Jeremy, Jelly Warfare, & Meditation
“Hey! That’s not fair.” Will was still attempting to wrestle the sandwich out of Jeremy’s hand.
“Why are you laughing, Jeremy? Cut it out already. You look like a moron when you smile like that.” With one hand John was typing up an email, as he tried to stop the jelly warfare with his other hand. “It’s almost time for school. You want to be late again?”
Fast-forward to your classroom…
Jeremy has once again earned himself lunch detention for telling someone not to be a “moron,” when they wouldn’t share the latest magazine from National Geographic. Now, you’re trying to think of a way to make this lunch detention worthwhile, without having to choke down your pizza.
You recall reading an article about replacing detention with meditation. It worked for one teacher. Why not give it a shot?
“Well, what is it?”
Jeremy looks up, “Meditation?”
“Yup. Now, I want you to close your eyes and take five deep breaths in, until you feel your lungs filling up with air. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Good job.
Ok, so now I am going to ask you some questions, but I don’t want you to answer out loud, only to yourself. Ok? I want you to think about Talia. Think about what happened earlier.
- What was the situation?
- How did you feel?
- What happened in that interaction?
- What was the outcome?
- Was there anything else that you could have done?
- How would you want things to happen in the future, if a similar feeling were to arise?
Ok, now. Take five more deep breaths. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Open your eyes. How do you feel now?”
Jeremy’s cloudy eyes open again, “I feel ok. I feel better than I did before. I still feel a little hurt, but I am not so angry anymore.”
The Mindful Moment Room
Yes, just like with our Jeremy, meditation is now being practiced in schools across the United States. While still few in number, the movement is growing.
Mindfulness and meditation are the first steps to emotional intelligence. Being aware of one’s feelings allows one to eventually channel his emotions in a positive way. Similarly, practicing emotional intelligence in our personal and professional lives as teachers is the first step in being able to give over SEL to our students.
More and more educators are realizing that the need for mindfulness and emotional awareness impacts all aspects of learning. As such, programs are cropping up which offer resources for teachers to be able to bring this into their classrooms.
For instance, the Holistic Life Foundation brings meditation, yoga, and mindfulness into schools in the Baltimore area. They serve approximately 4,500 students per week from over 14 schools. The results are in. They have had 0 suspensions after students began attending their after-school programs.
Robert W. Coleman Elementary is just one school that has benefited from partnering with The Holistic Life Foundation. Coleman Elementary students are encouraged to visit the Mindful Moment Room when they start acting up.
Furnished with plush pillows and lamps, the ambiance creates a relaxed feeling. Children who need time in the Mindful Moment Room are encouraged to do meditative breathing and talk out what they are grappling with in the moment. Detention is no longer the go-to solution for teachers at Coleman Elementary.
In addition to their meditation room, the school has a Holistic Me after-school meditation and yoga program. So far, after partnering with the Holistic Life Foundation and bringing meditation and mindfulness into their classrooms, there have been no suspensions for last year or this year.
SEL Statistics Are In
Likewise, on a national level Mindful Schools brings mindfulness to educators and schools. Teachers who take their courses report seeing student improvement in multiple areas:
- 83% improved focus
- 89% better emotional regulation
- 76% more compassion
- 79% improved engagement
Further research shows that students who practice mindfulness are less likely to participate in substance abuse, resort to absenteeism, or exhibit other behavioral issues. Furthermore, those same students increasingly score better on standardized testing. “A meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs, with over 270,000 students, revealed an 11% point gain in academic achievement in schools with well-implemented SEL programs (Durlak et al., 2011).”
Showing students how to positively handle their emotions impacts all areas of a student’s life, at school and after school.
“Decades of research have now shown that emotional intelligence and SEL are strongly linked to academic retention, avoidance of risk behaviors, and enhancement of health, happiness, and life success (Elias et al., 1997).
Evidence exists that SEL can accelerate student learning by increasing students’ intrinsic motivation to achieve, their ability to be attentive and engaged in their work, their satisfaction with learning, their sense of belonging, and their desire to work cooperatively with other students (Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hariharan, 2013).”
Promoting emotional intelligence through SEL in the classroom not only helps stave off negative emotions, but it also helps students develop positive emotions, leading to a life of flourishing.
