Spider Sense

 

By Susan Dreyer Leon

“Are you awake, Charlotte?” he said softly.
“Yes,” came the answer.
“What is that nifty little thing? Did you make it?”
“I did indeed,” replied Charlotte in a weak voice.
“Is it a plaything?”
“Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.”
“I don’t know what a magnum opus is,” said Wilbur.
“That’s Latin,” explained Charlotte. “It means ‘great work.’ This egg sac is my great work — the finest thing I have ever made.”
“What’s inside it?” asked Wilbur. “Eggs?”
“Five hundred and fourteen of them,” she replied.
from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

I’m sitting in the lovely kitchen of my daughter’s reading tutor.   This gifted woman is painstakingly leading my ten year old dyslexic child through the alphabet one handmade clay letter at a time, guiding her ability to concentrate and focus on the shapes that want to twist and twirl in her mind’s eye. I am in theory doing my own work around the corner from them, but often I am listening to their conversations. “Have you read Charlotte’s Web”? the tutor asks. “No,” says Rosie. I listen with an itch in my gut, wanting to run around the corner and blurt out. “Of COURSE you’ve read Charlotte’s Web! You’ve listened to the audio book a dozen times AND seen the movie six times AND seen a children’s play just last summer!!” But my daughter is content to allow the tutor to explain to her a little bit about the story and why she might like it. For some reason, my daughter doesn’t really respond well to direct questions. You can imagine how this is a problem in formal educational settings where question and answer remains the primary method educators use to check for understanding (well…really for memory). I fight the urge to set the record straight, to tell the tutor as we are leaving, “I don’t know why she said that. She knows all about Charlotte’s Web.” I hold my tongue.

In the car on the way home I ask Rosie. “Why did you say you’ve never read Charlotte’s Web?” She doesn’t have an answer either. And I wonder, not for the first time, what my daughter actually understands from the audio books she listens to by the hour. I think she understands a lot, but it’s not always clear and she can almost never describe that understanding in a way that is satisfying to adults (teachers and parents included). I am reminded of John Holt, the advocate for “de-schooling,” who said that it was nobody’s business but the child’s what they had learned.

Part of me believes this, but on a practical level our school system is built on children showing grown-ups how they are smart.   Kids with disabilities often don’t show their intelligence in the expected pattern or way. Schools are fast- moving places and answers like my daughter’s often lead adults to conclude they aren’t “smart” and therefore are not worth teaching. Educators have sometimes told me that they think certain material is “over my daughter’s head.” Part of me trusts that she’s totally fine. She’s taking what she needs from life and will be able to make her contribution in turn. On other days I feel so anxious for my child and her future in the educational system, which is a gatekeeper for so many of modern life’s opportunities. If she doesn’t want to play the “game of school,” as Rob Fried has called it, will she be relegated to menial work rather than the kind of creative life I wish for her? I haven’t found much to be “over her head,” but I know why other adults think so. They can’t tune in to her frequency and they don’t have to time to see how quickly she makes connections between complex ideas. She says, “no” and they move on to the next thing, missing vital information and insight into her thinking. I don’t fault them, really. The conditions of their work often do not allow an individualized response to every child and many children spend their days at school unseen and unknown to the often well-intentioned but overburdened adults around them.

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A few days later I am working the garden, trying to level my bird bath. I’m brushing layers of bark mulch and dirt from one side of the flower bed to the other and I turn up a perfectly round, white pebble-shaped object. At the time I say to myself, that might be an egg sac, but I think it is best just to rebury it whatever it is. I get the birdbath the way I want it and run back and forth for the hose and some flowers. All of a sudden I notice a huge spider on the rock next to the birdbath. She’s truly enormous by New England standards, half the size of my palm. And I know. I just KNOW that the little white sphere was her egg sac. It is so clear to me that she’s trying to tell me something by her presence. She is very directly asking me to help her. So I take down the bird bath and paw gently through the loose soil and bark until I find the little orb. I pop it up on the rock next to the spider. She rushes over to it and clasps it to her chest in her front four legs. She just holds it for a while. Then she pushes it off the rock and jumps off after it. It takes her a little fussing around on the ground to find it again. Then she squats over it winding silk from her body until it is bound tightly underneath her and she runs off through the grass.

