The overall benefits of adopting mindfulness practices have never more important, even to our youngest students. Across the board, students have noted that the pandemic has changed their outlook on our world. We’re taking deeper breaths when we get a chance to step outside, laughing harder over Zoom playdates, and smiles linger longer when a stranger waves hello on a neighborhood walk around the block.

In Grayson’s Metacognitive Lab (MCL), Lower and Middle School students started the year by having an open discussion and venting session about our lives in quarantine. MCL is a way for our students to come together to think and discuss what is on their minds. When we encouraged our students to express themselves honestly, an overwhelming majority voiced frustrations over not being able to see their friends and teachers. Virtual schooling is a mixed bag: it has been difficult for many students, but a welcome method of learning for others. Remote students have been thriving in utilizing their resources for staying connected to teachers, peers, and the Grayson community. However, the deep care and compassion for the safety and wellness of the community powerfully outweighs any negatives.

A noticeable bright side has been the re-acclimation of our learners to being back in school. The normal September wariness at drop-off was evident — some of our youngest holding back tears while waving goodbye, while others were woken up in carseats by our cheerful staff. However, the pure joy upon seeing friends new and old is hard to put into words. While exhibiting extraordinary respect for social distancing and adherence to face mask requirements, our students are once again able to engage with one another and with their teachers.

Metacognition and mindfulness

Enter mindfulness. Being focused on the present and recognizing what is happening around us (and in our minds) is an important first step in dealing with and improving our outlook and actions in response.

mindfulness and yoga outside

Students genuinely appreciate having a community platform to connect with each other and see and feel the benefit of being able to consider and discuss their mental processes. We can also help them focus their minds and bodies and slow down their thoughts outside in the fresh air in a yoga class, or by participating in a guided meditation, both mindfulness activities that our students welcome. My students have just started a well-being unit in which I will be showing them meditation strategies that can help ease anxiety, calm their mind and breath, and take a respite from learning to focus solely on themselves. With so many concerns floating around, students can benefit significantly from taking time to tune into their own thoughts, feelings, and well-being without feeling guilty.

While our Community sessions look very different this year — sitting apart and facing forward — our students still engage in deep and valuable conversations together. We recently watched a TEDTalk about Teenage Mindfulness, and many students were surprised at the need for and importance of sleep when they get up so early for school.

Tim Van Gelder, in his post titled Mindfulness versus metacognition, and critical thinking helps to define the nuance between both terms as “…novice mindfulness is metacognitive; expert metacognition is mindful.” As an educator and counselor, I seek to make our MCL classes mindful. To me, these skills are the most important ones to share with my students as they navigate schoolwork, growing up, social pressures, and what is happening in world around them.

Being mindful, ourselves

So many of us feel the pressure to push through hard times with unrelenting positivity, without putting on our own oxygen masks first in order to find the energy to do so! Through vinyasa yoga, guided readings, and meditation, students engage in the importance of mind-body connections and learn strategies to use these throughout their day. Solitude and self-compassion allow us to build the skills to be reflective human beings in an ever-changing world.

It’s important to remind students to use what is available to them. As teachers, we care so much for our students, and don’t want anyone to feel like they are sinking. A great strength that students have is the ability to ask for help: a conversation with a teacher can make all the difference. Self-advocacy opens up opportunities for greatness and rewards us with compassion from others. Breaks throughout the day keep the momentum going.

YouTube yogi Adriene Mishler gifts us with a series of at-home episodes called Yoga for Virtual Learners. Appropriate for all ages, this series offers a worthwhile break to get the blood flowing in the opposite direction and find time to thank ourselves for being kind to our bodies and minds. Enjoy!

Meet the author:

Ashley Freeborn, our School Counselor, strives to build positive culture and support for her students whether she is leading MCL discussions, teaching Executive Functioning, Second Step and Projects classes, or leading a yoga elective. Her warm, empathetic, and supportive approach is a strong foundation for building trust with her students. We especially love that Ms. Freeborn’s shared and discussed her favorite poem, “Cottleston Pie,” by A. A. Milne, as part of our  National Poetry Month celebration back in May.

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