Mindfulness in the Classroom: Reflections and Non-Reaction

The Mirror
We are all reflections of each other.  Although I teach this to kids, this is a challenge for both kids and adults, myself included.  When I am frustrated, my students are more easily frustrated.  When my students are frustrated, I am more easily frustrated.  When we reflect patience, there is more patience.  When we reflect joy, there is more joy. 

Mirroring is a cycle that perpetuates itself, and we can use mirroring as a tool to transform the way in which we are perceived and treated. Often we don’t realize how we are moving, behaving or feeling.   I teach dance to share how we can more easily move through the world.  I am teaching how our attitude and behavior is reflected back to us.  Dance -- especially partner dance -- gives us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly.  

At a school where I just recently started teaching, the 5th grade class has been struggling to treat each other with respect.  The school chose this 5th grade class so they could work on improving behavior, specifically focused on the relationships between the students.  One of our goals is to improve the self-esteem of individual students and to shift the dynamics within the classroom community.

As the students were asked to dance together, the domino effect of emotional reactions began to explode.  Before the web of emotion spun too far out of control, we had to stop dancing and take a moment to reflect.  I asked the students to sit in a circle facing out with their eyes closed so they could raise their hands without anyone seeing their answers. 

Here are some of the questions I asked them.  I gave the instruction that they would not get in trouble for answering honestly:

 -Have you ever been made fun of, bullied, or teased?
 -Have you ever made fun of, bullied, or teased someone else because they were mean to you?
 -Does it make you feel bad when someone makes fun of, bullies or teases you?

Almost all of the students raised their hands in response to each question.  We then talked about how we are reflections of each other.  If one person is mean to you, then we often mirror this by reacting negatively, which then leads to more hurt feelings.  If you are always angry, people will be mean to you to protect themselves -- this is just a reflection of your anger. 

We then talked about how we can, as individuals, become empowered to change this within ourselves by acting with wisdom.  This is a lesson about how we can improve our lives just by being kinder to ourselves and others.  In class we put mirroring into practice each day by asking with positive body language, “May I have this dance?” and responding, “Yes you may.”  This skill is much more challenging than what it seems to be on the surface.  It takes courage, self-confidence, empathy, and compassion.

Intentional Action versus Reaction

One of the challenges we have in life is to act with the wisdom we carry within.  To act with thought and intention, rather than to react with emotion.  Today a student and I were demonstrating a new dance move next to a girl in class who doesn’t have an arm from the elbow down.  The girl I was demonstrating with said to me in a loud whisper, “She can’t do it because she doesn’t have part of her right arm.”

The girl she was talking about heard this, took a moment, gathered her emotions and with a strong sense of self-confidence stepped forward and asked if she could demonstrate with me.  With grace, style, pride and elegance she showed the whole class how the move is done.  Intentional action can shape what is reflected back to us. 

Until this point, many of her dance partners seemed quietly nervous and uncomfortable, unsure how to dance with her.  Many of the students are too shy to just ask her directly how she wants to dance and be held.  This is a challenge not just for children, but adults as well, so it is no surprise that 5th graders are struggling with this. 

In our culture, we are not given good tools to communicate about different bodies or abilities in a safe way.  This girl’s choice to respond in a self-empowered way gave all of us a lesson in how to treat her and how to dance with her.  There can be fear and discomfort when someone is different.  Sometimes we don’t know how to interact in unique situations.  This dancer showed us exactly how to treat her by shining in the spotlight.  She chose to take control of a situation with intentional action versus emotionally impulsive reaction, in turn creating a safer space for everyone.  

Today I am grateful for the lessons all of my students share.  They demonstrate what it means to be honest and fearlessly true to themselves.  I am moved by the deep wisdom  students have at a young age to navigate challenging interactions with maturity and at the same time not hurting others.  It truly amazes me what can unfold in a one hour dance class.   

