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How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

For the past decade, mindfulness has become a prominent tool used to enhance the education experience.

But this quiet revolution in the way we teach and how we educate children on how to treat themselves (and one another) better has only just begun.

Now, it’s inspiring others to find new and creative ways to teach mindfulness and its related qualities.

In fact, one Toronto instructor is using music to help students learn qualities such as mindfulness, kindness, and teamwork in a fresh new way.

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music
Guest instructor Clinton Ackerman (second from right) leads the class at Taylor Frei’s Argyle School classroom. BRANDON HARDER, THE PROVINCE

Musical improvisation teaches students about mindfulness and kindness

It might not be the first thing you think about when you imagine mindfulness in the classroom, but one Toronto instructor is using music to teach mindfulness– and to great results.

Clinton Ackerman, a graduate student working on his music and social work master’s degree, started a musical improvisation class at Saskatchewan’s Glen Elm school for his thesis one year ago, as first reported by Toronto publication The Province.

“We’re turn-taking, without conflict,” says Frei, a Glen Elm teacher who collaborated with Ackerman to offer the class to his students. “We’re patient; we’re mindful listeners, right? We can build off each other, which means you have to be mindful of what the person next to you is playing. It’s all intertwined into everything Clinton planned for us here.”

Ackerman’s project, which was originally intended to last only 5 weeks, is designed to teach students about soundscapes while also instilling skills and qualities such as mindfulness, kindness, teamwork, and decision-making.

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music
Student participates in a mindfulness exercise. BRANDON HARDER, THE PROVINCE

A class in sound and mindfulness

Ackerman’s twice-weekly class starts and ends with each student taking part in a short meditation session.

Ackerman says mindfulness “has really been a great tool for us to just stop what we’re doing, get in the zone, prepare ourselves for what’s about to come.”

Next, they work on practicing to identify rhythm, pitch, and learning how to play together.

“But then because it’s co-operative and it’s creative, there’s a whole other wealth of skills that they’re working on as well,” says Ackerman, such as conflict-resolution, decision-making, and patience.

“As teachers and instructors, we try to teach to our students’ interest,” said Frei on how the duo approaches what material for students to work on.

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music
Teacher Taylor Frei assists student during a music exercise. BRANDON HARDER, THE PROVINCE

Ackerman and Frei have students work to create soundscapes that match situations they can relate to, such as scenes from a video game and their favorite films.

“If we can create a connection, help them get in touch with that, and use that to help them regulate, to help them make positive decisions… it’s going to benefit them.”

The music goes on

Though the class began small, the program continues to grow well past its original 5-week timeline. One year later, the class is going strong thanks to a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant.

“What’s really cool is to kind of see their growth even from last year to this year. It’s night and day,” said Frei on seeing students develop through the project.

“It’s been a huge difference,” remarked Ackerman.

But this is just the beginning of what music and mindfulness may be able to contribute to another.

A meta-analysis of all known studies on mindfulness and music found several promising leads.

The study uncovered that music may be able to enhance our ability to enter a mindful state, for the purpose of practicing and developing the quality. Something Ackerman’s project supports.

Not only that, music and mindfulness together have shown to be a promising new pair in therapeutic practices used in conjunction with clinical treatments for several conditions.

How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

“Meditation calms me down and stuff.”

– 4th-grade girl, Holistic Me program

Is meditation more effective than detention?

That’s the question now posed to schools all across the U.S. as a result of the work by the Holistic Life Foundation.

In 2001, brothers Ali and Atman Smith, along with friend Andres Gonzalez, returned home from college to start the foundation, an after-school program founded with the purpose of bringing the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to their Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood.

But what started as a small after-school program with 20 boys from local Baltimore grade schools (mistaken in the beginning by much of the neighborhood as a gang startup) has now blossomed into a national movement.

And it’s made parents and educators everywhere question the value of traditional disciplinary measures along with the power of mindfulness as a potential replacement.

Holistic Me brings mindfulness to Baltimore’s youth to surprising results

Founded as the Holistic Life Foundation’s flagship program in 2002, Holistic Me is an after-school program designed to teach yoga, mindfulness, and related meditation and breathing techniques to Baltimore’s youth.

Since beginning at Baltimore’s Windsor Hill Elementary seventeen years ago, the program has expanded far beyond Baltimore, now serving surrounding Maryland communities in:

  • Boston
  • Charlottesville
  • Minneapolis
  • Louisville
  • Somerset County
  • Asheville, and
  • Madison
The Holistic Life Foundation now serves over 10,000 children just in the Baltimore area, with the Holistic Me program serving 160 pre-K to 5th-grade students every school day:

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION MINDFULNESS PROGRAM
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness as a replacement for detention?

Arguably the most remarkable result of the Holistic Me program has been the transformation in student behavior.

With some success from the program under its belt, Robert W Coleman Elementary School decided to create a ‘Mindful Moment Room’ where students would be instructed to practice mindful breathing during the duration of their stay in the room, as opposed to traditional detention.

The results have been nothing less than extraordinary, with the school’s Mindful Moment Room in combination with the Holistic Me program itself resulting in 0 suspensions to date since it began.

SHOULD MEDITATION REPLACE DETENTION SCHOOL IMAGE
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness in the classroom (for teachers and students)

The remarkable story of student transformation through the Holistic Life Foundation at Robert W Coleman Elementary School is incredible in itself.

However, the benefit of mindfulness in the classroom is well-documented.

Studies on mindfulness in the classroom have shown that regular practice helps improve student focus, improve emotion regulation, and reduce stress levels among other benefits.

