Can combining writing with meditation and mindfulness really help students to show more self-compassion and improve their ability to understand their own emotions?
In this School Behaviour Secrets episode, we interview Educational Wellness Consultant, Laura Bean. Together, we discuss the benefits of mindfulness and how these moments can be used to support pupils with Social, Emotional Mental Health needs.
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Show notes / transcription
Laura Bean 0:00
The mind can be your very best friend and it can be your very worst enemy. And so training your mind so that you can, you know, be on your own side is a skill that we can teach.
Simon Currigan 0:12
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to this week's episode of the school behaviour secrets podcast as ever, we're broadcasting from behaviour towers. Do come in, but please also do Be Quiet. Uncle Derek's just found his old service revolver, and we've only counted him discharging five bullets so far, might be a good idea to stand away from that window. I'm joined as ever by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.
Emma Shackleton 1:16
Simon Currigan 1:18
Hi, Emma. Before we get to this week's interview, I've got a question I've been dying to ask you.
Emma Shackleton 1:23
Okay, what would you like to know?
Simon Currigan 1:25
According to a recent a YouGov survey. How often do most people get low or sad or anxious on a Sunday evening, in anticipation of the week ahead? The Sunday scaries. The possible answers are very often, fairly often, not very often, not often at all. And don't know, where did most people sit in the survey?
Emma Shackleton 1:49
I feel like this will be quite high. But I wonder if that's because I know a lot of teachers, I'm going to guess, fairly often.
Simon Currigan 2:00
So this really surprised me, actually. But again, maybe that's because I'm from a teaching profession. And I'm assuming they weren't counting the Sunday at the end of the school holiday. But this is the general population. This isn't teachers, most people sat in the... Not often at all category at 36%. 27% Were in the not very often column and the lowest number of all was very often.
Emma Shackleton 2:24
Okay, well, I guess that's a good thing. How is that survey linked to today's episode?
Simon Currigan 2:29
So today, we're sharing my interview with Laura Bean, who's put together a really interesting curriculum that combines writing, with a meditation and mindfulness to help students show more self compassion and understand and manage difficult emotions more successfully. Her work is more focused on secondary aged children, but she has a really interesting approach. And I'm sure there's going to be something in here that you can take away and use with the children that you work with whatever their age
Emma Shackleton 2:59
Oh, I'm looking forward to this one. But before we go any further if you've been enjoying the show, don't forget to give us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. Every review tells Apple to recommend the podcast to other listeners so that they can find the show and start getting the help that they need to support the children in their classrooms to leaving a review takes less than a minute, so please help us to grow the show. That said, Here's Simon's interview with Laura bean.
Simon Currigan 3:30
I'm super excited to welcome our guest to the show, Laura bean. Laura spent 10 years practising meditation and teaching writing at the college level in Kyoto, Japan. She has an MFA in creative writing. And her work has been featured at a mindful youth conference sponsored by the Centre for mindfulness at UC San Diego, and UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Magazine. And most recently, in an anthology called educating mindfully stories of school transformation through mindfulness through the coalition of schools, educating mindfully, Laura, welcome to the show.
Laura Bean 4:04
Thank you so much. It's wonderful to be here.
Simon Currigan 4:06
It's great to have you here. And I know a lot of our listeners are interested in the benefits of mindfulness and how we can use those to support our students, especially the ones with sort of social and emotional and mental health needs. So I think this is going to be a really fascinating interview. Your work focuses on encouraging students to be more focused, more self aware, more compassionate with themselves and their peers. Before we talk about your method for doing that, can you tell me about what got you interested in this area of teaching?
Laura Bean 4:36
Sure. So as a young person, I dealt with a lot of negative self talk. So this has really been my own personal journey. And as a classroom teacher, I saw my students dealing with so much stress and trauma and not feeling successful as students. So I really wanted to offer them a means for self compassion, compassion for their classmates, and to just give them a voice so that they could talk about, you know, the stress and trauma. And you know, I've got kids whispering to each other about drive by shootings in their neighbourhood, and I was being asked to teach a very dry academic curriculum that was just not giving me the means to to connect with students and to build a relationship. So I wanted the curriculum to reflect where students were at.
Simon Currigan 5:27
Let's just unpack a couple of things you said there. And the first was about experiencing negative self talk, which I think is something that affects lots of our students of all ages. Actually, for those that are coming to this topic for the first time, can you just talk a little bit about what negative self talk is, and its effects?
Laura Bean 5:42
Yeah, it's the judgmental voice, the the self critic, the mind can be your very best friend. And it can be your very worst enemy. And so training your mind, so that you can, you know, be on your own side is a skill that we can teach.