I sit in stunned silence. In truth, I’ve never really had an experience like this before and I am spellbound. Part of me is bursting to tell everyone about this amazing thing and part of me wants to keep it a delicious private secret. In the end I tell everyone, of course, starting with my daughter. I bring her over to the flower bed and tell her the whole story, showing her just where the spider was on the rock and where she ran off through the grass. “Can you believe it?” I ask her.

“Of course, mom” says my daughter shrugging. “It was her magnum opus; her life’s great work.” And she runs off to play her own games.

About the Author

Susan Dreyer Leon, EdD is the director of the Mindfulness for Educators Program at Antioch University New England

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It’s Simply Magical

A Guest Blog from AUNE Mindfulness for Educators M.Ed Student, Laura Eldridge

“Mel”, a second grader, and I have spent the last 6 months working together to give him skills that will allow him to be successful during unstructured times in his classroom, specifically snack and lunch.  We began having mindful lunches in November after he made several visits to the behavior program I’m in charge of in an elementary school. He was sent to me because he was finding it difficult to navigate the social expectations of these less structured times of day with his peers.  He was doing things that gave people “weird thoughts” (a phrase from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking program) and acting in ways that were unexpected for a second grader (playing with his food, saying strange things, making unusual noises, interrupting people during conversations, etc.). These were some pretty ingrained habits for Mel and I knew it would take some work to help him move away from them.

lunch-box-generic_650x400_61442040149During our mindful lunches, over the course of several months, Mel came to eat lunch in my office daily.  We created a ritual that included deep breathing and body scans, and in a way that seemed natural for him.  He’s used to me asking lots of questions and wasn’t at all bothered when I asked him how his various parts were feeling.  We had a list written on paper and every day I would write his answers down.  When he began giving the same answers for a couple of days, I’d refer to the papers from the past few days and remind him of what he said and that it seemed he wasn’t giving much attention to how he was really feeling at that moment. Over the course of those months, he learned, through this daily practice, to really tune in to how his body was feeling and to contemplate why it might be feeling that way.  His head hurt because he couldn’t stop thinking about something his brother had done the night before.  His heart was beating fast because it was his first time inviting a guest for mindful lunch and sharing thing practice we’d held so sacred. His heart also beat fast and he was breathing fast when we began talking about him having lunch in the classroom again.  He was feeling nervous about it.  This was the first time that he connected our practice to the changes he’d made in his behavior.  He something to the effect of, “Hey!  All of these mindful lunches made it so I know what to do when I have lunch in my classroom!”  “You do know what to do, ‘Mel’, and I know you’re going be just fine there, “ I replied.

When he felt ready to have lunch in his classroom again, I went to his classroom to have lunch with him the first day. I sat at a different table the second day, away from him, but within his visual range. The third day, I came in late (intentionally) and he was chatting away at a table with his teacher and some classmates.  He didn’t see me, so I snuck back out.  Later that day, I told him I’d seen him doing a great job and I didn’t feel he needed me in there for lunch any more.  “I got this, Mrs. Eldridge!  I got this!” he said, putting his hand up as if to stop me.

Through mindfulness, Mel has been able to tune in to the way his body reacts to his experiences.  He has been able to examine those responses and make changes in his behavior that make him successful in his classroom during lunch and snack times. The habits that make him look and act in unexpected ways around his peers are mostly a thing of the past.. By working with him to help him be aware of how he is feeling inside, he has been able to return to his classroom for the less structured times that caused him a great deal of anxiety which, in turn, caused him to make unexpected choices and get him into trouble. He is beginning to see that there is a different way to do things that he can be comfortable with and successful in doing that are expected and typical of kids his age.  He is learning to make wise decisions based on what he notices in his body and the way he is reacting to things going on around him.  He’s been successful in his classroom at lunchtime for a few weeks now, with no issues at all. This is all due to the mindfulness practice we established together. It’s simply magical!

