Mindfulness in Schools

Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness.  I hear it talked about in my fitness classes, in classrooms, in professional meetings and in the line at the supermarket! It seemed like a good time to explore the practice, and learn a little more about its research base and application in schools.

What is mindfulness?  According to Hooker & Fodor (2008), mindfulness is a very cognizant, purposeful way to be entirely aware of what is happening within us as well as around us, without judgement. Another way of defining it, is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003, p. 145).  Mindfulness is learned and practiced through meditation and breathing exercises, during which mental awareness and experiencing the present moment are stressed.

Welcome Back!

September has always been a time of excitement and anticipation for me. As a child I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait to start the school year, eagerly anticipating seeing school friends, meeting my new teacher and delving into new learning opportunities. Those feelings had a lot to do with my decision to go into education as a young adult. After these many (many!) years, I still feel that excitement as the start of a new school year approaches.

Work Smarter, Not Harder: The Power of Self-Management

Teachers typically report that dealing with students’ disruptive behaviors is the single greatest challenge they face (Fox & Hemmeter, 2009). This likely comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked in an educational setting. Challenging behaviors can be extraordinarily frustrating for even the most experienced teachers, as they can derail a lesson and reduce learning opportunities for both the student engaging in the behaviors and his/her peers. Challenging behaviors can lead to feelings of stress and uncertainty if teachers don’t feel they have the tools to respond effectively and efficiently. In a 2004 survey, a whopping 75% of teachers reported that they “would have more time to spend on teaching and teaching effectively if there were fewer disruptive behaviors in the classroom” (Guardino & Fullerton, 2010). So how can teachers feel confident in dealing with challenging behaviors and spend more time teaching? Self-management may be the answer.

Creating a Positive Climate for Change

The business of a school day can be overwhelming when paired with the pressures of accountability. As teachers and instructional leaders, we often get so caught up focusing on CCLS, pacing calendars, curriculum modules, and state exams that we lose sight of the fact that we need to work on developing trust and respect to effectively engage colleagues in our highly collaborative work.

The Future Workforce: Will Our Students be Ready?

How can educators better prepare students for work in what appears to be a shrinking job market? For now, the answer may lie in helping students, perhaps as early as kindergarten, to develop work-related skills and abilities. If the demand for human labor will be reduced over the next two decades, that means that today’s toddlers will be entering a labor force offering jobs, most of which do not yet exist.

In order to help prepare students for the workforce, Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) learning standards were developed. CDOS learning standards and activities begin in kindergarten and continue through grade 12. They contain universal foundation skills which were developed in the early 1990s by a commission approved by the US Secretary Labor. It contained findings which are widely used today. In total, eight areas were identified. The first three are foundational: basic skills, thinking skills and personal qualities. The remaining five are workplace oriented: resources, interpersonal, information, systems and technology.

Taking Care of Business: Students are Large and in Charge

School-based enterprises are popping up throughout the lower Hudson Valley. The enterprises are actually student-driven businesses that provide young people with hands-on work experiences exposing them to a wide range of employment skills. Although school-based enterprises have been around for years, they have gained momentum recently due, in large part, to the creation of the New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential. The purpose of the credential is to provide high school students with career exploration activities as well as with actual work experiences, helping them to be better prepared for the job market. Last year the New York State Regents approved the credential as a Multiple Pathway option. Eligible students may now substitute the credential for one of the Regents social studies exams.

Integrated Learning and the CDOS Learning Standards

Since joining the RSE-TASC and working with students in the high school, I have come to realize learning is most effective and meaningful when students can relate what they are learning to their future lives. This approach to connecting school and work is referred to as “integrated learning.”

Formative Assessment

As I coach teachers in classrooms on instructional practices that improve outcomes for struggling students, I have become convinced that formative assessment is one of the most powerful tools we have for ensuring student success.  Formative assessment is a tool that provides teachers with critical information throughout a lesson that can be used to improve teaching practices and student achievement. In contrast to summative assessment, which tells us whether students have mastered or failed to master content and skills at the end of a course of study, formative assessment guides both students and teachers during instruction and helps them to avoid failure altogether (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2010). .

What is a Standards-Based IEP?

About four years ago, I received a text from a colleague asking me how I write IEP goals. "Carefully", I responded, imagining what lay beneath this seemingly benign query. Soon the discussion turned to the role of the Common Core in the IEP. We debated what IDEA. the individuals with Disabilities Education Act, intended by stating that IEP goals had to be about "access to the general curriculum" and how to link the content of a student's IEP to the academic standards for the student's corresponding grade. Why couldn't you just write a standard as the goal?, we wondered.

The Case for Videotaping Lessons

I often coach teachers as part of collaboratively developed Quality Improvement Process Plans designed to help them improve outcomes for the students with disabilities in their classrooms. Together, we learn about evidence-based instructional practices that have been proven to be effective with struggling students, and then the teachers and I agree on strategies they would like to try to implement. I observe in their classrooms as they try out these new strategies, give them feedback about what I see them doing, and then we engage in dialogues about what went well and what could be improved. I have always felt that this was a productive experience that helped teachers improve their craft, and the teachers I work with have reported that they feel the same.
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