Mindfulness @ Forest Glen P.S.

Exploring purposeful experiences for student well being

Why Mindfulness?

The Classroom Teacher and Student Work Study teacher wanted to work on a collaborative inquiry that supported student well being. We knew from our collected teaching experience that student learning had a social emotional component that could not be ignored. Both the Student Work Study teacher and the Classroom Teacher had some previous experience with a personal practice of Mindfulness.

We discussed using Mindfulness in the classroom as a means of supporting student well -being. We wanted to promote strategies for students that could be pro-active for students to lead healthy lives. We believe that mindfulness is one possible strategy that could be beneficial to students. There was one student in particular who was demonstrating what could perhaps be viewed as anxious behaviour in the classroom. Many students mentioned experiencing stress before tests. As this is a third grade classroom, some students referenced the EQAO test as a potential stressor. We hoped that purposeful selection of mindful learning experiences would benefit all students.

Our goals for students included:

  • wanting students to be able to recognize when they were and were not paying attention by using the tool of mindfulness
  • to be able to recognize that mindfulness can be used as a tool to calm down in stressful situations.

The Student Work Study Initiative provides an opportunity for documentation of the Collaborative Inquiry to take place.

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Our thinking aligned with curriculum and several educational resources in Ontario. In the Report, Achieving Excellence, A Renewed Vision for Excellence in Ontario, there are four main areas of focus. Student Well Being is one of the areas."Elevating well-being as a goal for education in Ontario recognizes its fundamental importance to our learners and their futures."(2014)

The Growing Success document stresses the importance of the Living Skills expectations in the Health and Physical Education curriculum."These expectations are designed to help students develop a positive sense of self, use coping and management skills, monitor their own progress, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and use critical and creative thinking processes as they set goals, make decisions, and solve problems. These skills clearly overlap with and reinforce the learning skills and work habits listed on the preceding page, and will help students succeed in school and throughout their lives." (2010)

We hoped that Mindfulness would have an impact on students' learning skill of self-regulation. Stuart Shanker defines self-regulation in Calm, Alert and Happy as the following; "In simplest terms, self-regulation refers to how efficiently and effectively a child deals with a stressor and then recovers (Porges, 2011; Lillas & Turnbull, 2009; McEwen, 2002)." (2013)

There is much research on the importance of social emotional learning for students. In Krechevsky et al's Visible Learners, state that "powerful learning is purposeful, social, emotional, empowering and representational".(2013)

We felt that exploring mindfulness in the classroom could indeed be a powerful learning experience that was purposeful, social, emotional and empowering for students. It could be used as an explicit strategy to promote positive mental health with students. It could be a tool to help students recover from stressors.

Theory of Action

If we use a balance of purposeful, focused activities that enhance mindfulness in response to student need then students’ knowledge of self-regulation will be richer and our classroom community will be enhanced.

Our Initial Research

There are many definitions of Mindfulness. Our initial research* led us to The MindUP curriculum. which is a research based curriculum designed specifically for classroom implementation. We continued our learning throughout our inquiry by attending the PDSB's psychology conference on, Mindfulness to Enhance Student and Staff Well Being which featured Dr. Amy Saltzman. She offered the following definition of Mindfulness as shown in the image to the right.

Classroom Environment as the Third Teacher

"In order to create a learning environment that builds learning power a teacher must create positive interpersonal relationships, honour student voice and encourage perspective taking."(The Third Teacher, 2012)

In the video below are examples of the elements of the third grade classroom that make the physical environment inclusive and safe for students. The soundtrack is "Together We Are One", by Serena Ryder which is a favourite of the students to sing during Tuneful Tuesdays. Messages to students that they can make a difference are on display in the classroom. Cultural diversity is respected. Many times students were heard speaking in their first language. Students would use the Zen water board to create water pictures. On one occasion the student who was presenting with anxious symptoms painted Be Mindful during a transition time in class. During reading times students were able to listen to a story with a teddy bear.

In Tribes A New Way of Learning and Being Together, Gibbs, describes the community circle as having originated from the Anishnoabe healing circle, and as "step one in implementing the essential protective factors that foster resiliency: caring and sharing, participation, and positive expectations." (2001).

in this video clip, Dr. Jean Clinton speaks of the importance of creating safe, caring spaces where students feel a sense of belonging. She states that when students stress levels go down they are able to learn.

During the weekly Community Circles, the classroom teacher would ask students to answer "what is the weather inside you?" as a gage for how the students felt, thus enabling students to have safe accepting space for their voice.

Inclusive Classroom to promote student well-being

It's All About Your Brain

We began our instruction of Mindfulness with an introduction to the brain, it's parts, the function of those parts and how the parts interact.

Mindful Experiences in the Classroom

Wellness Day at Forest Glen

Forest Glen P.S. promotes positive mental health through an annual wellness day. In this way the school "Make (s) social-emotional learning a whole-school focus. Social-emotional learning can exist as an intentional, authentic process that is woven into school culture with common understandings, competencies, and language that involves all members of the school community" (Carney, 2014). Students participate in a range of activities from dancing, Japanese calligraphy, tumbling, mindful eating, yoga, to creating art.

Student Voices

Student Created Smore

Click here to view student learning on Mindful Seeing. Students also worked in small groups on Smores to share their learning on Mindful Listening, Mindful Smelling, Mindful Movement and Mindful Tasting.
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Using Mindfulness in the classroom
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Key Learnings and Wonderings

The intention of our inquiry was to promote student well being. Although many scientific researchers may have the tools and professional expertise to measure the impact of using mindfulness in the classroom, we are relying on qualitative data. The data is collected in the form of the triangulation of data-observations, conversations and products. Collection of data in this method are examples of pedagogical documentation that help to shift from a "culture of teaching" to a "culture of learning" for educators. (2015)

The most powerful 'evidence' is that of actually being present in the classroom while students are practising mindful breaths. Students began to request the practise. When the breaths are over, there is a definitive shift in the classroom atmosphere. The core practise of pausing to breath deeply and pay attention creates a community of learners.

Additionally many students described using mindful breathing in situations outside the classroom. One student described using breathing to calm down while he prepared to be goalie in his soccer games. Another student described teaching her sister to take deep breaths when she is upset.

Additional insights are as follows:

It is important and worthwhile to teach explicit strategies that promote student well-being as our first curriculum.

Curiosity and joy must be purposefully pursued in order to have a place in the classroom.

If mindfulness is implemented in the classroom, educators need to take time to learn about it thoroughly. Dr. Saltzman recommends that educators have their own practise before implementing it in the classroom.


Student Work Study Collaborative Inquiry 2015/2016

A collaborative inquiry by Marie Stephenson, 3rd Grade Classroom Teacher and Janet D'Silva, Student Work Study Teacher

* Special thanks to Vice Principal Miranda Murphy who oriented us in our initial research.