Nest of Inpredibilities

By Susan Dreyer Leon

For the last four years, my ten year old daughter has been writing a series of semi-autobiographical stories about a pig named Priscilla and her family. Priscilla has many of the same life situations that my daughter faces, epilepsy, frequent doctors’ appointments, fear of the the dentist, a need for glasses, pets who have to go to the vet, summer camp fun, vacations, first days of school and other manifestations of the normal range of suffering, inconvenience, joy and satisfaction that come with life in this realm.

Sometimes, when my daughter can’t find just the right word to express herself, she makes up a word or a phrase to get the job done properly. This has been somewhat aided by her interest in Andrew Clements’ book Frindle, in which students explore what language actually is and how new words come into being.  In my daughter’s, story Priscilla Goes to the Hotel, Priscilla is faced with a dilemma. Her foster sister, Jane, really wants Priscilla to go to an arcade and amusement park, but Priscilla does not want to go. She wants to go to a pet store. Priscilla allows herself to be persuaded only to be miserable at the arcade, which leads to bitter complains and sniping with her sister. At this point, Priscilla’s mother intervenes, saying, “Priscilla, you are getting into your own nest of inpredibilities.” From the moment I read this word, “inpredibilities,” I have loved it. And now I find it has become a part of how I think about many situations. To me, “inpredibilities” are a set of thoughts that entangle me in suffering. I also love that they are situated in a “nest.” Like a nest of snakes, I imagine.

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For those of us who are teachers, I find real utility for the word inpredibilities. In fact, I think we have an active need of it. Our work situations are so complex and fraught with various “have to” situations that we don’t necessarily choose. And yet, I think we also often have more choices than we know and we certainly have more choices about our reactions to these situations than we may recognize.

It’s very helpful to me to see when I’m caught in my own tangled web of thinking that is sometimes causing me even more suffering than the initial situation itself. For me, these feelings often include something like resentment, discomfort, fear, and regret, but you might have your own list. Often there is a sense of helplessness that goes along with them. It seems to me that this discursive thinking that accompanies me into dark places, actually serves to keep me stuck there rather than helping me to get out. This is the nest of inpredibilites.

So, what to do? Priscilla makes a good choice. She appologizes to her sister, accepts responsibility for her part in getting into the situation and then does what she wanted to do in the first place, which was go to the pet store. So, when you find yourself getting into your own “nest of inpredibilities” see if it isn’t possible to stop, forgive yourself and others with kindness, and start again. And please, feel free to put this helpful work into circulation in your context! But if anyone asks where you got the it, please credit the child author, AR Leon, and remember that name. I think you’ll see it again!

Teaching as a Mindfulness Practice

Today we are thrilled to offer a beautiful guest blog post from Antioch University New England Integrated Learning student, Janice Waldron-Hansen. Janice writes about her experience of using her own mindfulness practice to explore the terrain of her student-teaching environment and then sharing mindfulness practices with her young students.  This reflection came as a result of her work in our Mindfulness for Educators spring weekend elective course, which is open to current students, alumni, and as continuing education.  For more information on the Mindfulness for Educators Programs at Antioch University New England, please visit our website at http://www.antiochne.edu/teacher-education/mindfullness-for-educators-certificate-program/

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Teaching as a Mindfulness Practice 

Janice Waldron-Hansen

A deeply cold winter ushers in this semester, in January 2014. Halfway through the month, I realize the necessity of needing to leave my internship; this sets the tone for the next five months. This semester I learn to trust in the teaching I gleaned from the Vipassana meditation training of “everything being as it should be.” The teaching succeeds in holding my head above the surface of the quickly changing waters of a 15-month learning cycle about becoming a master teacher. The deep inhalation of the breath brings my body the oxygen needed to make the crossing of the great ocean of my mind’s eye. The great ocean of understanding everything is in a flux and a flow, in constant change. The sister-ing exhalation empties me of what I no longer need to hold on to, as I let the air from my lungs seep quietly, and sometimes not so quietly over my lips. In sitting meditation, following the breath, and sensing the sensations of my body, deepens my concentration. This is the same concentration I use to track myself while teaching. The focus gained from tracking the sensations of the body in sitting meditation, support the construction of lesson plans anchored in the school, and lives of the students I work with.

