As an educator I have learned that there's nothing quite like those teachable moments. The lesson is planned and organized, the topic has been introduced to the students, and then... something happens that pretty much tosses the lesson plan out the window, but, can you believe it?... just brings your point home.
It wasn't on my agenda, I didn't know it was going to happen, it brought a bit of chaos to the classroom, and it was the one time in my teaching career when I was appreciative of a child throwing up during class!
Teaching some first graders a lesson from the Mindful Schools curriculum, students are asked to associate what they feel in their bodies in the same moment as any strong emotion occurs. Not easy stuff for a lot of people. Think about it. How does it feel in your body when you are happy? When your feelings are hurt? The object of the lesson is for students to notice how they hold those strong emotions in their bodies. The long-term goal is for students, once they are able to notice how their bodies are reacting, to eventually have more control over themselves, turning knee-jerk reactions into more thoughtful responses.
Were any of the children able, at this young age, to notice how their bodies were feeling? Absolutely!
- I was sitting in the dentist chair and I noticed my stomach felt funny and my legs were kind of shaking. I was nervous!
- I was angry when my brother changed the channel when I was in the middle of my television show. My arms felt tight and strong, and I felt all hot on the inside!
- I was upset when the other team scored a goal and won the game. I really, really wanted to win. My eyes started watering and my lips started shaking. I was going to cry even though I didn't want to!
Not all students could feel how their bodies were reacting, and the ones who couldn't were looking at the rest of us like, Really?... when... SPLAT! A STUDENT THREW UP!
The teacher removed the sick child from the area while I rushed the remaining students to the far side of the room. Holy moly! A teachable moment!! Trust me when I tell you, every child in that class knew exactly how his or her body was feeling in that moment!
- Oh, he threw up! I think I'm going to get sick, too!
- No, no. Let's use our skills. Class, Jenny thinks she's going to get sick, too! Let's all practice mindful breathing to help her calm down. Jenny, I need you beside me to help lead the mindful breathing. Everybody put your hand on your anchor to help you can stay focused. You get to choose: tummy, chest, or nose. Ready?
- (Crisis averted. Jenny did not get sick.)
- That was disgusting! Look at that gross stuff!
- No, no. I need all eyes on me. Let the adults take care of what's going on over there; let's practice using anchor words to make sure we're staying focused on our breath. John, could you please help me lead everyone, but let's add anchor words this time. What word could we use right now that really let's us know what we want to be able to do or feel? CALM? Good idea, let's softly say "CALM" on each inhale and each exhale.
- (Crises averted. John and the other would-be spectators stopped looking for the vomit.)
- Dr. W, is Billy going to be okay?
- I'm sure he's going to be fine. And, I'm glad you're showing concern for your classmate. What mindful strategy can we use to let Billy know we're worried about him and want him to feel better? That's right. We can send heartfulness. Everybody, Jimmy's going to lead us in sending heartfulness to Billy. We want to make sure he knows we care about him, and want him to feel better soon.
- (Most important crisis averted. Billy was fine -- it was just a little upset stomach.)
Yes, Billy threw up. Yes, there was chaos. And, yes, best of all, students had a real opportunity to notice how their bodies were feeling in that exact moment, and use the strategies we've been learning to respond thoughtfully, bringing them back to a place of calm.
What an awesome teaching session!!
Have a great week. And don't forget to look for the teachable moments!