Bringing an Attitude of Gratitude Into the Classroom

If you can bring any aspect of mindfulness into the classroom, introducing your students to the concept of “Gratitude,” and finding opportunities to engage in gratitude daily, can be one of the most beneficial practices for students. A number of studies have shown that even a small dose of daily gratitude can increase optimism, decrease negative feelings, enhance school connectedness, and improve over all attitudes towards school and learning. Dr. Alex Korb, in his article “The Grateful Brain,” also argues that practicing gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that is responsible for eating, sleeping, metabolism, and stress. A regular gratitude practice also increases dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness and joy. This is likely why people who regularly practice gratitude often report greater levels of happiness.

Bringing gratitude into the classroom does not have to be difficult. The internet is full of great ideas and activities. I have included just 10, although the possibilities are endless. If you need a reminder of just how much there is to be grateful for, take a moment to watch “Moving Art”. It is a wonderful reminder that every minute of every day holds the opportunity to express gratitude and that gratitude is all around us if we only take a moment to look.

Kindness Matters: One Simple Act at a Time

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As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindness there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ~ Samuel Johnson

It really can be the smallest of kind acts that can make your heart run over. At the end of last year, stuck to one of our school walls, I came across the small post-it note pictured above. It was a simple concept, offering up a smile to anyone needing one. I have no idea how long it had been there, or where it had come from, but seeing all of these little happy faces grinning back at me warmed my heart and made me smile. Determined to find out who was responsible for this random act of kindness (RAK), I sent a picture out to staff. However, since sometimes the best part of a random act of kindness is in the mystery, no one took ownership. Wanting to share the smile, I sent it to friends and colleagues. From this tiny post-it note, the concept spread. Some staff planned their own RAK and some colleagues followed suit with carefully posted notes in their own schools. The greatest part of a RAK is that it is hard to know how far the ripples of kindness will extend.

Rakphoto1Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of many wonderful acts of kindness. Last year, one of the secondary schools in my district planned a mass RAK for every student in my school with the purpose of simply spreading a message of love and kindness. With the effort of many, it happened over the weekend. When students and staff returned Monday morning to find the lockers, doors, and walls pasted with pink and red hearts it created a sense of happiness and joy that was palpable. The building felt alive and there was a lightness in the school that is hard to put into words.

Over the years, I have also had the opportunity to see the impact participating in a kind act can have on students and adults alike. The research behind the benefits of participating in acts of kindness is abundant. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, argues that one of the key factors to happiness is participating in acts of kindness. The benefits of performing acts of kindness are undeniable. Performing kind acts cultivates shared happiness, builds relationships, and connects us to the larger world. In a recent study out of the University of British Columbia entitled Kindness Counts, a group of researchers studying 19 classrooms of students ages 9 to 11 found that students who performed three acts of kindness were happier and also experienced greater levels of peer acceptance at the end of the study. Performing acts of kindness also fosters a sense of empathy and compassion that is at the root of establishing basic emotional intelligence. The more a child practices acts of kindness, the more likely they are to recognize and act on situations when others are in need. In addition, they are also better able to recognize the impact of their actions on those around them. Looking at the brain science, practicing kindness also strengthens the neural pathways necessary for detecting emotions and releases dopamine, that happy chemical in our body.

rakphoto2Performing acts of kindness in your classroom can be as simple as a post-it note on a locker or require a bit more organization like creating a “Thank You Tree” for your local library or some little care packages for your local elementary school; a couple of kind acts that students in my school participated in this year. There is also an abundance of great lessons, activities, and picture books that introduce the concept of kindness and get ideas flowing.

Some simple suggestions include:

  • Read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Wallace and have students brainstorm what kindness looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
  • Create “Kindness is…” posters and display them around the school.
  • Read The Important Book and have students create a class book entitled “The important thing about kindness.” By using the format of the book, students focus on what kindness is and what kindness is not.
  • Read Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed and create a flow chart that outlines the chain of events that resulted from one kind deed.
  • Read Ms. Rumphius and have students brainstorm a list of kind acts they could perform for others, for themselves, and for the world. Have students select and perform one of their kind acts and report back.
  • Read Have You Filled a Bucket Today. There are so many activities you can do with this book. My favorite included having students make their own paper buckets. They then wrote down a simple gratitude for each person in the class and placed it in that student’s bucket. This book lends itself to great conversations about what it means to both fill and dip into the metaphorical happiness buckets of others through our actions and our words.
  • Write and deliver thank you letters.
  • Have students research and report out on someone whose kindness made the world a better place.
  • Have students use their list of possible kind acts to create a kindness wordle like the one below (www.wordle.net). Post their wordles around the school to inspire others.

