This Monday, June 21st, concluded my second year of teaching middle school art. I can honestly say that I felt every emotion possible this year while teaching through a pandemic both virtually and in person simultaneously. Just as I encourage my students to do, I felt through those emotions and created art to process them. This year was different nonetheless, but making the decision to continue practicing mindfulness every day with each class made the challenges and changes more manageable. My students agree.
I began my journey as an art teacher on August 6, 2019. I had the vision to teach children about mindfulness, knowledge of self, and artistic expression three years prior to that. Getting into the classroom fulltime was a major shift for me after giving birth to my daughter just three weeks before I started teaching. I figured that I would take my time to get adjusted to things before implementing mindfulness practices like meditation in the classroom. Two weeks into teaching showed me that I needed to act sooner instead of later due to a fight breaking out in my classroom. I taught my students how to use the Calm Technique by Paul Wilson that I learned when I first started practicing meditation. I modified the technique to better serve my students and my classroom shifted almost instantly. I did not have anymore issues with discipline. Instead my classroom became a place of peace and calm. In fact, it also became a place for students that had issues with discipline outside of my classroom. My students looked forward to coming to class and their artwork became even more meaningful. A few months later, I led meditation with the whole school in the auditorium for three weeks prior to end of semester testing. Seeing 800 students learn to calm their minds in unison was more than a dream come true.
In addition to practicing mindfulness this year in particular, my students participated in our school’s first art show. We had art exhibits and live performances social distancing, of course. It was truly a magical experience and I am still in awe of how it turned out. After everyone had the opportunity to view the art exhibits, we began the live show. We started out with everyone joining me and the students on stage doing the mindful minute meditation in their seats. Being the only art teacher at my school, I have had the opportunity to teach over 700 students personally in the past two years. Everyone in the auditorium, with the exception of some of the 6th graders that have not had my class yet, already knew what to do. After the meditation, the students on stage began to do live paintings expressing how they felt. There was a calm in the building as the other students watched with enthusiasm. After the students showed their creations, the individual performances began. Our show was called “Freedom of Expression” showing that art can be expressed in various ways. We had a solo singing performance, a dancing duo, a singing duet, spoken word poetry, and more. We even had a student play his instrument while another student completed a drawing to the beat. The show was amazing. It brought joy to my heart seeing my student’s confidently express themselves freely.
The past year has shown us a lot collectively. It has also shown us the importance of maintaining our mental health so that when challenges arise, we are more equipped to champion through them. That has been a goal of mine as an an art teacher. Judging by my students’ responses to our end of the year reflection questions, that goal was met. Here is one of my student’s responses below that brought me to tears.
- What did you like most about art class this year?
What I liked about art class this year was my teacher , not only did you teach me how to express my feelings but you also thought me how to be brave ,how to try new things without anyone telling me what to do
- What did you like the least about art class this year?
I don’t think I missed out on anything for art, I did so much this year, I even had the courage to get on stage and do the live painting .
- What did you learn in art class? This can be about art, life, mindfulness, or anything.
I learned how to control my anger or other feelings by using the mindful minute. It helped me with a lot of things , when I was sad, mad, and confused.
- How did Mrs. Williams help you this year?
Mrs.Williams did so much for me and my friend ****. Me and **** were these sad kids until art class came. It became our safe place where we were able to express ourselves by using art. When I painted the sunset it meant freedom and happiness. When I walked into Art class I was free , I was happy , I was once again myself. All I know is that Mrs.Williams is not only my art teacher but also a therapist for me.
- Did practicing mindfulness (meditation, gratitude, saying affirmations) help you in any way this year? If yes, how?
It helps me control my feelings. It helps me get ready for class and the rest of the day. I know that mindfulness is going to help me in the future because I am going to keep on using it.
- Will you be practicing mindfulness over the summer on your own at home?
Yes , I sure will. It will take out all my stress and all of my anger or sadness.
I am thankful that practicing mindfulness has had a lasting impact on the students that I have been chosen to serve. I am just thankful to see more of the vision coming into fruition. I will be hosting my new class, Meditation 101 via zoom on June 29th. The class includes a personalized copy of my new journal 365 Days of Meditation: Accountability and Mindfulness. I encourage teachers that want to implement mindfulness in their classrooms to sign up. I also encourage parents wanting to incorporate different calming strategies with their children to sign up. Without meditation, I am positive that parenting and teaching would look completely different for me. Below is also a video detailing part of the daily mindfulness practice implemented in my classroom.