“Mindfulness? In MY Classroom?” by Dr. Harrison McCoy

Dr. Harrison McCoy is in his 18th year of teaching. He is certified ELA 5-8, ESL, Tech Apps K-12, and Business Ed 9-12.

Until a short time ago, I had never heard the term “mindfulness” and even today, I had to Google it to see exactly how the word might be defined. I was reading a post by a David Guerin on Twitter in which he referred to a recent NPR article, “Teachers are Stressed, And That Should Stress Us All”, in which Patricia Jennings, author of Mindfulness for Teachers, made the observation “These teachers were better able to cope with classroom challenges and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students’ big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.”

That got my attention. Although I know a lot of teachers who are feeling the effects of stress in their lives, student trauma and stress is kind of a hot button for me right now. I have been reading a a lot lately about how the stress and trauma that many students experience off-campus is contributing the behavioral challenges they present and the lack of academic success they experience on campus.

In short, kids are hurting and when they bring that hurt to school, teachers hurt. It’s quite a cycle. I’m not too far from theorizing that if one had the ability to alleviate some of the hurt experienced by students (or at least the symptoms of the hurt), then a lot of the hurt and stress experienced by teachers would be lessened as well.

But the thrust of Jennings book — and the NPR article — is that teachers can only control what they can control and if we would practice “mindfulness” we would be better at controlling our space.

“What is mindfulness? Definitions vary, but Jennings likes to think of it this way: attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance.”

I think that means that we look at our momentary circumstances and observe, “Hmmm. Well, I guess stuff happens.”

I might be pushing the boundaries, but it seems like that is what some people are describing as having a strong EQ — emotional intelligence.

So, if mindfulness makes us better educators, could it also help our students be more successful learners. Could we all benefit from taking time to realize that we are created as human “BEings” and not human “DOings”?

What if I found time as our school day begins for my classroom to become an unofficial “Mindfulness Zone” where for 15 minutes students had the option to come and meditate? I have no formal training in meditation, but I know how to sit quietly and think. That brief time — before school actually begins — could be a buffer for students — a kind if demilitarized zone in the war between what they bring to school and what they are asked do at school.

What are your thoughts on Dr. McCoy’s perspective on mindfulness and education? -Peggy Semingson

Yes, They CAN! Our 2nd Grade Adventures in Writing With Microsoft 365 By: Alison Capasso, M.Ed.

UTA Alumni (Master’s of Education, Literacy Studies, 2015) and elementary teacher Ali Capsso shares ideas on creating excitement with language arts.

Technology use in the classroom is a large focus in many districts.  Various obstacles can stand in the way including availability and condition of hardware and inadequate teacher training.  For K-2 teachers, ensuring developmentally appropriate use is a valid addition to the list of concerns.  In a classroom so busy with the work of learning the fundamentals of reading and writing, any experimentation of technology tools can feel like a waste of our precious time.

I would argue, however, that those of us with the resources to introduce our students to a communication medium that has become such an integral part of our lives in the last few years is completely worthwhile.  It is also our responsibility to prepare students to use frequently changing technology tools to record ideas and communicate with others.  This is especially true in Title 1 schools where technology exposure may be limited in the home.

This year I made the commitment to lay the foundation for widespread use of Microsoft Office applications, making full use of the 365 licenses issued by the district to our students.  Through the regular use of these tools for writing and communication, many students now have increased access to their own work, including the ability to access their data at home from the cloud.  On our campus, many students also access computers at the library across from their apartment building, allowing even those with limited access to feel increased ownership of their work from year to year and giving them the ability to practice the use of these tools away from school.  I decided that 2nd grade is a wonderful year to introduce this suite of products.  Students have already had ample practice logging into a computer and various programs.  They have learned many of the basic principles of writers workshop and are therefore ready to expand their skillset.

Preparation for this weekly session was crucial.  We had to negotiate the use of the grade level laptop cart.  My computer login cards had to be updated with the new logins and all cart computers needed an easy access link to our first application, Power Point.  During our first session we did the work of understanding the keyboard.  What are the various non-letter keys for?  How do I utilize the shift key to access special characters and capitalize letters?  How does the enter key work during writing?  These students were familiar with mainly the up and down arrows on the keyboard, so this somewhat time consuming process was well worth it.

The first task students were given was to create a Power Point presentation using their latest research writing piece about a chosen animal.  Choosing a piece of writing that had already been created gave students more time to explore the aesthetic modifications they could make to the presentation itself.  Before the work time, my mini lesson covered creating new slides, adding text boxes and pictures, and changing slide styles.

Interestingly, student proficiency with the software seemed to mirror their writing proficiency.  My advanced writers got started right away, clicking away and making slides quickly.  On the other hand, many struggling writers struggled to get beyond changing pictures and the size of the text.  One of the aforementioned students spent an unusual amount of time changing fonts until I suggested the drop down menu so that he could see them all at the same time.  Conferencing and focus of purpose are essential for digital workshop, but there should also be a healthy allowance for exploration, especially for our younger students.

The first few sessions with Power Point were slow going, but as the kids learned the tricks of the program, they began to share them with each other and suddenly they were second nature!  Within four sessions, my highest needs writers had successfully authored one Power Point presentation while my advanced writers had completed several on various topics of their choosing.

After the month was over, we focused on other projects.  We are currently beginning the use of Outlook in order to start a digital penpal project for literary discussion with another classroom.  We have played with Yammer during reading workshop as a response tool.  We will be using Word extensively during our poetry unit in order to add visual elements to our work.

Staying with Office as a set of tools has been very helpful as many of the features are the same across programs.  My ultimate goal for the end of the year is for students to be comfortable enough in their understanding of each program to decide which of the programs will be most helpful to use in a new project.

In closing, I encourage educators to invest the time needed to introduce some form of digital writing and communication to young students.  The need cannot be ignored.  We must adjust our practices to meet the needs of our students in this increasingly digital age of communication.

What are your thoughts on Ali Capasso’s implementation of Microsoft Office with writing instruction? Have you tried something similar? Let us know in the comments! Dr. Peggy Semingson

Ms. Ali Capasso is a graduate of the M.Ed. program in Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington.