I was watching the film ‘Up’ with my Mum and children the other day (actual offspring; I don’t take my Mum to school with me.) It was the part where Russell and Mr Fredrickson have landed after the storm and realised that they are on the wrong side of Paradise Falls. Keeping the house with them, tied up and weighing them down they trudge slowly towards their destination. The old man has his eyes firmly set on where they are headed, and at times is distracted by where he has been, or the weight of the house he is carrying or the crushing weight of his grief for his beloved wife. Russell’s interjections and observations go largely unnoticed, or brushed to one side as a distraction from the ultimate aim- which was to get to paradise falls. My Mum thought it was interesting that the old man was focussed on the future and the past, while Russell (the child) was wholly and entirely in the moment.
It got me thinking… as adults it is inevitable that we get burdened and bogged down in our own lives to some extent. We don’t have the luxury that children have to be ever present and living from moment to moment, do we? Perhaps it could be too easy to become Mr Fredrikson in the classroom some days ploughing on with our own cause and not open to the path or direction the child would prefer to be on. What does this say about us as teachers? The following poem explores the conflict between the direction of the child and the teacher that can sometimes occur in a data driven classroom:
“I’m being a leaf, I can float in the sky,
Look at me dance, watch me fly”.
“That’s nice dear but please take heed,
You must sit down, it’s time to read.
You haven’t achieved what the plan is for you,
I must intervene and dictate what you do.
There are phonemes and graphemes with action and sound;
Segment them and blend them and prove what you’ve found.
Your data is sketchy, you know that it’s true;
And this all reflects what I knew about you.”
It is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the little companions by our sides, the explorers in the classroom with us. After all, it is their adventure that we are on. We are merely the guides. They have a voice too and where possible we must try to incorporate moments in the day or week where they can take the lead and direct their own learning. You may be amazed what comes of it.
I had a child last week who was really struggling with arrays. I had demonstrated it, we had rehearsed it, we had discussed and explored them, but for some reason it just wasn’t clicking and I could see that she wasn’t secure in what she needed to do or how the array was helpful to solving multiplication problems. In the afternoon I gave her some time to direct her own learning. She decided to learn in the role play corner, which is currently a Bakery on Pudding Lane. Can you guess what our Topic is? About ten minutes later she asked me if I would like to buy a chocolate muffin (as she presented me an empty baking tray.) ‘Of course!’ I exclaimed. ‘My favourite! How did you guess?’ She asked me how many I would like and so I asked her how many she was selling. Then her face fell as she looked at the tray and I could see she didn’t know what to do. I encouraged her to look at the tray and remember what we were talking about in Maths that morning. Her face split into such a wide smile I nearly chuckled ‘It’s an array!!’ So I asked her again how many cupcakes she had. She looked at the tray, counted 3 and 4, then said 3 x 4 is 12!’ All morning I had been pushing her towards the outcome that I wanted for her, but it wasn’t until I let her go, that she came to the learning by herself.
It can be easy as teachers for our minds to become full of the things that we need to achieve in the day; the resources that need preparing; that meeting after school; the conversation had on the playground with a parent at the start of the day and that’s before we even get into the classroom and start filling our brains with lesson objectives, differentiation, collecting evidence, marking and oh don’t forget to send the homework out!! However, the children aren’t bagageless either, okay it may not be the size of a house, it may be the size of a Wilderness Explorers backpack, but it burdens them all the same… My new baby brother woke me up last night, I’m tired. I wish I had eaten all my breakfast like Mummy said I should, I’m hungry. I miss Mummy. Hmmmm Isabella has a nicer headband than me. I wish I had a pink headband. If I had that headband I’d look like a popstar. When is break? I’m sad that my hamster died! (two years ago!) Ohhh this chair is wobbly. Is that a rainbow? Both sets of baggage, both ours and theirs interfere with the process of learning.
It can be hard when we are under pressure to deliver results not to see the little distractions and deviations as a little frustrating at times. However, stay in the moment, be mindful of what is happening in the moment. If the child is hungry, cold, tired, bored then they can not learn. If we are mindful then we are more likely to be aware of the needs of our children. These can then be fixed and the lesson can continue. Or their needs might preclude the lesson taking place at that time.
Practising mindfulness, that ability to stay in the moment isn’t just important for us but it is also an important life skills for our pupils to learn. MindBodygreen.com have some excellent ideas on how to bring Mindfulness to children. If you are looking to help the children calm down and be present then I love the idea of Breathing Buddies (little toys that you place on your stomach to watch as you breathe deeply) and Squish and Relax (the process of tightening and relaxing sequences of muscles in the body to promote relaxation.) The following clip, as suggested by Emily Drabble in How to Teach…Mindfulness, is a great way to introduce the concept of staying present with your class.
For effective learning to take place it is essential that we all learn to put our baggage down, and mindfulness is certainly one way to support that. So let go of the House, grab a balloon, let’s go and explore together!