The Conscious Classroom

Creating Optimal Learning Environments - 5 Anchor Tools for Stress

August 29, 2021 Episode 42
The Conscious Classroom
Creating Optimal Learning Environments - 5 Anchor Tools for Stress
Show Notes Transcript

Back to school this year is new territory. How can we manage our own sense of uncertainty? How can we build a welcoming class environment for students who have experienced so many challenges over the past year, challenges which haven't ended. 

In this Back to School session, you'll learn:

  •  5 Anchor Tools to manage stress in the moment, in the classroom
  • 3 Anchor Tools to ritualize and create a positive environment around health, hygiene, and transitions for your students
  • 3 Anchor Tools for you to create a pause between your workday and your time after work. 

Let me know what you think!
What anchor tools are you using to ground and stabilize you and your classroom?

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Creating Optimal Learning Environments - 5 Anchor Tools for Stress

Hello, welcome to The Conscious Classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. In this session, we're going to talk about creating optimal learning environments and using mindful awareness and self care tools to establish a foundation for a strong and supportive school. 

We're going to need to be flexible this year. We're going to need to have all our best teaching skills at hand. We're also going to need to have our stabilizing emotional skills, those skills that enable us to weather uncertainty, hold our students through grief, concern, anxiety, apathy, and proceed with full enthusiasm and a sense of possibility. Because when we've experienced a huge disruption like we have with the pandemic, possibilities open up, changes in culture are able to happen more quickly and with less resistance then oftentimes when things are going smoothly. So let's look a little bit at what the lay of the land is, the possibilities, as well as some of the trepidation. In this session, we are going to work with stabilization tool to be able to create optimal learning environments.

And I'll be giving you some specific anchors sequences that I've developed for this year that you can really employ and begin to use as a go-to that you repeat over and over. So it becomes a habit. Some of the possibilities that we can see as we move forward into this classroom, into this school year is the fact that  we're all returning from our own environments and gathering in the school building for the first time, for most of us in a year and a quarter.

We're able to recognize the need for emotional care, for purpose and meaning for teaching in a way that activates interest and allows our students to much more fully participate.

Because students are returning to the school environment, their work habits, their study habits, their discipline in time, most likely will not be what it was when there was an unbroken momentum. The way we can work with that is to create learning groups, learning pods that are more participant participants. When we allow our students to engage in these learning pods that are more participatory, we can invite their engagement in ways that their traditional call and response of classroom teaching doesn't allow for. This way of teaching is going to be important to help draw students out to resocialize. To teach them how to engage with each other and with the learning materials.

 The online learning environment is a different environment than when we're in person. There's a focal point of the presenter and everyone relates to that presenter. In the classroom in person, we can allow students to relate to each other. We can allow students invite students much more easily to build on some of what somebody else said to have a discussion, a conversation, a circle gathering, rather than all responses point back to the lecturer, the teacher, the center point.

Those habits of cross-pollination are going to sow the nutrients of creativity into the ground of your classroom. Now that school has been disrupted, you can really work with that. You can really draw on that. You can also invite more restorative circle work check-ins,  emotional identification card tools, picking the emotion out about one of the social- emotional learning slide decks, or ones that you just create.

Recognizing that our whole person health and wellbeing contributes to our ability to pay attention, make sure students hydrate, wash their hands, develop rituals around caring for themselves so that good hygiene in our classroom becomes part of self care rather than keeping an illness at bay. So rather than a negative, make it a positive. Turn these rituals into ways of, of supporting, nurturing, caring for the self.

" These are your tools to get your body ready to learn because you have a lot to learn today and a lot to grow into and so many great adventures in education to explore." Turn these things into rituals of self-care,  you'll start building that environment into the classroom. Working on our own stability, we'll model for our students.= What we want to see. When we have more centerdness grounded-ness ease and spaciousness we'll have more resources available. We'll be able to better direct our students and they'll learn that excitement and enthusiasm, as well as discipline and learning, come from that kind of happiness, spaciousness, acceptance observation, mindful awareness and calm.