RAK3

As this week is officially Random Acts of Kindness week, I challenge you to try three things over the course of the week. First, I challenge you to perform one kind act of your own and then reflect on how it made you feel. It can be something as simple as emailing an expression of gratitude to a colleague. Second, I challenge you to take acts of kindness into your classroom. Give students ownership over planning and performing their act of kindness. Let them be creative and think with their heads and their hearts, and then give them the time needed to reflect on the experience afterwards. Lastly, I encourage you to let kindness spread. It can be hard to turn over the reigns of control to our students but the value gained from one kind act either given or received can have an immeasurable impact on the life of a child. After all, as Eric Hoffer stated, it is only through practice and experience that people discover, “That kindness can become its own motive [and that] we become kind by being kind.”

Two Days with Dan Siegel: Lessons on the Whole-Brain Child

DDS_Home_Dan

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days learning from Dan Siegel when he came to Coquitlam as the keynote presenter for our district’s professional development day. With a colleague, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to collect him from his Vancouver hotel and bring him back to Coquitlam to present that evening to our district parent community.

To me, Dan Siegel is the rock star of the mindfulness education world so, not surprisingly, I saw this as a pretty amazing opportunity. So much so, that I made the effort to slip a mention of my afternoon excursion into as many conversations as I could. While my enthusiasm was lost on some, it was most certainly felt by others. As the day wore on, my shameless name dropping had somehow unexpectedly landed me with a list of “must asks”. Some questions were around how to foster resiliency, others were on specific aspects of the MindUP program, and one, from my educator cousin, was on the values of transpersonal psychology. How exactly do you slip transpersonal psychology into a typical conversation?

On the long drive back in Vancouver rush hour traffic, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Dan on everything from education, to politics, to B.C. culture and travel. I also managed to touch on a couple of the “must-asks,” although transpersonal psychology did not make the cut. The car ride was just the launching point for two enriching Dan Siegel filled days. In addition to attending the DPAC parent talk that night, over 1000 Coquitlam teachers heard Dan Siegel’s keynote the following day, and a few, including myself, had the opportunity to ask questions in a smaller setting after the keynote address was finished.

With pages of notes and the rest and time that comes with Spring Break, I have finally had the opportunity to weed through all the information I had collected in order to make sense of it all. I took a lot away from Dan Siegel’s visit but, in no particular order, the following nuggets of wisdom stood out:

* Be open to who a child is and let go of who you want them to be because when we don’t accept children for who they are we are actively telling them they aren’t good enough: This was a big one for me. As educators and parents, we have dreams for our children. Recognizing that these dreams may be “ours” and not “theirs” is a key to understanding children for who they are. The potential of a child is infinite; don’t limit a child by our vision of what they could or should become.

* It is not a child’s temperament that determines success but rather how parents and adults respond to that temperament: As educators, we all know that some temperaments are easier to deal with than others. Trying to see the strengths and opportunities behind the temperaments that don’t always make our lives easier can be a worthy challenge.

* A survive moment is also a thrive moment: As a teacher, and administrator, helping some students and parents understand this one can be challenging. It is only natural to want to protect your child from life’s difficulties. Yet when we do this, we send children the message that they aren’t capable of solving their own “child-sized” problems. We can also hinder the accountability that is so necessary as they move through life, as accepting accountability for actions and trying to right our own wrongs is key to learning and making better choices in the future. This doesn’t mean we leave children entirely to their own devices. What it does mean is rather than sheltering them from life’s difficulties, as parents and educators, we need to help them understand these experiences and learn from them.

* The 3 new R’s of Education should be Reflection, Relationships and Resilience: When children are interconnected, in tune with others, and have the capacity to be reflective, it increases empathy and understanding for the self and others. The ability to be reflective and to understand the self and others is what builds resiliency.

* Education should strive to integrate the left and right sides of the brain: As educators, we tend to teach to the logical left brain and ignore the emotional right brain. Creating an interconnectedness between the two can be a challenge but is an important key to creating a whole-brain child.