Simon Currigan 5:59
I want to pick up on what you said about the curriculum as well, because that's really interesting. I think it's really relevant right now, certainly, post COVID is we've tried different ways of delivering curriculums, some more successful than others, when the curriculum is wrong. In your experience, what do you see from the students? How do they react and respond to that?
Laura Bean 6:16
You know, I taught in the middle school, and I noticed that, you know, my students, there was just this real lack of engagement, even despondency, you know, in the students just with their head down, that's kind of a telltale sign. I had a student say to me, you know, why are they all white people in this book, just really wanting to give them an opportunity to be creative and to bring their life experience into the classroom in a deep way.
Simon Currigan 6:16
So your approach combines a reading and writing curriculum with teaching mindfulness practice. So can you talk to us about what is mindfulness? And what does the research tell us about the benefits of practising mindfulness?
Laura Bean 6:56
So you know, mindfulness is building awareness of what's happening both inside ourselves and what's happening around us. So being fully present in the moment, and we can do that through you know, paying attention to sensations in our body, sounds around us, our breath, it's a very simple practice of just coming back and being present without, you know, thinking about the past or planning for the future, but actually just being here.
Simon Currigan 7:28
And when we do this, what's the impact?
Laura Bean 7:30
Students are more focused, they're more grounded, they're more compassionate towards themselves and towards each other, they're less reactive, the benefits are just, you know, so broad, and far reaching, being able to sleep at night,
Simon Currigan 7:46
I'm sold. This is a side note, I think there's a chronically under slept generation of children to be honest.
Laura Bean 7:53
Simon Currigan 7:54
And probably a chronically under slept generation of teachers who are teaching them that says impact. So anything that's going to alleviate that issue, it's going to be welcome, I'm sure. You're going to sort of lead us through our 60 Second mindfulness practice.
Laura Bean 8:07
Thank you. Yeah. So just taking a moment to connect with your feet, you're on the floor or your bottom, you're on a bed or a cushion, and just connecting with the felt sense of the body. It's a practice of just dropping out of the thinking mind and connecting with the body with the breath, if that's available, just taking full breath in, and a breath out. And a breath in and breath out. In and out. And it can really, really just be as as simple as that. You know, we do a lot of that in the class where I say, Let's take three community breaths together. Yeah, it's a way of us all coming to the same place at the same time.
Simon Currigan 9:03
What's interesting there was before we just started recording, we had some connection issues. And we had to move from the platform where we normally record the podcast to zoom. So there's a lot of rushing and a lot of organising very, very quickly. And when I sat there and just thought about the moment and I felt my feet connected to the floor, and I was thinking about my breathing, that kind of fell away. And those are very sort of transitory stresses. And I can imagine that being very powerful if you've got a background of something like trauma, say, and you've got all these automatic thoughts and that kind of negative self talk, almost being able to put that on mute for a moment. I imagine it's very, very powerful for children.
Laura Bean 9:41
Yeah, it definitely is just to settle all of the the agitation in the mind and to remember that you know, the only place the body can be is in the present moment, but we can get so far away from our body and disconnected from our body and really that the body is the anchor which can be some very rough seas in the head. So yeah, so just returning to, you know, the home base.
Simon Currigan 10:06
So you put your curriculum together called Write to the Core, which is an amazing name, by the way. I love that. I love that wordplay.
Laura Bean 10:13
Simon Currigan 10:13
So it's Write. For the listeners as in WRITE Write to the Core, what does the structure of one of your lessons look like? So if I was a student sitting there in a classroom, what would I experience this mixture, this coming together of literature and mindfulness?
Laura Bean 10:30
So thank you for asking, they would start with a quick five minute write with the theme, whether it be self compassion, or empathy, or forgiveness. So they're bringing their own experience to the table. And then I lead into a brief mindfulness practice, which normally like, you know, five minutes, something like that. And then at the end, reading the poem aloud, so the poem is like the anchor text, that the whole lesson is really centred around. And then there's a closed listening activity where students have a worksheet and fill in missing words from the poem. So they end up each student has a copy of the poem. And next, they talk about just where they connect with the poem words or phrases that they appreciate. And then really, just to think about what the poem is saying to them, you know, it's not so much an academic exercise as it is, you know, a heart centred, just connecting with what they appreciate and what it means to them. And then from there, there's a more academic component where there's more analysis and text dependent questions. And then the grand finale is the writing templates, where they get to try their hand at writing their own version of the poem.
