September 13, 2022
In the past several years of my career, especially as we returned to school during the pandemic, my colleagues and I have noted significant increases in students’ disruptive behaviors across school settings. These range from non-compliance, disrespectful language, and yelling/screaming to assaulting staff and other students by spitting, biting, hitting, kicking, and throwing furniture. Other behaviors include negative self-talk, self-harm, and fleeing the campus. Many of our students have lived in multiple foster homes, have dysfunctional families, live in poverty and unstable living environments. Stress and anxiety appear to be at an all-time high. There is a real need for mindfulness and self-regulation techniques in schools to combat this emotional crisis.
I teach small groups of 2-4 students; some students are seen 1:1. Sessions range from 20-30 minutes. Focusing attention and calming bodies and minds are much easier for me to achieve in my teaching environment than for some of the general education teachers with 33+ students in a classroom. For some students with more extreme behaviors and those who don’t, I would like to create a mindfulness routine that helps them develop good stress management techniques. I want this routine for their sessions with me to run smoothly and give them tools they can take with them into their other classes, the bus ride home, their family environments, and their overall well-being.
For this school year, I plan to incorporate mindfulness into each session's beginning. I will start by asking students to do a “body scan” so they can build awareness of how their body/minds are feeling. Next, focus on breathing techniques, followed by another body scan. We will talk about any differences the students note between the first and second body scans. Next, I will ask them to think about something that makes them happy and what they are grateful for and then discuss what they have shared.
I will also have a “mindfulness” space where students can sit if they need to take a break from the group or lesson. There will be a picture guide to help encourage them to use breathing and visualization to help them calm themselves while in the mindfulness space. I have some fidget toys and glitter jars that can be used as calming tools. I have arranged the room to reduce visual stimuli and replaced overhead lighting with soft lamplight.
After taking this class, I realized I need to incorporate more movement into my sessions to increase blood flow and oxygen in students’ brains. I was intrigued with descriptions of exercises that cross the mid-line, especially those that are part of the “Brain Gym.”
Some materials I plan to incorporate into my sessions to encourage mindfulness and self-regulation are:
Teaching students mindfulness and self-regulation techniques provide them with the tools they need to access their education and succeed in all aspects of life. Through mindfulness techniques like controlled breathing, movement breaks such as those that cross the mid-line, and materials such as expandable or weighted balls, students will learn to be able to regulate their emotions and focus in various situations. I am excited to be able to share these techniques and materials with students to help them develop their emotional regulation.
This guest article was written by Katharine Ankeny while taking the online continuing education course, Overcoming Post Pandemic Stress: A Journey to Wellness.