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Who do you respect?

Becoming emotionally intelligent requires a willingness to share your views on life and an ability to listen when others share theirs.  That’s why these short conversations are so important.  They give kids the chance to practice sharing their feelings, opinions and big ideas in a safe and structured way.  As students practice each week, their comfort will grow alongside their voice.

Last time we discussed respect.  What does it mean?  How do you know if you’re getting (or giving) it?  Now, let’s apply it to people they know and love – their friends.

Start this conversation: What do you respect most about ________?  Or, who’s someone in your class that you have a lot of respect for?

Of course, follow these with the big W:  Why?

Here’s why this question is so important.  We gravitate toward people we respect.  We try to emulate their strengths and live according to their morals.  If kids can grow up developing an awareness of the kind of people they respect and if they know why they respect those qualities, they’ll have an easier time (1) navigating future opportunities, (2) making friends with beliefs they support and (3) accepting the differences of others.

Through respecting others we choose the people we rely on as guideposts.  Let’s help kids identify those guideposts.

For younger kiddos try asking: What do you like about ______? (insert friend’s name)

Remember, the objective isn’t to influence who children respect, it’s to instill in them an awareness of their values as it applies to their relationships.

Let me know what they come up with!



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Lesson Plan: Does Meditation Make us Happier?

To continue the exploration of the role meditation can play in attaining happier, fuller lives, today I have a lesson plan which puts students in the role of both subject and scientist.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 

Today, the students get involved.

This lesson is a randomly controlled experiment which uses qualitative and quantitative data to answer the question: Does meditation make us happier?

Divide the class into three groups:

  • An open meditation group (OM)
  • A focused attention group (FA)
  • A control group (C)

The OM group will practice mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is generally understood as focusing on the present moment.  It emphasizes stillness of mind and eliminating concerns about future and past events.  OM students should be coached to focus on breathing and clearing their heads.

The FA group will practice focused meditation.  They will choose an idea, thought or goal and will spend their meditation period emphasizing that one idea in their mind.  FA students should be coached on visualization techniques centered around their chosen thought or goal.

The control group is so important and integral to the value of any experiment.  These students may not feel as though they are doing anything, because they are asked to carry on as they normally would.  In other words, they will deliberately not meditate.  Explain to these guys that without them the study can’t happen!

All groups will collect data.  Students will be given these mood trackers akin to a punch card at a coffee shop.  They should track their mood – happy vs. sad – at integrals predetermined by you (for example: when they wake up and when they go to bed).  These cards represent qualitative data.

Meanwhile, they will collect quantitative data by measuring their blood pressure.  Work with your students to teach them how to take their blood pressure and decide as a class when the most informative time for measurement would be (hint: align this with post-meditation sessions for maximum effect).

This lesson is ripe for teaching the power of comparing different types of data, discussing the importance and necessity of having control subjects, and for practicing techniques for taking longitudinal data.  I recommend a week of data collection.  From there, graphing can be practiced and students can analyze data sets and outliers.

For younger kiddos, the qualitative data cards can serve as an excellent introduction to measuring and can initiate self-exploration of feelings and how they change based on what we are doing.  Additionally, here are suggestions from Edutopia on establishing a routine for quiet time.

Full lesson plan: Does meditation make us happier?

Have fun.  Good luck!


– AK



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Spring break

This conversation starter can be unpacked to unearth quite a few levels.  With spring in the air and spring breaks popping up in school districts across the country, now is a good time to discuss:

How much vacation time should we have?

Be prepared for the answer we are sometimes eager to give: unlimited vacation time!

Empathize and acknowledge, then ask any or all of the various follow-ups:

  • How would you spend all of that time?
  • If time weren’t metered, do you think people would better appreciate the time they spend working/going to school?
  • What would it look like if there weren’t rules about how we spend our time (for example, the dictated length of the school day)?
  • Then a meaty one: do rules help us or hinder us?

The objective is to lead students to examine their own values regarding time.  If there were no limits, how would they spend their time?  If they weren’t required to, would they work/study?

This conversation also invites them to reflect on how they may thrive or feel boxed in by rules and guidelines.  Introspective students may begin to realize that, by following set timelines for either a vacation or the school day, they are able to be more productive than they would be if they were required to motivate themselves.  For others, they will feel the opposite.

Ultimately, these are questions all people examine and need to wrestle with in order to maximize their productivity and their success.

For younger students, this is a great way to kickstart a conversation about how they enjoy spending their time.  Do they love the outdoors?  Their books? Or time with family?

Let me know what they come up with!




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Providing a framework

This article, which was published yesterday, provided another sober reminder of the global demand for social and emotional learning in the classroom.  The author opens with her experience working with students on a Native American reservation, which resonated with my experience working as a teacher on a reservation.  Then, she provides similar experience from a colleague teaching in China.  Violence and emotional trauma abounds worldwide.

As teachers, the more we learn about our students the more appreciation we have for their reliance on us, the adults, to provide a framework for dealing with everything that’s going on in their lives.  Sometimes they merely need a sounding board.  Other times they need to be referred to a professional.

The Eight Hugs Curriculum can in no way substitute for sound, professional mental health help.  Nevertheless, we cannot enter our classrooms without acknowledging the life happening outside their walls.  Emotional intelligence cannot be divorced from academic intelligence.  By starting the conversation, we, as teachers, are saying:

Your feelings are valid and navigating them is difficult but integral to life success.

Don’t be surprised if that is the first time they’ve heard that message.

Surely, we are not trained to provide counseling support.  Instead, I hope that through the lessons on neuroscience we can provide a context for the busyness of their hearts and their brains which will encourage self-exploration instead of self-loathing.



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