Simon Currigan 11:47
Your curriculum has quite strong focus on poetry, what led you to make that kind of structural choice about how you plan the curriculum through and the activities you provide for the kids?
Laura Bean 11:58
Well, you know, poetry is very visceral, it involves all the five senses very similar to a practice of mindfulness. And it deals with the emotional life, which is something that I feel is so important that we welcome at school, so and it gives students a new perspective. And I feel like, you know, poets bring really the insight and wisdom that's just so, so incredible for young people to be exposed to. And, you know, we're really under, especially here in the States, you know, very under exposed to poetry. And so this gives them an opportunity to really muck around, not only to appreciate a poem, but also to try their hand and to engage with it on that much deeper level, where they're actually creating their own poem based on the model.
Simon Currigan 12:48
What kind of age range use is this suitable for?
Laura Bean 12:51
Middle and High School, I've written on every prompt in the book, and every writing template. And so I feel like it's also very, very useful for adults as well.
Simon Currigan 13:02
Your curriculum is very structured, and it covers different aspects like managing different emotions and self compassion and forgiveness. How did you choose those topics?
Laura Bean 13:12
Well, as we mentioned earlier, around student negative self talk, you know, the self doubt, the anxiety and depression, these are things that I saw, you know, day in and day out. And also, I mean, now post pandemic, just for students to reengage again, with each other. In a social environment, there's a lot of, a lot of emotions come up. And of course, the impact of social media is so huge, and the negative impacts of it. So for students to really have a strong sense of themselves and a method for caring and returning to themselves, you know, it's just so critical. You know, my students dealt with a lot of loss, I work with English learners, and many of them are separated from their families across borders, or have experienced tremendous violence. And so I shared a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, that's called kindness. And the first line of the poem is "before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things". And then I offered students the opportunity to write about a loss that they had experienced, and you know, it could be anything from you know, losing an earring or your your cell phone, which could be a huge loss, but, or two, you know, something even greater, like, you know, a friend or you know, someone in the family. And so I had a student named Edgar, in middle school who wrote about seeing his father's body after he had been murdered. And, you know, so being able to write about grief in this way, just, you know, being able to give a voice to their emotions. It was just very, very impactful.
Simon Currigan 14:53
Does the mindfulness component of the lesson kind of open the gateway to that a bit more.
Laura Bean 14:58
I believe so I believe so. You know that students are or they're more settled, they're more quiet inside. It's also a feeling of being safe in the environment, you know, so that we practice mindfulness as a community. And you know, again, and again, offering ourselves some compassion and creating that container where people feel like it is safe enough to be able to share. Of course, it's not for every student, you know, and I always encourage them, you know, just, you know, whatever you feel comfortable sharing, and you know, on a scale from one to 10, and five, or a three or four or five, something like that, you know, but sometimes the kids they just blow me away with where they want to go and what they want to express,
Simon Currigan 15:38
Given the right opportunity and the right framework and structure?
Laura Bean 15:41
Simon Currigan 15:42
Can you tell us about a student's success story that you've had using your approach of bringing together mindfulness and writing?
Laura Bean 15:48
Yeah, I had a student last year who was a 12th grader, and she had been deeply impacted by her father, leaving her family and I shared the poem called Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali, which is a two page long poem. And then I distilled the most potent lines in the poem into this template. And she wrote this poem called Father, and it's just nine lines long. And if I may, I'd like to read it.
Simon Currigan 16:19
Laura Bean 16:20
Okay, Father, at times, I wish I could skin him alive while he watches. The man who made me unable to accept love, and preoccupied his life with everything but me. But if it came to light, when the man appeared, that he had a niece who loved to FaceTime every night, and a mother who depended on him, then I would not harm him. Even if I could.
Simon Currigan 16:45
Wow, that's powerful. You can see that came from a deep, emotional, unresolved place can't you?
Laura Bean 16:51
It's a space for them to really write about what's going on, and then to share it.
Simon Currigan 16:56
And it's a healthy way to express those emotions. A lot of the children that I work with, and I know a lot of our listeners work with would find unhealthier ways to channel that emotion. But this seems like a very safe, structured way to explore what's going on in their lives.
Laura Bean 17:12
Yeah, and then just the, you know, the complexity around being able to forgive. So the poem is really a meditation on trying to come to forgiveness, it's not a simple fix, but to allow kids to know that, you know, there is a way forward,
Simon Currigan 17:27
Laura, if you're a teacher, or parents listening to this podcast, what's the first step you can take today to start exploring and using this approach with their class?