In this part of today's session. I want to talk about the importance of strong immune systems and why our stress management matters so much. We're going to work with five anchor steps and those anchor steps are going to help us work with hard emotions.

I'm sure I don't need to name for you.= Some of the things that are on your mind going back to the classroom, some of the things that you may have lived through this year.

It's certainly been a challenging year for so many of us. And if you've built positive tools during this time, if you've connected with your simple passions, with your love of reflection, contemplation reading, cooking, being with your family, easy times together, a less harried life running from place to place  - appreciate that sense of simplicity.  Appreciate the strength it brings and appreciate the stability that you provide.

If we've been able to create that kind of stability in our lives, it's helped us better deal with the challenges in the culture around us. In my city, we've seen a terrible increase in gun violence that has touched all neighborhoods, all age groups, also socioeconomic levels, and it is hard. We're seeing an influx of refugees who are coming from recent war and holding our city's arms open to welcome people who are carrying so much fear. There are students who are going to arrive from the battle lines into the class.

It's going to be a tough re-entry. So our self-care, our stability will help us hold the cultural hurts as well as open up doors for healing and for happiness, for little happinesses, little joy. That will move everything forward.

First thing we need to be able to do that is our own stress management system. And these five anchor steps, when you're presented with something difficult, are invaluable. You can do them anytime, anywhere. The first of those anchor steps is to identify what you're feeling. Make a list on a post-it note right next to you, give your brain 90 seconds to let the immediate flare up die down.

Maybe you heard about new refugee students arriving in your class and you heard some of their stories. And of course you have a human response and maybe you also have some concern about how you're going to navigate that with everything else in your classroom. Those reactions are important. They give you important information about your care, about your concern, but allow the immediacy of the situation to register and then give your brain 90 seconds to let the strong response die back. So maybe you feel the suffering, but you want to return to equanimity. You want to return to acceptance.

And one way to do that is simply by having a post-it note list the emotions. Your second of the five anchor steps for working with hard emotions are to notice where those feelings land in the body. So we're moving it from your cognitive thoughts about what to do and how to solve the problem. The second step is just to notice the physical sensations.

Where has that emotional response landed in your body? Is your jaw clenched. Do you have a fist in your belly or your palms sweaty. Are your eyes puffy? Is your heart heavy? Is your throat closed? Are your toes gripping the floor? Where is this landing in the body? How strong is it landing in the body?

Remove that feeling from your thoughts as an issue you need to solve in this moment, noticing the sensations. And then the third step for our five anchor steps of working with hard emotions is to breathe into that part of your body.

So if you feel a knot or a fist in your stomach, breathe in, send that air to the tight knot in your stomach. Invite that to release just a little bit, invite that lump in your throat to soften just a little bit, breathe into that part of the body, send the air into that part of the body and allow your breath to normalize and allow your whole body to come into balance, to synchronize with itself. So that those strong emotions aren't standing out.

Step four is to allow the reactions to settle down.

So these five anchor steps working with hard emotions: number one, identifying what you're feeling. Number two, notice where it lands in the body. Number three, breathing into those parts of the body. Number four, allowing the reactions to settle down and then number five, choosing how you'll respond or what support you might need.

Choosing how you're going to respond may mean that you're going to continue teaching your class as you planned, and that this isn't the moment to address those concerns that you just learned about. It may mean going to your desk and writing an email to your behavioral health counselor and saying, I need to talk to you before these students join our classroom. I need to understand better how to work with this situation.

Choose how you're going to respond, be intentional. And if you choose to move on with your lesson plan, as it is because that's what's appropriate for this moment. Park your questions, park your concerns, know that you're going to come back to them. You can write it on another post-it note, "I'm going to speak to . . .   And name their name so it's a real person. So you have a next step.

