When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. ~ Marcus Aurelius
As a new teacher I struggled with mornings in my classroom. From the outside you might have never known. I relied on mornings that were highly organized and structured. I knew my second graders thrived on routine and predicability. Each morning I met them at the door and greeted them with a smile and a warm hello. Morning work was always neatly placed on their desk alongside a sharpened pencil. Everything appeared neat and tidy and “ready to go.” Except it wasn’t. Each morning my students would rush into the classroom, race through their morning work and begin to unravel my tidy, neat, highly organized morning routine. It had this, “off to the races” vibe that often felt chaotic and rushed to me. I hadn’t even begun teaching yet and often by 8:45 I was exhausted. My students seemed to do well with the routine, but I felt no joy in beginning my mornings like this. I craved something different, and I wondered if my students did too.
I decided to ask them. How did they like to approach mornings? Did they like to talk to their friends right away, or read a book quietly first? Did they want to start their day drawing, or writing stories, or doing math? I told them how I needed to walk slowly into morning instead of jumping right in. How starting the day out with loud noises and bright lights and lots of conversation made me feel overwhelmed. We talked about how interesting it was that each of us had unique way to greet mornings. We celebrated our differences and brainstormed ways we could create a classroom environment in the morning that honored each of us.
This talk changed our mornings forever.
Collectively we decided it was best for everyone if we set a calm tone in the morning. Most of us preferred to start our mornings out this way. Students knew that when they entered the classroom each morning they would do so quietly. I played nature sounds or classical music from my iPhone. Students had a choice of what kind of work they wanted to start the day with. Some students drew, some students read, some students worked on math, some students worked together playing a math or literacy game. I had time to listen if students needed to talk or had a problem they needed help working out.
I no longer began my mornings racing around sharpening pencils, copying “morning work” or asking students to lower their voices. I began to look forward to the mornings and the quiet buzz of my classroom. I noticed I felt more positive and energized to begin my first lesson and, in turn, my students were more engaged.
By connecting and listening to each other, our classroom community was stronger. It was during this time in my teaching that I had begun to practice mindfulness. I decided to introduce some of the techniques to my students. We incorporated mindful breathing into our morning meetings, and mindful listening into our walks in the hallway. We noticed how our bodies felt after practicing mindful awareness and shared how we could use these skills throughout our day.
What started as a simple inquiry about mornings led to a transformation in how I approached challenges in my teaching. One of the most important practices in mindfulness is your willingness to try to be open to each experience. When you apply this mindset to your teaching the possibilities for new discovery are endless.