California Educator

November / December 2016

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Page 25 of 59

Increasing awareness with mindfulness "Close your eyes. Cross your legs. ere is nothing you have to do right now but feel the rise and fall of your belly. If your eyes are open, please close them." e gentle sound of chimes is followed by the teacher's voice asking students to focus on being in the here and now at Pioneer Elementary School in Union City. Neena Barreto is helping transitional kindergartners regulate their own ner- vous systems through practicing the art of mindfulness. Similar to meditation, it's a way for students to acknowledge and accept their feelings and thoughts. Studies show mindfulness improves the ability to focus and boosts productivity. S E L a n d m i n d f u l n e s s w o r k w e l l t o g e t h e r. S E L , n o t e s U C B e r k e l e y 's Greater Good Science Center, uses an outside-in approach with a fo cus on teaching skills; mindfulness works from the inside out. Barreto st ar t ed t eachin g mindful- ness in her fourth-grade classroom two years a go. It pro v ed s o p opul ar th at sh e was asked to be th e mindfuln ess coach for two schools in the New Haven Unified School District. Now she visits classrooms throughout the district for weekly sessions. "Mindfulness is not about tr ying to empty your mind of thoughts," says Bar- reto, a New Haven Teachers Association member. "It is not how long you can sit there in a blissed-out state. There is no goal, nothing to achieve. Mindfulness is really about observing and befriending yourself. It is noticing what you are feeling and allowing yourself to feel it fully." (To learn more, visit Colleagues report that students are happier and more focused after a mind- fulness session, and that incidents of aggression and confrontation are dwin- dling. Teachers also reported gaining 20 to 30 extra minutes of instructional time each day, because they spend less time dealing with problem behavior. Barreto asks the transitional kinder- gartners how their day is going. "I noticed my sister kept hitting me when I was angry," says a student. "Sometimes sisters are like that," says Barreto. She then names certain emo- tions — sadness, happiness and anger — and asks the children to make faces to correspond with them. " We f e e l t h e s e e m o t i o n s a l l t h e time," says Barreto. " They are all nor- mal and natural." Th e students practice taking deep "mindful breaths." "e next time you are angry, remem- ber to take three deep mindful breaths," Barreto reminds the students. "It will make you feel calmer about whatever is happening in your life." Educator Neena Barreto helps students practice mindfulness, which has been shown to help improve the ability to focus. 24 "MINDFULNESS IS ABOUT NOTICING WHAT YOU ARE FEELING AND ALLOWING YOURSELF TO FEEL IT FULLY." — NEENA BARRETO, NEW HAVEN TEACHERS ASSOCIATION Feature

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