Inspiring Educator Series: Developing Mindfulness, Conflict Resolution, and Culturally Responsive Classroom Practices in the Early Grades

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Happy Holidays from all of us at Infinite Horizons! This newsletter will be the first in a series of interviews with teachers we work with who are doing great things for kids and are willing to share those ideas with all of us. So snuggle up somewhere comfortable, grab a cup of coffee or hot tea, and get the inspiration you need to fill your bucket before break!

In this first interview, we will learn from an important voice in early childhood education, Meghan Robles.  Meghan has inspiring ideas, many of which can be used at all grade levels. 
Meghan is the education coordinator at The Mariposa Center in Providence Rhode Island. Mariposa is urban, non-profit public pre-k early childhood program that serves students ages 3-5 years old. Infinite Horizons interviewed Meghan and here is what she had to say!

How do you encourage educators to incorporate mindfulness practices in their classrooms? 

Our primary focus here is on teacher self care. As caregivers, teachers are often giving care to others, but forget to care for themselves! I think every teacher can think of a day (or many) when they couldn't find time to get to the bathroom or eat their lunch. By building in moments of self care throughout the day, we are better able to care for others and receive care from others. By knowing what we need and sharing it with our teaching teams, we can better support one another.

Here are a few of the specific tools we use for teachers: 

Use touchstones to check in. Teachers are encouraged to pick touchstones or points in the day where they can check in with themselves and take a breath.  They could choose to do this each time they wash their hands, or open a door, or before a transition. This habit to press the pause button can provide us with the self care we need to stay energized and positive. In this articleConscious Movements gives us recommended times to use touchstones:

  1. When you wake up. Before your feet hit the floor, take a minute to meditate.

  2. When you go to the bathroom. Only place for space? Set your timer and take a one minute breather.

  3. When you arrive. Before you engage with anyone, take one minute to gather your thoughts and focus on your breath.

  4. Before you go. Before you leave work, pause and take a moment of calm.

  5. After you say goodnight. Before you get some shut eye, take a moment to breath and sense your body in the present moment. 

  6. Set a reminder on your phone. At the same time every day, for example, on your lunch break, set a timer to remind you to practice a quick meditation. Download CALM on your tablet or phone, an application that offers short and sweet meditations that can easily fit into your busy schedule!

Create space for short daily reflective practice: Teachers do short daily written reflections as a way to deepen their observation skills, but also to give them a place to reflect on the day and slow down. Teachers have commented that this practice really helps them jot down all of the things that happened in the day that leave them with questions, ideas, or emotions. Check out these free minute reflection questions to get started!  

Choose big picture questions. Teachers choose a big picture question to reflect on over a longer period of time using Carol Rodger’s Cycle of Inquiry. For example, teacher assistant, Lourdes Forero. at Mariposa chose to reflect on the question, “How do touchstones support me as I work with children who are exhibiting challenging behaviors?” By keeping a record of the new practices we try, we can continually strive to better our teaching. 

What is your philosophy on classroom management and student-centered conflict resolution practices?

Here are some simple things that we do every day: 

Cultivate gratitude. Modeling what it means to be grateful is a great place to start with all learners. Teachers are present in their interactions with the students and this transfers to the students, too. Focusing on student strengths and giving them independence offers space for students to appreciate themselves and others. Check out Infinite Horizon’s Self-Calming Strategies newsletter for more ideas on fostering gratitude in your classroom!

Be mindful of transitions. In the morning or before beginning lessons or group work, recite a song, poem, or phrase. This engages all students and fosters community. Older students can choose an inspirational phrase or mantra to reflect on. 

Smile. When we meet children and families in the morning, we greet them with a smile and by name. When we speak to each other, we do so with kindness and respect. Simple actions make a big difference.

Model healthy conflict resolution. Provide children with language and skills to resolve conflicts peacefully. An example of this would be creating a peace corner in your classroom as a place students can go to seek calm and peace when they need to decompress after a difficult experience.

Check out Infinite Horizon’s CURB IT strategy and Bug and a Wishfor more ways to promote student-centered conflict resolution in your classroom.

Use storytelling. Model healthy conflict resolution by using stories. This can be done on the spot with children during a conflict or embedded as a regular part of the curriculum where teachers can share new stories each week. Click here for some free ebooks for your early learners from Susan Perrow!

What do you do to ensure educators are meeting the cultural needs of their students?

In order for schools and teachers to create culturally responsive classrooms they need to understand themselves and their students. Here are some ways we break down and understand our own systems of belief and biases at Mariposa so we can better understand the unique set of beliefs and circumstances each student brings.

Seek professional development. Staff attends workshops centered around understanding their own racial and cultural identity. We talk about implicit bias and work towards recognizing that this is something we all have and can become aware of. As teachers become more aware of the lenses they wear to see the world, they become more able to take the lenses off and see others in a different way. Mariposa has brought the ideas of School Reform Initiative to their school including providing professional development for teachers on the Circles of Identity and Creating Space for Making Meaning on Equity Issues. Click the links for more information.

Use cultural surveys and interviews. After establishing good rapport with your students and their families, sit together and go through a family and cultural interview in order to gain insight into the culture of each family and make sure each family is represented in the classroom. 

Older students can fill out the individualist versus collectivist surveyfrom Infinite Horizon’s Transformative Teaching book.  Reflect on the surveys and use them to guide the your understanding of your students and the need to include both collectivist and individualist strategies into your instruction, activities, and group formations. 

Facilitate family nights. Invite families to engage in the classrooms and seek to build strong and meaningful relationships with each family that is centered on the shared goal of student success.

Thank you to Meghan and Mariposa for offering early learners such a joyful and loving space to learn!!

Please stay tuned for our next newsletter, where we will feature a middle school educator who is committed to fostering mindfulness, student-centered conflict resolutions practices, and culturally responsive teaching methods in her classroom!