Take a moment right now and practice these five steps. Write down what you're nervous about name and release your feelings onto that paper. Without trying to resolve the situations without trying to change the conflicts, use the anchor set. Write them down. Notice where it lands in the body. Breathe into the body.

Allow, invite your body to relax just a little, let all of your thoughts and feelings and sensations settle down, then choose your response. Be practical, be specific. Be clear about what you're moving into.

 I'm going to give you two more sets of tools. One is for yourself and one is for your classroom. Since we just did a one for our selves, we'll do one for the classroom.

Create positive transition times between classes. We have structured lessons that we teach throughout the day. It's the transition times where we can create  a way to invite our students to relax, to center. And to feel safe and held by a structure that's open, but guiding.

 Here are three tools for positive transition times.

The first one is creating a calm and welcoming environment and a happy and closing environment. Playing soft music in your class as students arrive and leave so simple to do. And most of us don't fill our classroom with music. When everyone hears that music when they come in, it tunes their mind and their emotional sense to the same frequent.

It attunes the classroom. Even if they're coming from all different corners of the building and many different classes beforehand, it attunes them to the same environment. So they hear the music as they're coming close to the door, as they  find their homework on your desk and take their seats.

Everyone starts attuning to the same mood, using that music as an anchor to draw everyone together. Similarly, when students leave. Students may have had all kinds of different experiences in your class. Some will have done well. Some will have done poorly. Some will have struggled. Some will have said brilliant things.

Having some exit music, which sends them off into their next class, keeps everyone together, guides them towards their next step, provides a closure. It's very valuable . You can use your computer speaker. You can sync it to the smart board speakers. You can have a little USB be or Bluetooth speaker on your desk. It doesn't take much.

You can use low-fi beats that are instrumental. You can vary it out with classical. You can vary it up with instrumental popular songs. You can use popular songs. Vary the style, vary the rhythm. You're not trying to play the favorite song. You're giving them a sense of curiosity, opening the senses and pulling everybody together.

So the second anchor tool for creating positive transition times is to make hydration and hygiene part of the entry and the exit in your classroom masks, hand sanitizer wipes . If you're having the students wipe off their desks, if you're having them wipe down their hands. Creating a sense that everyone cares for our shared space.

If you have a window, bring in a small plant.

If you have the possibility to have a large jug of water, so students can take a sip on their way.

Or have their own water bottles. Make it  a ritual. They hydrate before they leave. "All right. Pull out your water bottles, make sure you, you hydrate your brain, hydrate your body. Keep yourself going."

And the third Conscious Classroom tool for creating positive transition times is to incorporate a minute at the end of your class to collectively appreciate the positives that happened. So maybe your technology failed completely and a student helped. So together we found a solution. Maybe somebody did a brilliant presentation. Maybe somebody one on the won an award or a team won a game, or his students shared their drawings. Notice the small things that happen, make them conscious, be mindful, bring mindful awareness to them.

 Make that a ritual before the classroom scatters. 

So those three tools: creating a calm and welcoming environment by playing music, bringing everyone together, having everyone restore their bodies, including you. Hydrating hygiene. And three, making a ritual of noticing the positives that happened during the class coming together on some positives, even if it was a class from hell there's, there are some positives there, small ones. Doing that together, showing that it matters bringing mindful awareness.

Very important. 

Now, three tools for you to reset and to build your immune system and to support wellbeing and mindful awareness, mindful cultivation of that, which brings us joy and happiness are these three tools. So these three are three recess tools for us. The three anchor tools to allow us to reset and rest and lighten things up.

The three tools are, I decided to keep them beyond simple, things that you already do, already can do. But when we bring our mindful awareness to them, when we make them conscious as actions and attitudes that are there to facilitate our inner strength, our inner growth and development, our evolution towards higher capacity, higher states of being, higher expressions of our better natures. So we're not just doing these everyday activities as a matter of course, we're setting them  in an intentional and conscious container and that intentional and conscious container is one that is really about our higher capacities.   