Dan Siegel Brain

* We are not a singular noun but a plural verb: I love this! As educators, we need to capitalize on the brain’s built-in capacity for social interaction and create positive mental models of relationships. The “me” discovers meaning and happiness in life by belonging to a “we.” Check out one of my absolute favorite documentaries “I Am” for more on this subject. You can watch the full documentary on ITunes.

* Feelings are not facts: Students need to understand that feelings come and go. They are temporary states of mind that are ever changing. By developing mindsight, or the ability to look inside your own mind as well as the minds’ of others, students are better able to deal with ever-changing emotions. If you want to understand more about how this is done, reading Dan Siegel’s new book “The Whole-Brain Child,” is a great place to start.

* The Healthy Mind Platter: Similar to our food guidelines, which are designed to keep our bodies healthy, the Healthy Mind Platter is a great reminder of the simple things we need each day to stay mentally healthy. I heard of one teacher who labelled classroom activities based on where they fell on the healthy mind platter. This is a brilliant idea and a constant reminder to children that a healthy mind is as important as a healthy body.

HealthyMindPlatter

The list of takeaways above are really just a few of the key gems I took away from hearing Dan Siegel speak. With that said, it hopefully gives you a bit of a flavour for who he is and will hopefully inspire you to learn more about nurturing the whole-brain child. If you are interested in exploring the topic further, here are a couple of great starting points.

Whole_Brain_ChildDan Siegel’s book “The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind”

The Dan Siegel Website: Full of great resources, including more on the healthy mind platter, videos, and audio of his wheel of awareness and breathing practices.

Video Series: 6 steps to Build Kindness and Resilience in Children with Dan Siegel

The Things that Matter

favorite things 1When we think about “things that matter” to us, we have been taught to try to think of those things that don’t hold any monetary value: family, friendship, love, and even time. This morning, I watched Nate Berkus talk about his new book, “The Things that Matter.” While he focuses on the objects in his life that hold meaning, in essence they represent the very things I mentioned above. As I began to scan my own home, which is carefully scattered with important possessions I have gathered along the way, it was easy to pick out those things that were most meaningful to me.

What is it that makes us hold on to things: old pictures, family heirlooms, shells and beach stones? Sometimes it’s the sentiment behind the object; the fact that someone important gave it to you and you couldn’t possibly part with it. More often, what gives objects meaning in our lives are the stories they tell of who we were or who we have become. They make up the layers of our life and, in some cases, are gentle reminders of those intangible things that make life rich and truly meaningful. For me, the “things that matter” are all too often reminders of lessons learned, journeys I have taken, and moments that needed remembering.

favorite things 3When I graduated from university, I was given a memory box. It has my name engraved on the front and it contains many of the things I hold dear. There are old black and white photos of family, my aunt’s small book of poetry about “Hope,” and all the letters and postcards I sent to my family while abroad only to have them given back to me one Christmas tied in ribbon. There is a heart shaped necklace given to me by dear friends when I left my teaching job in Finland. It was never really meant to be worn. Rather, the necklace came with a note attached asking that it serve as a reminder to always hold a space in my heart for the place and people I had grown to love. There is also a leaf, a beach stone, an old coin, a book mark, a few newspaper clippings, and a small glass rosary. None of the latter would mean much to anyone else, but each tells a small part of the story of my life.

favorite things 2In the past, I have had my students reflect on the objects that matter to them. I give them a few days to think about it, eventually asking them to bring their object in. Bringing in their item generally narrows the field down to things that can fit in a backpack, although I did have a student bring in his dog once. Each time I do this activity, I am surprised at the variety of important possessions that come into the classroom. I have seen beach stones, shells, an arrowhead, pieces of jewellery, handmade gifts, photographs, and ornaments of all shapes and sizes. You can tell a great deal about a child by the thing that matters to them. You find out who they care about and the things they value in life. Just like each item in my memory box tells a story, the object in each child’s hand tells a story of significance to them. With our prized possessions, we mindfully look at them and carefully examine the physical attributes not previously seen before. We then draw them, paying attention to the detail, and use our illustrations as the jumping off point for writing about the significance of the item we hold dear. Oftentimes, we then share our stories. Every single “thing that matters” has a story attached.

I encourage you to take a moment to look around at the little things that matter most to you. What is it that makes these simple possessions so important and meaningful? I also encourage you to try this activity with your students or even your own children. No doubt you will find it is not only a revealing look into their lives outside of the classroom but provides you with an opportunity to see beyond simply the object they hold in their hand and into the heart of what really matters most.