I start the days of my new internship by taking a reading of the energy of the classroom, generously shared with me. Each morning, I read the barometer of my coordinating teacher, her 2nd grade students, and myself, as they enter through the door into the room we’ll share for the next three days, of each week, for the next 15 weeks. I find the listening skills I’ve cultivated in walking meditation give me awareness. The same awareness guides me as I make my way through the layers of learning that adults and children in the school’s community are embedded in. The town surrounding the school is full of hardship. I witness myself learning to understand the context of a community where children arrive hungry to school.. I see for the first time, in real time, bone-thin children whose appetites are taken by the drugs that help them quiet themselves, in order to get through a day in school. “As it is,” I find myself repeating to myself, sometimes too often. Again the breath, and its partner, compassion become the raft keeping me afloat. I work harder to understand where I am, and how I might be able to participate in teaching, amidst the hardships of lives wrought from challenges children do not choose for themselves. The learning stored in the brain-body of my muscle motor memory supports me as I gain insight into the complexities of creating a safe and nurturing classroom culture, from a wise coordinating teacher and supervisor.

Midway through the onset of February, my realizations about the stresses and strains facing the teacher and child of the public classroom shake me to the core. I lose the buoyancy of the practice of insight meditation. Overcome by the reaction of my bodymind saying “no,” in daylight and in the wake-light of dreams twisted. I learn from my Antioch teacher, Teri Young, who refers to this kind of an event as an “epistemological shudder.” She reminds me with her teaching to make the pause, take the breath, refrain from the naming of things, in order to let in the greater why of a situation. Laying supine on the floor, deep in relaxation, I take the breath, deeply inhaling and exhaling, I find clarity of thought and emerge from the overwhelm. At school the next week, I’m with a boy, after his class has left and gone into the hallway, as a result of his choices. I’m able to help him find a place of calmness while we pretend to pick a dandelion and blow its fluff softly away.

Starting again, I learn the value of one breath grabbed in the quick-paced environment of teaching and learning with children. The one breath adds itself to another one, also quickly snatched from frantic airwaves strung tight by taunt emotions. Engaged in the free association of the teacher’s path of assessing and responding to the needs of her students, I manage to take another breath. Then, like a bell being struck, I see truth in the ring of action. While I’m practicing insight meditation, and teaching young ones how to tune to their breath, I find certain calm comes to the room full of learners.

Still cold, and early in April, the sun warms the wooden floor of the dance studio, where I sit remembering, and learning to embark on teaching mindfulness practices to children. Later in the month of May with an even warmer sun, I help children learn how to feel and find their still place, (adapted from Amy Salzberg, as taught by Susan Dreyer Leon in our class, Mindfulness for Educators). The results are instantaneous, and plain to see in our 2nd graders. They are happier, more relaxed, and able to listen better. In the following weeks, I guide the children in visualizations. They practice feeling their breath, and noticing how their body feels. Then we learn about walking in the halls quietly, not because we are bound by a rule, instead because of the peace we feel, as we go from one place to another, neither here, nor there, but somewhere in between, when we’re not rushed and saunter, relishing the passage. Finally, last week I shared Susan Kaiser Greenland’s “Rocking A Stuffed Animal To Sleep With Your Breathing.” The effect is overwhelmingly pleasant for everyone in the room. The observing coordinating teacher, the children, a boy from another classroom in the take-a-break-chair, and me, all are noticeably calmer and happier afterwards. The children open their eyes in quiet rapture as they see the stuffed animal on their belly. We all are rested, taking on the math lesson with a freshness, and openness I’ve not seen in the four previous months.

My experience of introducing mindfulness practices to children and adults in a challenging school community has been undeniably proactive in changing the stress levels I was encountering in my internship. The children continue to ask for more experiences, and to repeat those we’ve tried. I see the children meeting my efforts with their own, one for one. As I help them find different ways to make contact with their breath. The intrinsic nature of the child supports them in acquiring this vital tool. This same tool serves me in my growth as a teacher, while I observe the differences in learning without engaging breath awareness, and learning that does. The evidence in support of the child’s increased well-being is clear, while my observational acuity as a teacher grows. The quick pace is slowed by the path of mindfulness, affording a presence of mind allowing for attunement to the environment and my students.