The Best Thank You Notes Ever

The month long residency program with South Elementary is over, and I couldn't be more proud of the entire school.  Every grade performed their special dance in two assemblies, and those kids were amazing.  It was incredible to see the focus and determination on their faces as they danced and the smiles when they were done.  I received a thank you note from the older students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade and wanted to share a few of their comments - they definitely brightened up my day.

  • "I'll never forget this day for the rest of my life"
  • "At the beginning of this unit I was thinking I wouldn't like it but then I was dancing my butt off.  I've never been happier in my life and I want to thank you for that."
  • "I wish you could stay longer...like six more weeks, or even more.  Ten, twenty, thirty, now I'm going too high."
  • "I loved dancing with you.  Swing was like riding a 65 mph rollercoaster.  Merengue was like eating a triple decker ice cream with chocolate topping.  I wish we could dance the rest of the year."
  • "Thank you for teaching me reggaeton.  I loved dancing with you even though some of the steps were hard."
  • "p.s. the isolations were awesome!"
  • "Thank you for being my teacher and helping me every time I screwed up."
  • "Before I didn't know how to dance but now I do.  And I love it."
  • "Dance rules!"
  • "I was practicing every day before the concert."
  • "The dance was awesome and cool.  I listen to reggaeton in my room on 712."
  • "You worked so hard and we will work hard for you at the concert."
  • "I loved the time you were dancing with Mr. Chris at the assembly.  I liked Mr. Chris. Mrs. Margot was really nice, too."
  • "I am going to be pretty upset when you leave.  I had fun.  I was hiding the fun, I do not know why, but I still had fun."
  • "In the future I want to learn more dances like tango.  I will never stop dancing.  Never."
  • "Thank you for teaching me two awesome dances.  They were swing and merengue.  At first I said I don't want to do this but then I said this is awesome."
  • "The swing dance was awesomer than going to Six Flags.  The merengue was awesomer than eating candy for the whole week!  Even though I don't think my mom will let me do that."
  • "My favorite dance was tango because it is so dramatic.  Thank you for teaching us how to dance different dances from different types of countries."
  • "It was really fun learning tango and merengue.  It was also fun where it came from and the story you told."
  • "Before I hated dancing now I love it."
  • "Life is good...but dance is serious!  Keep calm and love dancing."
  • "Thank you for playing so many games with us.  I loved the May I Have This Dance Game and Popcorn was fun, too."
  • "Thank you for teaching us merengue and tango.  It was so much fun, my eyes almost fell out."
  • "You helped me go out of my comfort zone.  I was scared of dancing and scared of dancing in front of people and you helped me be ready."

There are so much more, but these were definitely my favorites.  I wish I could share the drawings - some of them blew me away.  The self portraits were outstanding - they drew them so I would know who they were.  Such an incredible experience.  I really hope I get to do this again next year.

Thank you, South Elementary!  Teaching you was like riding the biggest rollercoaster, eating tons of cotton candy, and the best time of my life, too!

"What I Learned"

I've had a wonderful experience working with Peirce, where we recently finished learning our final dance routine. With the auditions coming up and the final teams about to be selected for the competition at the end of the month, I wanted to take time to reflect on what all of the dancers have learned and will take with them, even those that won't go to the dance-off in a few weeks.

I asked each class to share something they have learned through our dance lessons. Here is some of what they had to say:

  • "I learned that dances come from different cultures and traditions around the world."
  • "I learned that you don't have to speak the same language to be able to dance together, like in Hispaniola where there are two countries that share a dance."
  • "Some of the dances I thought would be really hard and only for adults, like waltz, were actually not too hard. We can dance them, too"
  • "I learned about different rhythms and how it's important to stay slow if the step is slow."
  • "I learned that some of today's music comes from long ago (like rock and roll starting as swing music)."

I am so proud of ALL of my students and wish I had a spot for all them on our team. But I know no one can take away the dances they've learned and the fun they've had over the past several weeks.