Laura Bean 17:37
The first step is always to begin their own practice to incorporate the practice of pausing throughout the day to remember to take a breath to look up at the sky, and then to begin sharing in their classrooms, with their students or with their children. Because there's the urgency of the problem is so great that, you know, we really need to take an all hands on deck approach to supporting students mental health, to working with anxiety and depression that they're feeling. And, you know, I have a couple of mindfulness tools that I have at the front of my classroom, always one is a vibrant tone, which is percussion instrument. And another one is a Hoberman sphere, which you can expand and contract. And it's very colourful, I don't know if you know what those are. But anyway, they're two things that I use to help the students to ground into practice. And my kids, they're in high school, and I cannot keep their hands off of those things. I mean, they just, they absolutely want to practice and that the reason that I'm offering it is so that they can find a safe place within themselves where they can go when they're so hyper stimulated. Of course, it's you know, my success rate is not 100%. But what's really helps is having students come up and lead practices, you know, so at the beginning of this year, I just thought, I just don't know if this is going to work. I mean, it was a rough road to hoe at the beginning of the year. But now here we are, and you know, I have students leading every practice, they come up and they they set the stage for their and serve their as, as models for their peers.
Peer role modelling, very, very powerful as well, isn't it?
Simon Currigan 19:23
Can you tell us about how we can find out about your resources? Now you've got a mindful literacy website, you've got your right to the core curriculum. If listeners are interested in those, how do they find out more about you and your resources?
Laura Bean 19:33
Yes, my website is mindful literacy.com with two L's in the middle, and they could find my curriculum, my book, Write to the core, on my website, and there's also videos there, my work in the middle school, and some of the sample anthologies that I've created with kids. So a big part of it is allowing kids to see themselves as published authors. and creating anthologies or performances at the end of the school year.
Simon Currigan 20:04
And I'll put direct links to those in the show notes as well, the episode description. And finally, Laura, we asked this of all our guests who's the key figure that's influenced you? Or what's the key book that you've read? That's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with children?
Laura Bean 20:20
My mentor, Dr. Amy Saltzman, she's the author of A Still Quiet Place, and worked with tweens and teens. And so when I came back from Japan, I was able to observe her and train with her. And yeah, she supported me through this, this whole process and to where I am today. So I'm so appreciative of her and her role model,
Simon Currigan 20:45
Laura, it's been really interesting listening about this innovative approach to combining literacy and mindfulness. And I'm sure all of our listeners will have taken something away there they can start using with their own class immediately. Thank you very much for being on the show.
Laura Bean 20:58
Very nice to be here. Thank you, Simon.
Emma Shackleton 21:01
You can really see how combining literacy and emotional awareness and mindfulness could be a very powerful tool actually, because it helps with expressing those emotions and kind of puts the emotional struggle into context.
Yeah, I thought Laura had an interesting approach. And I'll put direct links to her resources in the episode description for anyone who wants to find out more.
And for anybody out there who's working with children who are struggling to manage big emotions. We've also got a free download that can help.
Simon Currigan 21:33
It explains how to use a research based approach called Emotional scaling with the students that you work with to help them regulate emotions like anxiety and anger and frustration. It's called wait for it, How to help children manage anger, and other strong emotions.
Emma Shackleton 21:49
So it does what it says on the tin.
Simon Currigan 21:51
Emma Shackleton 21:52
This resource will give you lots of practical techniques that you can use with your students, and it even includes printable resources for you to print and share. To get your free download, visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. click on the free resources section near the top and you'll see that resource near the top of the page and remember, it's called How to help children manage anger and other strong emotions. And we've popped a direct link in the episode description to make things super easy for you.
Simon Currigan 22:24
If you found today's show useful then don't forget to subscribe subscribing is completely free of charge, and ensures your podcast app downloads each and every episode as it's released so you never miss a thing. All you have to do is open up your podcast app after this episode, and hit the subscribe button. And to celebrate subscribing. I recommend you build a fort out of pillows and blankets and declare yourself the Supreme Overlord of Pillardom. Don't forget to introduce crippling levels of taxation to all who dwell in your realm. By the way, before we finish, how did you feel about episode 110?
Emma Shackleton 23:00
Episode 110 What happened in Episode 110?
Simon Currigan 23:03
Nothing bit of a classic, very much The White Album of our back catalogue. I definitely recommend everyone goes back and listens to Episode 110.
Emma Shackleton 23:13
Okay, but before you go and do that, I'd like to thank you for listening to the episode today. Feel free to recommend us to a friend and pass on the link to the podcast in any way that you normally share stuff. We hope you have a brilliant week and we look forward to talking to you next week on school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.
Simon Currigan 23:32
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)