“…This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

And let the spirits fly in and out.”

Rumi, Where Everything Is Music,

                                                             The Essential Rumi, by Coleman Barks, with J. Moyne

Kickapoo is not afraid!

Lately at our house, we’ve been doing yoga after dinner.   We found a great resource called Cosmic Kids Yoga.  What we love about it is that its really developmentally appropriate for young yogis!  Each 10-15 minute video is an adventure story where children (and parents) are led through a series of yoga poses as part of the story.

Both my daughter and I are enchanted with the teacher, Jamie.  She’s expressive, engaged and her instructions are clear and easy to follow.  The stories have a moral and the themes are reinforced during the short relaxation meditation at the end. My very favorite so far is “Kickapoo the kangaroo.”  I like it because young Kickapoo is a fearless explorer of the outback and because we get to jump around at the end singing “Tie me kangaroo down, sport!”  It’s impossible to do without a huge smile on your face!

Jamie, your Cosmic Kids instructor.
Jamie, your Cosmic Kids instructor.

My daughter tuned out traditional yoga instruction–even for kids–after the first minute or two, but she stays with this until the end.  And then, after the video is over, she wants to teach me yoga.  So, we have another good 10 minutes of exercise while she makes up her own stories and shares them with me.  The poses may be a bit “creative” but the combination of exercise, imagination and fun makes up for that.

At one point in my life I was quite a yoga “purist” and I probably would have had a lot of negative things to say about “Cosmic Kids.”  Now, as a mom looking to engage a younger person in some body-based contemplative practices, I think it’s just great.  I also like it as an educator because it is a wonderful example of how we can teach young children many different topics by engaging their imagination.  For example, early years math really shouldn’t come from a text book or a worksheet.  With a few simple props and a story line, students can be practicing exactly the same number concepts by running a store,  playing bank, or building with blocks.  As educators, we just have to get more intentional about designing these learning activities and documenting the learning.

So, give Cosmic Kids a try and let us know what you think!

Cosmic Kids Yoga–Kickapoo the Kangaroo

Antioch now has two programs in Mindfulness for Teachers!

Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program

Now Accepting Applications for Fall 2014

Inquire Today

 

Program Philosophy

Mindful educatorThe Mindfulness for Educators Certificate Program trains educators in the core practices of mindfulness and compassion, as formal practices and as lived and embodied responses to life in the classroom and in the world.  Antioch University New England has the only graduate program with a focus on mindfulness that is just for teachers.

Program Delivery

  • All courses fully on-line
  • Nine graduate credits
  • Year-long program completed in fall-summer of any academic year
  • One course per term

Relevant and engaging coursework takes into account the lives of working educators. The cohort approach helps participants remain committed to daily meditation and informal mindfulness practices. The program combines on-line pedagogy with interactive teaching methodology. It includes small class sizes, individual attention from faculty, and real-time connection via telephone, on-line conferencing, and webinars.

buddist gardenProgram Orientation

The program strengthens an educator’s innate wisdom through the study and daily application of ancient and current applied philosophical perspectives, and universal and human development models. It has a three-pronged approach:

  • formal meditation practice
  • study of the field of mindfulness
  • application of ideas and approaches to classroom and other educational contexts

The program is rooted in the philosophy of reflective practice and inquiry. Each course is designed to lead teachers deeper into their own classroom experience and help them see the work of teaching and learning with fresh eyes.

 

Mindfulness for Educators M.Ed Concentration

Now Accepting Applications for Summer and Fall 2014

Inquire Today

With the same philosophical orientation as our Certificate Program, the M.Ed adds additional Mindfulness course, plus opportunities to apply your learning in greater depth with our practicum courses and one-to-one advising.

Complete your degree in five semesters!

Most students take six credits in the fall and spring semesters.  This includes one required on-line class and a choice of practicum.  During the summer, students will take one on-line required course in mindfulness for educators and one or two week-long face-to-face courses on campus at AUNE in Keene, New Hampshire. The summer residency is typically the middle two weeks of July.  Students may spread out the program to take fewer courses in a given semester.  Please inquire during the admissions process to learn more about this option.