A Mindful Look at Making a Resolution

new years blogIt seems as if this time of year the hot topic for bloggers is New Year’s resolutions. There is the group that write about the many resolutions they will make. They start the year with a renewed sense of optimism and hope that what they learned in the previous year will serve as the foundation for further growth and development. Then there is the group that write about the resolutions they should make but refuse to do so as it sets them up for imminent failure a month down the road when the resolution is a distant memory.

Each year, I fall into one of those two categories. There are years I whip out a new journal and record the list of resolutions I know I should make: exercise more, get more sleep, cut out bad carbs and sugar and so on. Other years, I wake up on New Years Day, give thanks for a new year, and motor on with life as I am currently living it. This year, I know I should exercise more, get more sleep, and cut out the bad carbs and sugar but, since I tell myself this on most days, it seems futile to put them down on a list. Instead I want one resolution, something that can serve as a beacon for the journey through 2013.

When coming up with a New Year’s resolution, I think we need to take time to be mindful of the experiences that come into our lives and the lessons we learned the previous year. Lately, it seems as if most things I read, stumble upon, or am sent by others revolve around the importance of making mistakes. About a year ago, I watched Brene Brown’s famous TedTalk on her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I ordered the book shortly after but only just started reading it after the book repeatedly came up in conversations, in book recommendations from friends, and even while flipping through magazines. This is just one example of the many reminders I have had to learn to be more comfortable with making mistakes. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something, or perhaps my discomfort with even the thought of making mistakes has made me more sensitive to the message. Either way, I have been listening.

When I was searching for a quote regarding New Year’s resolutions, I stumbled upon the wise words of Neil Gaiman. This is what he had to say:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

So this is my one and only resolution, to become more comfortable with making the mistakes that come with taking risks and to be more forgiving of myself when I do. Each day I remind middle school students, when I am teaching them in the classroom or they are sitting in my office because they have made some sort of a mistake themselves, that life is all about making mistakes, being accountable, and learning from them. I then sometimes get to remind their parents that the purpose of childhood is to make lots of small mistakes and to learn from them so they are hopefully better equipped to handle the big ones that come with being an adult or an emerging adult. I also remind kids that mistakes are a part of life and they are a risk we take if we truly want to push ourselves out of our own comfort zones, embrace challenges, and strive to be more creative and authentic people. Somewhere along the way, some of us, including myself, forgot that the same message we give kids is equally as important in adulthood.

So my wish for you this year is that you take a chance on yourself and try something new. Maybe it’s a new idea you have wanted to try out at work, maybe it’s a new hobby, or maybe it’s a trip you have wanted to take. As Robert Schuller said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” As Nike said, “Just do it.”

“Glitzing Up” Your Understanding of the Brain

I was recently teaching a MindUp workshop to teachers in my district. A primary teacher asked how to introduce the concept of the brain to young children, or more specifically, the impact of stress, anxiety, and fear on the brain. This is a question I have been asked many times before. From an adult perspective, learning or teaching anything about the brain seems like a complex undertaking. The reality is, we don’t need to be neuroscientists to teach students about the brain or about the impact of stress, anxiety, and fear on brain function. When I teach these concepts to adults, I use the same visuals I would use with a class of middle school students or with a kindergarten class. The key is to provide students of any age with key visuals they can connect to and refer to when needed.

In addition to using Dan Siegel’s “Hand Model of the Brain,” which I wrote about in an earlier post, the most successful visual I have found to demonstrate the connection between stress and the brain is by using glitter balls. The use of glitter balls came from Susan Kaiser Greenland. I have included her video clip below. When I demonstrate how the parts of the brain function in both a calm and stressed out state, I begin by explaining that all the pieces of glitter represent the roughly 2000 bits of information our Reticular Activating System takes in each second. When the mind is calm and clear, like the unshaken glitter ball, information is able to pass successfully to the other parts of the brain. If we need to store or retrieve memories, we can access our hippocampus with greater ease. If we need to solve complex problems, make connections, or focus and pay attention, information is able to travel to our Prefrontal Cortex where learning takes place.

In contrast, when the mind is anxious or in a state of stress, the mind becomes just like the shaken glitter ball. Information is sent to our amygdala, our flight, fight, freeze center, as opposed to where it is needed to go. Like the glitter ball, the mind becomes cloudy and unfocused, information swirls around, and it is much harder for information to get where it needs to go. Can’t we all think of a time when our mind felt like the shaken glitter ball? I imagine it was hard to focus, hard to remember things, and hard to keep information straight.