But that’s just the beginning. Studies have also shown that teachers receive similar benefits when they adopt the practice themselves, such as reduced stress, reduced chance of burnout, and greater efficacy.

Should mindfulness replace detention?

So, should mindfulness replace detention? Should schools everywhere have their own Mindful Moment Room?

That’s a question that educators need to answer for themselves.

The topic of mindfulness at school, from questions to how it’s implemented to the way it’s taught, are still in question.

But there’s no mistake that mindfulness and similar meditative practices are of huge benefit to both students and educators– and the sky is the limit for programs like Holistic Me.

“When I first started I was kinda bad… now the breathing has calmed me down.”

– 7th-grade boy, Holistic Me program

Robert Plotkin of Mindfulness for Technology Featured on the AATH Laughbox Podcast

Our very own Robert Plotkin, Mindfulness for Technology founder, was recently featured on the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor’s (AATH) Laughbox podcast.

Listen as Robert talks with host Chip Lutz about how technology affects our brain and how to integrate that technology into your mindfulness practice.

You’ll learn:

  • A simple mindfulness practice for learning how to use your smartphone more mindfully
  • How the “reptilian” brain affects our behavior
  • And a powerful tip for managing your technology use

Listen to Robert on the Laughbox podcast (iTunes) or via Laughbox.AATH.org.

Scheduling Time to Respond to Emails

Staying on top of your email inbox can feel like a daunting and never-ending task. Although I don’t have any magic solution to this issue, the tip I’ll share today has helped me cut through the clutter much more efficiently, allowing me to stay focused on real work and thus have much more time during my work day.

Here is my suggestion: Put emails that you receive onto your calendar so that you respond to them at scheduled times.

If that sounds completely crazy to you, let me clarify. First, I have a few recurring appointments on my calendar for responding to emails in certain categories. These include:
  • Accounting- and bookkeeping-related emails such as invoices I receive from vendors.
  • Messages from potential new customers.
  • Emails related to marketing tasks.
  • Small miscellaneous questions that I receive from my clients.
The common thread between these categories is that the emails don’t require an immediate reply. Also, they aren’t typically part of a longer conversation — a single response will do the trick. This combination of qualities makes these types of emails work really well with my calendaring system.

Granted, this may not suit urgent emails quite as well. So if you think that calendaring your emails won’t work for you, perhaps it’s because you’re thinking about certain types of emails that aren’t fit for your calendar. Step back for a minute and consider whether you frequently receive the types of emails I’m talking about. Your categories may be different than mine, but if they’re similar in nature, then read on.

1. Pick Your Categories and Put Recurring Appointments on Your Calendar
Choose times that would make sense for you to respond to emails in those categories. Think carefully about the timing. Some categories might require you to have appointments every day of the week or even multiple times a day. Other categories might only require a weekly appointment.

Consider how frequently you really need to respond to emails in each category and put in the minimum number of appointments per day/week that you will need. Set up the appointments to repeat according to a schedule that you think will work for you.

2. Be Disciplined
Whenever you check your inbox, you must be very diligent about not responding to any emails within your calendared categories. Instead, add them to the next appointment for that category.

Personally, I use Microsoft Outlook, which makes it very easy to just drag and drop emails directly onto calendar appointments. Just open the appointment, drag an email onto it, and it will attach there. It’s that simple. You could also type notes next to each email in the appointment to give yourself some guidance or context about how to respond to it.

I’m sure you will find it hard to resist the temptation to respond immediately, so expect this to happen and remember that it will take practice to create the habit.

3. Stay Focused
When the time arrives for each of your scheduled email appointments, you must be disciplined about opening that appointment and staying focused on responding to all of the emails without switching to other tasks. Try doing it a few times and see how it feels.

In my experience, I typically feel very satisfied by how efficiently I can get through a large number of emails in each category. There are many reasons for this, and one is that I find it easier to keep my mindset focused on a particular topic (ex. accounting or marketing) and to respond to emails solely in that category rather than switching back and forth between different categories.

Another reason is that many of the emails in the same category often relate to the same topic or project, and as a result, I can easily keep all of the information about that topic or project in mind while responding to all of the emails.

Moreover, I’ve often found that by waiting to respond to emails, some of them become unnecessary to address by the time I get around to them. Maybe someone else responded to them. Waiting to respond can sometimes eliminate work that I would have had to perform if I responded immediately.

4. After You Respond to Your Emails
When you’re done responding to all of the emails in one of your appointments, it’s important to return to not responding to emails in that category until your next appointment. Begin the process again.

Give this a try and see how it works for you. Some aspects may not work for you immediately, but instead of giving up on the process entirely, tweak it to see if you can make it work better for your particular situation. For example, you may need more or fewer appointments. You may need to change your email categories. You may need to change your stance on which types of emails you will respond to. All of this will depend on your own situation, demands, and preferences.

I hope you find this helpful and your email productivity increases!

Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Trish Weinmann

In an effort to share a range of perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness and to facilitate a discussion about this important topic, we are posting a series of short essays by different contributors on “What Mindfulness Means to Me.” Below is a blog post by Trish Weinmann.

Continue reading Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Trish Weinmann

Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Elizabeth Wood

In an effort to share a range of perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness and to facilitate a discussion about this important topic, we are posting a series of short essays by different contributors on “What Mindfulness Means to Me.” Below is a poem by Elizabeth Wood expressing what mindfulness means to her.

Continue reading Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Elizabeth Wood

Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

  I started using an electric toothbrush about a year ago after scoffing at them for many years. Now I love it. What I didn’t expect was that it would both provide some good mindfulness training and also encourage mindlessness.  Let me explain.

Continue reading Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

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