Inspiring Educator Series: Cultivating Joy and Resiliency in Middle School and Beyond

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Happy 2018 from all of us at Infinite Horizons! Although the weather may be frigid where you are, we are ready to warm your hearts and feed your need for inspiration with the next interview in our Inspiring Educator Series!

Infinite Horizons had the privilege of interviewing Buffy Barley, a passionate and heartfelt mindfulness educator at Monroe Middle School in Monroe, Michigan.

With a background in Psychology and a passion for mindfulness practices, Buffy created a much needed course for her middle school students, "The Psychology of Joy and Resiliency."

In Buffy's interview, she shares many ways you can incorporate mindfulness practices into your classroom with your students!

Why did you decide to teach mindfulness practices to your MS students?

Thirteen years ago, I became interested in mindfulness and meditation. After practicing myself, I noticed a huge shift in my life. I changed my outlook and the way I approached relationships.  I felt that the universe was telling me to become a mindfulness eductor so I could help others. Some research that was very influential to me comes from the Harvard Longitudinal Study, where they studied what makes people happy over the course of a lifetime. The results showed that happiness can be cultivated through healthy interpersonal relationships. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean you don’t get upset or have problems in your life, but I wanted to give my students the tools they needed to deal with challenges in healthy ways and cultivate joy and resiliency.

What are some of the doable practices you use that are really working for you and your students?

No matter what course I’m teaching, Social Studies Enrichment, American History, or the Psychology of Joy and Resiliency, all of my students partake in daily meditations and a weekly High-Low Game. These practices only take a few minutes out of your day and are sure to make a huge difference in the connection you feel with your students and help with your students ability to cope during challenges faced throughout the week.

Meditate Daily. Every day, turn off the lights, except for a small lamp, and partake in a simple phrase to get students comfortable and ready.  For example, try saying “Feet flat on the floor, back against the back of the chair, palms up if you need energy, palms down if you have felt rushed or your mind is busy.” Practice five minutes of meditation. Here are some resources to get you started: Beginners Guide to Meditation or Mini-Minute-Meditations.

High/Low Game. Every Monday, we sit on the floor in circle and do the High-Low Game. We share a high point from our weekend or someone or something they are grateful for in their lives, I don’t care if it is having a meal at Taco Bell, they have to think of something. Next, they can share their low but it isn’t required. Just ten minutes a week changes the entire dynamic with your students. It’s a blessing and completely confidential.

In addition to the daily practices, here are more tips and activities to deepen mindfulness practices in your classroom:

Teach the Science of Breathing. Like Simon Sinek says in the Golden Circle, the “why” is important here. For the first two days, explicitly discuss breath and why it’s important. Explain that breathing in through our nose cools the brain and allows you to relax. The cilia acts as a filter and you get clean oxygen. The calming effects are real and powerful!

Be Honest. Explain to the students that meditation may feel weird. Some examples include, “We are all in the same room together but we are going to pretend we aren’t. You may want to close your eyes because staring at each other could be even more uncomfortable.” Humor + students always works!

Have Fun. Explain to the students that meditation and mindful breathing is a game that one plays with oneself. Tell students, “You are going to try to still your mind but no matter how hard you try, the game will never be won. The purpose isn’t to 'win' it but to see how amazing it is when you stop 'stirring the pot.' Notice how much calmer the water is.” Students will start to understand the idea of calming oneself. Explain to the students that the part of the brain that controls our breath controls worry, too, but you can only do one at a time. If you concentrate on your breath, you can’t worry. How liberating!

Create Random Acts of Kindness. Have your students make booklets and ask students to come up with a cover that has their favorite quote about kindness. Choose an amount of time, for example two weeks, and on the inside, the students will write acts of kindness, draw a picture, and once they’ve done the act, write about the feelings that manifested after completing the act of kindness.

What changes are you seeing in yourself and your students as you practice mindfulness in your school/classroom?

Increased Awareness. Look within yourself and notice if you are taking out your emotions on your students. If you are, well, we all make mistakes, so don’t beat yourself up about it. However, do apologize when you are irritated or frustrated with your students!

Clear Seeing. I believe we must “see the light in another person” and our actions should align with the positive qualities we see. My students know I see them. If they don’t look like they are having a good day, I ask them how they are doing.  

Positive Focus. I have a big sign outside my door that says,“Stop- You Are Responsible for the Energy You Bring to this Room.” I ask my students, “Why do we brush our feet on the spiky mats before we enter a house? To clean off the gunk!” My classroom offers students a clean slate each day.

Trust. I don’t hold grudges with my students. We are new beings minute to minute to minute. Allowing my students to make mistakes builds a strong, trustworthy relationship.

I’ve found that planting a seed is amazing. My students come back and remember the small tools I’ve given them. I find mindfulness to be the “maintenance of oneself.” Every day, my students will be confronted with a problem. Some are big, some are small. If they learn some tools to handle these challenges with more resiliency and self-love, that’s a huge step in the right direction!

In closing, Buffy offers us some words of wisdom, “Say yes to mindfulness, even if you are scared. Open your heart!”

Infinite Horizons wants to thank Buffy and Monroe Middle School for giving students the tools they need to develop resiliency and cultivate joy….and doing so with passion!

For more tips about self-care for educators, check out Infinite Horizons newsletter, Self-Calming Strategies for Students and Teachers. Stay tuned for our next newsletter, where we will feature another inspiring educator that you don’t want to miss!

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March 15-16, 2018 - Oslo, Norway  with Pedverket Kompetanse

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