When I teach students about deep breathing, we look at the glitter ball again. This time, using our breathing, we shake the glitter ball and breathe while the glitter slowly settles to the bottom. This represents the calming effect of breathing on the brain. Students as young as kindergarten can relate to the visual of the glitter ball, and I have seen the image of the glitter ball reappear in conversations and in writing. I remember one of my former kindergarten students, during a particularly tough moment, tell me his brain felt like the glitter ball. His thoughts were swirling around and he recognized he was having a hard time controlling it.

If you can’t find glitter balls, making your own is simple enough. Before I came across Kaiser Greenland’s video, I used the jar of thick oil and small beads pictured at the start of this post. You can also create a more glittery visual by using hot water, food colouring, glitter glue, glitter, and a glass jar. In a small jar, mix a couple of tablespoons of glitter glue with hot water (if water is cold, the glue won’t break down). Stir until the glue is dissolved. Add a drop of food colouring and some dry glitter and shake. For a great book that goes with this concept, try “Moody Cow Meditates.” Since the deep breathing practice (Brain Break) used in MindUP is not considered meditation, I change the book to “Moody Cow is Mindful.” In this great children’s book, Moody Cow is shown how the glitter jar represents his “moody” brain in the same way we teach the glitter jar to students. By the way, for those techies out there, Moody Cow also has his own IPad app.

Once you have used the visual of the glitter ball, I have done a number of extension activities with students. Some of these activities include:

  • Journaling about a time their own brain felt like the shaken glitter jar. What was going on? What did it feel like? How did they calm their mind?
  • Having students cover a paper circle entirely with glitter glue and then write about things that cause them stress, anxiety, or fear. The paper glitter ball can also serve as the center starting point for a web.
  • Placing just a small bit of glitter glue at the bottom of a paper circle to represent a calm mind. Have students write about things that calm their mind or complete a similar web to the one outlined above.
  • Brainstorming a class list of strategies that can calm the mind and then writing them on paper glitter balls that can be posted in the classroom for future reference. This is also a great activity once students are farther into the program and have more information to draw on.
  • Having students bring a small jar from home. Students can then create their own glitter jar that can be taken home, explained to parents, and left at home for future reference.

In short, you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to demonstrate the impact of stress on brain function. No matter how old or young your students, the glitter ball teaches the basics of what students need to know. I also promise you that whether you teach adults, middle schoolers, or kindergarteners, the enthusiastic response is the same. For those students that want to learn more, which some do, you also don’t need to have all the answers. Sometimes questions are the best segue into demonstrating that teachers are learners too. While I feel I have a good understanding of the brain science behind MindUp or mindfulness education, a recent visit to a couple of middle school classrooms in my school left me with questions I couldn’t answer with “complete” confidence. One student insightfully asked whether a photographic memory was an indicator of an overdeveloped hippocampus. Another told me that the reason our flight, fight, freeze mechanism doesn’t always pick the best option is that it is so primitive it does not have the capacity to factor in modern dangers. You don’t need all the answers and, when in doubt, Google!

Finding a Mindful Balance with Technology

This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time with other administrators learning about the power of technology from our very interesting guest speaker, George Couros. I left with so many great ideas about how to better integrate technology in my school. I was also left questioning the role of technology in mindfulness education.

During the day, I rarely stop using technology, and often that extends into my home life. I hate to admit it, but it is not unusual for me to be watching television, working on my computer, and checking email on my iPhone all at the same time. This is the same thing I see with many of my students. The space our children live in is fast pace and technology has very much shaped how they live in the world. A vast amount of information is just a click away and even communication and friendships have gone online. In Goldie Hawn’s book, “10 Mindful Minutes,” she argues that in some ways this has created what she calls a “butterfly brain.” Constantly flitting from subject to subject, we lose focus on the single task. Brain research has shown that this “butterfly brain,” can be toxic to brain development. It has an impact on cognitive functioning, memory formation, focus and attention, and, when socialization predominately shifts online, to the development of healthy interpersonal relationships. With that said, does technology have a place in mindfulness education? After much reflection, I would argue that it does.

