Calling all Special Education teachers! Are you starting to prep materials for your caseload as you plan for back to school? I always start off the year by providing general education teachers and specials teachers with easy-to-read IEPs at a Glance, Behavior Intervention Plans at a Glance, and Accommodations Cheat Sheets. Let's be honest, general education teachers have SO much to do at the start of the year; reading through all of the IEPs of students they will see in their class just isn't always the priority, and I get it. By providing these easy to read, brief 'at-a-glance' documents, I can better guarantee that my co-teachers will read them.
I also try to connect with all of my students' parents before heading back to school, to introduce myself and ask them about their child. This year, I created a parent survey that I am going to email and hand out at our Open House.
I've attached my Caseload to do List, IEP at a Glance template, BIP at a Glance template, Accommodations Cheat Sheet template, and Parent Survey for free at the end of this survey. Feel free to snag them to help you get organized before starting the year!
If you have been following along on my Instagram, you probably saw the #MindfulMonday series of tips that I've been posting every Monday for the past month. I wanted to share some strategies that have worked to incorporate mindfulness in my classroom as teachers around the country are preparing for the year ahead. If you haven't considered incorporating mindfulness before, I strongly encourage you to read these tips and consider a mindful practice in your classroom. I am not going to include a lot of research in this post, but check out this link to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness in schools. Okay, here are my top 4 tips!
Tip #1: Start with yourself
I cannot stress this one enough. Honestly, I tried to implement mindfulness practices in my classroom before actually using them in my own life, and it was so phony. I couldn't relate to what the students were experiencing until I experienced it for myself. So, I discovered calm.com and started doing brief mindfulness exercises before bed and before school in the morning (in my car!). Practicing mindfulness in my own life not only helped me be a calmer, more present educator, but it also allowed me to better connect with my students during mindfulness practices in the classroom.
Tip #2: Give your students choice and flexibility
This might be my golden rule for incorporating any new practice in the classroom, but particularly something so personal such as mindfulness. There truly is no 'right way' to practice mindfulness, and every person is different in their preferences. Students won't buy into the idea if they feel that it's being forced on them, or if they feel they don't have any choice in it. When I do mindfulness exercises in the classroom, the only rule is "you may not take away anyone else's calm" translating to "you must be silent". Other than that, I encourage my students to do whatever is comfortable for them. I offer a choice of closing eyes or just looking down, sitting up straight or resting their heads on their desks. When they feel they have more freedom, they are so much more engaged.
Tip #3: Start small
If you want to try out mindfulness in the classroom, try starting with a 'mindful minute'. Have students sit comfortably and close their eyes or look down. Tell them that for one minute they are going to try to think of nothing, just their breath. At the end of the minute, ask students to share how long they were able to keep their minds clear, and what strategies they used. If they don't have any strategies to share, you can cue them in on some great mind-clearing tips. One tip is to picture your thoughts floating on clouds, and slowly the clouds float away. Another tip is to picture your thoughts as individual balloons, being released and disappearing into the sky. I find that my students love a challenge, so I also try to emphasize the challenge component of mindfulness: "Last week we were able to do one whole minute of mindfulness. This week, let's see if we can do two!".
Tip #4: Establish routines, but keep things fresh!
Another golden rule for anything in the classroom! Routines provide great structure and relieve anxiety, but switching things up once in awhile is a surefire way to boost engagement. I try to remember to do a 'mindful minute' every single morning in our homeroom. Pro tip: Pick a student to lead the 'mindful minute' and ring the chime. It is also that student's job to remind you that it's time for the mindful minute, so you don't have to add it to your list of things to remember in the morning! Don't have a chime? I love the free app Insight Timer, it has a chime sound you can play on your phone! As teachers, we know that routines and habits in the classroom are wonderful things. But, we also have probably all seen students get bored with the same ol' same ol' every day. So, once in a while, I like to switch it up, and do something special like a mindful listening exercise or a guided meditation. It helps to always keep there interest up!
So, there you have it! Have you tried mindfulness in the classroom? If not, I encourage you to try it this year! I'd love to hear about your experience!
Have you ever written a manifesto for yourself? What about a mission or vision statement for yourself as a teacher, your classroom, or a committee on which you serve? I was recently listening to one of my favorite well-being podcasts, 'Happier with Gretchen Rubin', and got the idea to write myself a manifesto. I thought this would be a great way to identify what is important to me as a teacher (specifically, a 'mindful educator') and put a few 'non-negotiables' in writing as a reminder to myself throughout the school year. I am going to print it out and keep it in the front sleeve of my teacher binder so that every day I see it and remind myself of the essential manifesto items that have selected. Other ideas include modge-podging or taping your manifesto to a clipboard that you use often, hanging it up by your desk, or saving it as the desktop background on your school computer!
You can download my Mindful Educator Manifesto to use or, even better, write one for yourself! I would love to hear what you would include in your personal manifesto.
I will be writing additional blog posts throughout the school year going into more detail about these manifesto items, but for now I wanted to share with you all so that hopefully you will be inspired. What a great way to start the school year on a positive, focused note!
PS--Credit for the beautiful watercolor background goes to Hanna from We Lived Happily Ever After :)