They're super simple. You got to think you've heard me say them before, which I have, but bringing this intentional quality to our actions is what creates the difference.

So here are three to allow your body, your psychological network, your emotional network, to reset, to balance in order for your life to be happy and full and directed, and meaningful and rewarding.

So the most important one is build in a reset for your body after work. Before you do anything else. Maybe you need to walk a few blocks around the school before you get in the car to go home. Maybe you need to walk a few blocks in your neighborhood once you get home, before you enter the house. If you know that as soon as you entered the house, you're onto the next thing you're cleaning, you're cooking, you're attending to other people -build in a short, physical touch point for you to stretch your body, move your back, swing your arms, roll out the kinks in your neck. Oxygenate. Breathe deep. Get some air into those corners of your lungs.

Maybe the first thing you do when you go home is you get the dog leash, take your dog and enjoy your dogs' happy, bouncing around.  Getting a good oxygenating walk in. Maybe you're taking your bicycle out and getting a quick ride. Maybe you're just shaking it out and having a three minute dance party, letting yourself go shaking out everything that's happened. And then intentionally washing down your face, washing down your hands, washing off the day.

If you constantly feel stressed after a day of school changing clothes, when you at home can help you separate yourself from your day, I'm consciously ending my school day here. I'm picking up my home life.

Second anchor tools eat in a relaxed way. If you have a snack after work, sit down, put it on a beautiful plate. Just for you. Go in the backyard or on your porch or in front of a window or in your favorite spot in your house, where you just have a beautiful photograph to look at of someone you care about or a plant or it's the colors you love.

Eat intentionally in a relaxed way, in a beautiful way. You don't have to change what it is. Maybe it's a cold drink with ice.    Or it's chips and salsa. Put it on a plate. Sit in a relaxed way. Allow your body to digest. Allow your jaw to enjoy that stress relieving chewing.

Consciously set that nutrition in a context of feeding your whole self, your body and your brain and your heart so that you're strengthening, you're filling your reserves. You're growing towards your higher potentials. You're reaching towards human fulfillment. How we think about what we do really matters.

The third unbelievably simple anchor tool when -you get home from work is to hydrate. It's often hard to drink enough at work. When we're in the school system, we can always run to refill our water bottle. We can't always run to the restroom. I know our schedules aren't designed for the human body. Hydrate intentionally, let your brain flush out it's toxins.

So those are five anchor tools to deal with difficult emotions and situations, three anchor tools for transitions in the classroom. Ritualizing them, making them growth, oriented, positive oriented, and three anchor tools for your own recess afterwards.

This is going to be a very interesting year ahead. Let's focus on what's positive, possible. Let's focus on what we can bring to our students. And let's focus on the unbelievably magic container of conscious and intentional awareness. What that can really do to transform our relationship to ordinary activities, to one where we're appreciating our full potential as human beings on earth. We're honoring our own desire for health strength, happiness, purpose, growth and joy.

Let's close this episode of The Conscious Classroom with a short meditation.

 Allow yourself to come into a stable and tall focus posture.

Letting your eyes rest on a beautiful color or shape in your room or letting your eyes softly close, allowing yourself to turn to the core of yourself. Turn inwards, allowing yourself to feel into that sense of wonder, notice your breath or simply notice that sense of space.

Just like when we look at the sky in the middle of the day, and we look at that space between the clouds, that space that extends in all directions. Allow that space to carry you.

And as we bring this short meditation to a close, if you feel so moved please do continue to sit in stillness and allow that current of awareness to restore you.

I wish you a good year. Good start here year. I look forward to working together to keep sharing insights and tools and practices and metaphor for ways we can bring mindful awareness to activate and energize and uplift our learning communities be well.

#mindfulness, #schoolmindfulness #stressreduction #teachersupport #backtoschool