Cartoon of the Century
Disney Pixar’s Inside Out may just well be the cartoon of the century (it was rated 41st on the BBC Culture’s 100 greatest films of the 21st Century List) for teachers who are trying to convey the intricacies of emotions to their students.
In its blockbuster 2015 debut, it tells the story of a young girl named Riley Anderson as she adjusts to the challenge of moving to a new home. It follows five of her personified emotions in her mind, while also showing the impact of her relationship with her parents on those emotions.
A clever way to teach about emotions, this film may be just the thing your classroom needs. In Whole-Hearted Parenting, Joshua Freedman advocates showing the film as an entertaining way to teach kids about emotions. It will help them to remember and engage with the complicated material of emotions.
Superhero in the Room
In Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress you learn exercises to cultivate mindfulness and the brain science behind the practice. It also features real-life testimonials from Mr. Musumeci’s students.
This text can be an indispensable guide for an elementary classroom. Children can learn from peers who are becoming the emotional intelligence leaders of their generation. Some of the young coauthors, now in eighth grade, continued on to speak to younger students about the importance of practicing mindfulness.
The journey to emotional intelligence is an ever-growing and difficult one, especially for students who come from homes devoid of this imperative lifeskill. Showing your students real-life examples on how mindfulness leads not just to emotional control and better learning, but also to leadership opportunities and success, can provide much needed motivation.
For older students, The Student EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Academic and Personal Success: Student Workbook, might be just the workbook needed to stimulate deep thinking about EQ and its reach.
Offering practical exercises, self-assessments, activities, discussion questions, and case studies, The Student EQ Edge Workbook is an ultimate resource for older students looking to channel their EQ for maximum personal and professional success.
Inspiring Noble Goals
The Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence to Know Yourself, Choose Yourself, and Give Yourself provides a circular process with underlying competencies. Know Yourself encourages self-awareness and understanding of our emotions, while Give Yourself relates to actions in the moment when emotions kick in and threaten to take over.
Interestingly, their Give Yourself component is unique in that it focuses on long-term goals, which establish who we want to become as a person. Joshua Freedman says that it is about our “vision and values.”
Helping students develop noble goals can help them focus on what is important in the moment of emotional difficulty, by reminding students of the person they ultimately strive to be. Have students develop and write down their noble goals.
The Scene is Set
Books, cartoons, and a plethora of resources to teach SEL is emerging. Yet, what do you do when you encounter a disruptive scenario in your classroom? This is assuming that your school has not yet invested in their own “Mindful Moment Room.”
Well, as proposed earlier, detention can become a scene of meditation, mindful breathing, or reflection. You can also make your own Mindful Moment Space within your classroom. Choose a corner of the room to become the comfy atmosphere that would help encourage mindful reflection. When behavior warrants, students can be sent to that part of the room to try to carve out some mindful space.
As a proactive method, opening class with mindful breathing exercises can create a safe, welcoming atmosphere. Three dedicated minutes of “Mindful Time” in the beginning of class can save a whole lot of wasted time on disruption during class.
You will also want to look into national, state, district-wide, and other local programs that promote mindfulness, social skills, and SEL as integrated into the curriculum or otherwise into the school day.
Teachers can start with online resources, such as free courses on bringing emotional intelligence into the classroom at EQ.org.
Helping Our Jeremys
We all have our own Jeremys in class. Sometimes we don’t see the outcomes that a small mindful exercise or the sprinkling of SEL activities can achieve.
For Jeremy and others like him, it can provide balance in an emotionally insensitive home life. It can show him that there are other ways to deal with emotions, arming him with the tools he needs to succeed socially and emotionally in school and at home.
What if we create a classroom climate of emotional intelligence? What if we encourage students to accept their emotions and show them how to respond proactively in a difficult emotional situation? Creating an emotionally intelligent classroom atmosphere can lead to an emotionally intelligent school culture: one teacher, one student, one classroom at a time.
We need to give our students the tools to understand what emotions are and where they come from. We need to show them how to assess their own emotions and how to cope with difficult emotions. Students should learn to foster empathy and positive emotional interactions with others. Ultimately, they should establish noble goals for who they strive to be.
*Stay tuned for our next article in The EQ Guide series. Educational leaders will learn how to create a school culture of emotional intelligence.