To argue that technology has a place in mindfulness education may seem ironic, as the two often seem like opposing forces. With that said, technology can also play a very positive role in a child’s education and in the development of a more mindful child. Below are just some of the “mindful” uses of technology in the classroom.

Technology can connect us as a community of learners

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called, “I AM.” It is well worth a watch and can be viewed on iTunes. One of the many powerful messages in the documentary is that the human desire, above all else, is for connection and mutual cooperation. When used efficiently, technology has the capacity to connect us as a community of learners and can also foster a sense of interdependence and cooperation fundamental to any mindful classroom environment. The following YouTube clip illustrates how one school in Hawaii used technology to connect as a school, as well as to their community, to the larger world, and to their own family histories.

Technology allows students to share powerful ideas

In our recent technology presentation, our speaker, George Couros, quoted Chris Lehmann when he said, “It is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it.” Our students are a wealth of powerful ideas and their capacity for kindness, compassion, and empathy always inspires me. Technology has provided students with the opportunity to share their thoughts and issues of deep importance to them like never before. One of these students is my friend’s son, Cole Philipp. Inspired by a simple school project on “Paying it Forward,” he took his learning and passion for an orphanage in Mexico to another level. Using what he knew about blogging and social media, he set up a facebook page, created his blog http://www.philipp.ca, and documented his journey. A grand total of $35,000 later, he continues to raise awareness for a cause close to his heart.

While Cole raised money for an orphanage in Mexico, former Coquitlam student, Zoya Jiwa used technology to share her struggle with lupus. It was through her experiences that she created her own positive self-esteem program she calls, “Simply You.” Through her multi-media presentations, and her TEDXKids Talk, Zoya now puts on workshops, talks to schools, and works with students to enhance self-esteem and healthy body image.

Technology allows us to spread kindness, compassion, and empathy

There are many ways to improve brain function, and participating in acts of kindness is just one of them. Each time we do a kind act, we grow our brain’s capacity for care. Dopamine levels rise in the brain fostering a positive mood and increased levels of optimism, energy, and self-esteem. We also know that watching kind acts gives us a similar positive experience. A few years back, a group of School District 43 students, with their counsellor, started Random Acts of Kindness. Before they knew it, Random Acts of Kindness became a nationally recognized day and sparked thousands of people to use technology to document their own kind acts.

For a few samples, click on any of the links

Student Kindness Project

Sticky Hearts Campaign

Free Hugs Campaign

Technology connects us to the larger world

It was not that long ago, that our world seemed like a much smaller place. The chances of knowing what the average person was doing halfway across the world were nonexistent. Technology has allowed students to connect to the larger world in an unfathomable way. My former leadership students used technology to create presentations on issues affecting students in other parts of the world. YouTube has also provided educators with the opportunity to put a human face to issues plaguing our society both locally and globally. Mrs. Andrews’s Grade 2 class took their passion globally when they used Facebook to create the Kindness Project. Their goal was to challenge a million people across the world to participate in a Random Act of Kindness. Upon my last check, they had over 16,000 subscribers. Students used this Facebook project to connect to the larger world, explore the countries their followers lived in, and engage in discussion based on the comments and random acts of kindness left on their Facebook page. In this case, the use of social media took the simple message of kindness to a global level and left students feeling they had left their positive mark on the world.

Technology has the capacity to increase student engagement

One of the biggest goals of education should always be to inspire and engage students in life and in learning. Technology has provided one positive tool for engagement. What we know about student engagement is that when students are fully engaged in an activity, they are most often present in the moment. In addition, when students are involved deeply in their own learning, it has a significant impact on the brain. Involvement in meaningful activities increases dopamine levels which increases alertness, attentiveness, quick thinking, motivation, and mental energy. Meaningful, engaging activities also create a positive association with school and learning, and aid in the rich formation of memories needed for future learning. In the following YouTube clips, two sisters explain how technology allowed them to engage in a deeper understanding of Japanese internment. One of the students explains that in the past, she read a book and maybe completed a worksheet. Using technology, she argues she was able to make much more out of her learning than could ever be demonstrated on a page.

While we all need to be mindful of our dependence on technology, and on some of the negative impacts it can have on brain development when used improperly or in excess, the value of technology still exists in any mindful classroom environment. The key is to find a balance between using technology to enhance learning and providing students with the inner tools needed to calm their minds in a very fast pace world. While students can’t slow down the world they live in, mindfulness education is one of the keys to living more successfully within it.