Strengthening Your Co-Teaching through Mindfulness
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
In our second blog post, we talked about the relationship between tandem teachers, and the importance of putting effort into it. Shifting the co-teaching metaphor from a marriage to co-parenting, we emphasized the importance of being able to work together for the good of the children, regardless of whether or not your co-teacher is someone that you would otherwise choose to spend time with. We called this ‘walking the walk’ of the third goal of sociocultural competence, since we have to be willing to do the work to get along with others if we are expecting our students to do the same. In this week’s post, we return to these ideas as we introduce our experiences with mindfulness practices; and in particular, a focus on kindness, appreciation, and gratitude as one way to strengthen relationships among students as well as between tandem teachers.
While we were teaching together at La Paz, we participated in a full-day professional development workshop on mindfulness by Dr. Kristin Race, a neuroscientist who founded Mindful Life, which promotes mindfulness practices in schools, families, and workplaces. The whole staff participated in this training, and afterwards, we were given access to the weekly Mindful Life lesson plans and parent letters in English and Spanish. After the training, the staff committed to implementing the curriculum simultaneously, so that it could be a school-wide initiative and everyone - students, families, and staff - could all be having a shared experience with it.
The lessons are brief and can typically be implemented in five minutes or less - often, as little as 1-2 minutes, repeated 2-3 times per day to help the new practices and their effects take root. So although it was something new and ‘one more thing’ we were having to add to our daily schedules, it wasn’t overly complicated or time-consuming, and we all agreed that it was a worthwhile investment. From a tandem teaching perspective, it was also very simple. We agreed that we would take turns introducing the new lesson each week, and we each found a few minutes in our daily routine to reinforce that week’s lesson, usually during routines that we had already established, like morning circle, settling back in after recess or lunch, or closing circle at the end of the day.
Very quickly, our willingness to invest time into this activity paid off, as we saw benefits for our students like increased self-regulation, positive affect, and a shared language about how to help themselves and one another. As teachers, we also noticed that doing the mindfulness activities with our students helped us to stay more centered and calm, even while working through challenging experiences. Over the years, La Paz teachers have continued to incorporate Mindful Life practices into their classrooms, with students now increasingly taking leadership responsibility for them. For example, in the first-grade classrooms, students take turns being the ‘mindfulness master’ who directs a mindful listening and breathing activity during transitions back inside from recess or lunch.
After the core mindfulness lessons on sensory skills like mindful breathing, listening, seeing, smelling, and movement, the Mindful Life curriculum provides a number of lessons on promoting positive interactions with one another by fostering the inter-related dispositions of appreciation, gratitude, and kindness. As these lesson plans note, practicing gratitude, kindness, and appreciation all trigger positive changes in the brain. Specifically, they trigger the release of the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin as well as dopamine, which also promotes happy feelings along with increased energy, focus, alertness, enthusiasm, and determination. Clearly, when we practice gratitude, kindness, and appreciation, everybody wins!
One of the suggested Mindful Life activities that we incorporated into our classrooms to promote kindness, gratitude, and appreciation was to invite students to express appreciation or offer compliments to one another, and to do so ourselves. We often used this as a way to reinforce prosocial norms in the classroom and outside on the playground, such as inviting other students to play, sharing toys or supplies, helping one another with work, etc. For example, after coming back from recess, we might gather in a circle and start by expressing appreciation to a student we observed who had noticed a child sitting alone and invited that student to play, or to a student who held the door for another student on the way outside. We would then invite other students to express appreciation for actions that they had experienced or observed during recess. Similarly, at the end of the day, it often created a good feeling to end by reviewing positive things that had happened that day and soliciting statements of appreciation from a few students about events during the day that they were grateful for.
We also started an appreciation jar, which was just a small empty jar that we decorated and dedicated to the purpose of expressing appreciation for one another. We placed a stack of small squares of paper and some pencils next to the jar, and invited students to write down statements of appreciation for other students that they didn’t have time to share or perhaps felt shy about sharing themselves. Students with emergent writing abilities could start by just writing the name of the student they’d like to thank along with a smiley face, a picture of what they’d like to convey, and possibly a single word; or, another student with more advanced skills or an adult could help by writing as the child dictated.
As we carried out these activities with the students and noticed the resulting changes that were occurring within the classroom and across the school, we decided that it would be a helpful practice to begin among the adults as well. At the whole-faculty level, La Paz administrators created an appreciation bulletin board and placed a heart on it for each faculty member, along with his or her name. Colleagues were invited to write brief expressions of appreciation on each others’ hearts as they were inspired to do so.
Tandem teachers can carry over these ideas into their own partnership and show appreciation for one another. Talk with your partner to figure out an approach that works for you. You can implement the practice of expressing gratitude by starting each co-planning meeting by sharing appreciation for one thing that the other person did since your last meeting, make an appreciation jar, leave positive notes for one another in your mailboxes, or have a special box in which you put notes for one another and pass back and forth throughout the week. Whatever you decide upon, you’ll find that expressing appreciation for one another can strengthen your relationship and help you to be mindful of the positive aspects of your special bond.
What experiences do you have with implementing mindfulness practices as tandem teachers? Have you used them to enhance your relationship with your partner as well as a teaching practice with your students? Share your comments below! We would love to hear your thoughts!
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