Online MEd Program

On-Line Courses:

  • Using Buddhist Frameworks to Reflect on Teaching and Learning
  • Human Development and the Inner Landscape of Teachers and Learners
  • Awareness of Body, Mind, Heart, and Brain: Pathways to Change in Education
  • Compassionate Action in the World
  • Mindful Leadership

Practicum Courses

  • Child Study
  • Curriculum
  • Equity and Change

On-campus summer courses at Antioch University New England

  • Developing Mind
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Elective course of your choice

mindful teachingElectives can include AUNE courses in place-based or problem-based learning, nature-based schooling, sustainability, leadership, and educational technology.   You can also incorporate meditation retreat experiences, or external trainings related to teaching mindfulness to children and youth into the MEd program.

 

 

 

 

Faculty

Claire Stanley Antioch University NE faculty

Claire Stanley, Ph.D., is on the faculty of Antioch University New England and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. She is also a founder and the Guiding Teacher of Vermont Insight Meditation Center in Brattleboro, Vermont. Her work as an educator for the last thirty years has focused on teacher development, interpersonal, and intercultural communication in professional relationships, and the role of mindful awareness in the quality and effectiveness of our work in the world. She is passionate about the far-reaching possibilities of transforming the systems of any professional context into learning communities where human beings are awake, compassionate, and responsive to their inner life and to the lives of the people they work with.

Jack Millett, founder and teacher at the Center for Mindful Inquiry and Vermont Insight Meditation Center.

Jack Millett, MAT, is a founder and teacher at the Center for Mindful Inquiry and Vermont Insight Meditation Center. He was an Associate Professor in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the SIT Graduate Institute for twenty-five years. Since 1990 Jack has been exploring ways to integrate meditation and teaching practices to bring mindfulness to his work in the classroom. When designing lessons and teaching classes, he is most interested in being in the moment, seeing what is, accepting what is, and responding to serve. From his extensive teaching, teacher supervision, and educational administration experience, he has developed the ability to create safe and engaging environments that allow participants in his courses and workshops to touch an appreciation of themselves and others as they engage and learn the content of the course.

Susan Dreyer-Leon, Ed.D, Director of the Experienced Educators' Program AUNE

Susan Dreyer-Leon, Ed.D., is director of the Experienced Educators’ Program at Antioch University New England, a former alternative public high school teacher/leader in New York City and Vermont, a School Reform Initiative National Facilitator, and an experienced Coalition of Essential Schools teacher and leader. Her special interests include the development and support of equitable, democratic and joyful schools, mindfulness and education, facilitative leadership, and sustainable and place-based educational practices.  Susan has been a meditation practitioner and student in the Insight Meditation tradition since 1999 and has been intimately involved with the development and implementation of the Mindfulness for Educators Certificate program since its inception in 2011.  Her special interest is hosting opportunities for educators to integrate practices and ideas from the emerging field of mindfulness and education.

The gap

Visual MeditationsMisaru Emoto Water Crystal “Love and Appreciation”

One of my current Philosophy of Education Students here at Antioch New England shared this with me this week.  Last week we were discussing those BIG questions about what is real, valuable and true.  We explored the idea of whether we are, in fact, separate individuals, or if that perception is part of the limitation of some of our biology and we talked about what happens if and when we transcend that perception. We even shared some stories of times we felt a shift and could see things from a different angle of view, a deeper or wider way of knowing.  I think it’s very important for teachers to explore their relationships to these questions and for them to explore some of these ideas in age appropriate ways with their students.

One of my favorite parts of this video is the one that explores the impact of the disconnect and pain we feel as result of recognizing on some level the gap between the more beautiful world we know is possible and the world as we’ve currently constructed it.  It puts me in mind of what Paulo Freire said, “What if we discover that our present way of life is irreconcilable with our vocation to become fully human?”

www.upworthy.com/science-has-been-misleading-you-about-some-fundamental-truths-2?g=2