercises.

What was your hardest moment? What got you through that hardest moment? What do you wish you had now when you remember that hardest moment?

When you look around your school, after coming back after a year, what would you like to change? What do you feel is missing? Those questions. What would you like to change? What do you notice is missing? How are you seeing your environment with fresh eyes? Those are questions that you can use to adjust your classroom, to make it more welcoming, to make it centered around those issues that students are experiencing now.

What do students see? What are they noticing? What are they missing? What were some of the comforts at home that they wished they had at school? Maybe having bottles of fresh water in the classroom, that they can pour themselves. A glass of water just makes your classroom that much more welcoming.

You don't have to buy them. You can,  you can have a big  jug or a dispenser of cold water, inviting students to hydrate, to care for themselves, making them feel like this is not a restrictive and country  environment, but it's one that acknowledges the needs of the body as a non separate from the needs of the mind.

How would they like their room arranged? Did they like their chairs always in the same place? Would they like to rotate?

Would they like a quiet corner? Would they like self-reflection journals? If they need a moment, is there a way that they can respectfully take that moment without causing drawing too much attention to themselves? Causing too much disruption in the room. Students may go through periods of anxiety. They may go through periods of grief and loss.

They may go through emotional moments when something reminds them of a loved one who passed. It's human. Part of education is helping students process and value themselves. And value their inner world value their emotional world and learn how to communicate that or be with that. So invite the students through open-ended questions and see what you can enact.

One or   two things, so they know they're being heard. They know they're being  responded to.

Self care matters.

Think about yourself, think about what you need and what moments or environment in your classroom is going to help you feel like you have a space when worry or sadness overwhelms you, maybe you're going to miss your family, your children, your partner, maybe you miss being at home and the safety and security and ease of being in your own environment.

Maybe you find the needs of your students overwhelming, and you need to send yourself love and kindness to support your own self. To nourish your own self. We all matter. Our self care matters. Your self care matters as much as your students do, because if you're depleted, they'll feel it. And if you were energized and supporting yourselves, they'll you'll model that.

So keep yourself at the front of the list. As they say on the airplanes, put your oxygen mask on first. And post pandemic, this is really important. We're in it for the long haul. This summer, allow yourself to release, sit and watch the wind and the clouds wherever you are, whether you're in a natural environment or in the middle of a city.

Find where you can just be where you're not doing, you're not racing after something. You're not cramming something into a busy schedule. You're just allowing your system to unwind.

The second thing we learned from the pandemic is that relationships matter. Being in relationship with people whofuel us, who make us happy, who make us feel possibility. Letting relationships with those who drain us be quieter. We don't have the reserves to, to constantly pour into a bottomless

well. We have to draw boundaries and those boundaries can be loving. Again, when we're depleted and discouraged or empty, we don't have much to give to our friendships. So drawing those boundaries is kind for self and other

creating community means allowing for a sense of belonging, creating in your own life, whether you live alone. Or you live with your family or you live with another creating community, has to do fundamentally with our relationship with ourselves. And when we feel warm and at home and fueled and fed in our own lives between us and us, our classroom becomes a place of self-sufficiency and support.

Community is enriching. It's not just there to serve a lack. It's generative. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. How do we create that? In our classroom? We create community moments and we create them with shared agreements. If you're going to have a morning meeting where the, the class comes together and shit.

Create the parameters for that together. Create what's allowed in that circle and what's left behind. Create how to ask questions or the order of speaking, create that together with the students so that you're building supportive community and  everyone feels like they belong. And  a student may want to feel in their own bubble within that community.

That circle is wide enough and welcoming enough to allow that student to be grief and loss. Take time to process respecting the boundaries of grief. Without damping down on fun and enthusiasm and laughter and joy will eventually allow that student who's processing grief and loss to come through and out the other side and to find themselves enjoying life again, in spite of themselves.

Creating space for students to speak about a loved one they lost, to cherish them so that they're alive and their memories are alive. Not being afraid of death, not being afraid of the gap, but allowing the loved one who passed to get a new life through the memories and stories that are told about it.

Being interested, caring and making room within that community for everyone who's present. And for everyone who's on the minds of those students in the circle.

Relationships matter. And some students will be tentative entering into relationship. Again, they may be self-conscious. They may be fearful. They may be mistrustful. Maybe they consumed a very unwholesome diet of social media, negativity of harsh talk of boundaries of prejudice, a fixed ideas. One way to break down boundaries is over food..

Some classrooms restrict having food together, but maybe there are ways to have a special advisory breakfast once a month in the cafeteria, everyone meets early at school for breakfast and advisory has breakfast together

or after-school snack. Or have a club once a month, which is breaking bread together. When we meet over meals and share and laugh and talk something different happens. Then when we're in a classroom. When we meet in the break room with other teachers, protect the positive community vibe, be interested in positive things that have happened.

Ask your colleagues questions about their summer, about what helped them relax about what they enjoyed. Put the attention on those things that are nourishing, create community around that which is good.

And the third thing that the pandemic taught us is the need for things to be relevant to our lives. Sometimes we need entertainment and escape, but that's still connected with the reality of our lives. Education is going to need to be made more relevant. We don't have time for examples that don't fit our lives.

Math examples can be rewritten so they're useful. So they're illustrative of problems we have to solve. Distances, velocity, amplitudes, all those things can be changed so that the substance of  what students are learning and that you're teaching has real relevance, it's connected and especially history, current events, literature, self-reflection psychology,

biology. All of those things can be connected to our experiences over the pandemic and with   the great outcry for racial justice and the end of oppression and subjugation in seen, and also unseen ways to making learning relevant .And allowing students to write and reflect and discuss in their peer groups. Questions about the subject matter that connects with their lives, drawing those parallels, teaching students that learning is fueling, it's energizing. It fills them. It gives them strengths, strengths that they'll need as they move about their lives.

So take time over the summer to allow yourself to unwind, to give yourself room for what's new. When you go back to school, see what you notice with fresh eyes, having been away. See what stands out as the good parts of your school, build on those. See what stands out as the ugly parts of the school and change them. Ask your students, find out from them:

what are they seeing with fresh eyes? What are they missing? What are they happy to have build on those? Engagement and concern about student engagement and withdrawal Israel, but engagement starts small. It starts with one little thing. Create openings, like inviting a shy animal to eat from your hand, being patient, having your palm out stretched.

Humans are social creatures and we will eventually stretch a hand out and grab the extended hand.

And finally pull on external resources, bring in speakers, bring in voices. It's easy enough now, since we had a year that was virtual. To invite somebody into the classroom via zoom, do a question and answer with a health coach or wellness coach or a physical trainer or an athlete of what they do, how they overcome mental chatter,

bring different voices in for 10 years. It's easier now than it was before the pandemic. There's a world that's opened up. People understand video calls. We've gotten over that awkward, how do I unmute my mic? We've gotten over putting our face too close to the camera. We've gotten over all those things.

We've actually learned quite a lot in the last year. And that porousness you can bring into your classroom without adding stress and without adding too much pressure to the students, keeping things alive, keeping things, moving, keeping things relevant, giving students time, giving students away too.

Process over the course of the summer. I'm going to keep talking about how to let go unwind next time. I'm sure we'll do some more practice until then be well, explore, stay in touch and  allow yourself to envision the extra ordinary. 

#school mindfulness, #teen mindfulness , #inner strength system, #amyedelstein