Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Toward a Less Stressful Season of Peace

The last few weeks of fall semester are high stress times for high school students. Seniors are either hearing back from early college decision or pressed to meet December & early January application deadlines. All students are wrapping up 17 weeks of learning and study with papers, quizzes and presentations, and then there are 3 days of finals, which start tomorrow. It's holiday time for many, which though ideally offers peace and joy, often just adds more stress and hustle to the days.

The Paideia community has for some time been incorporating occasions of "mindfulness" into daily life. Mindfulness isn't quite meditation, though can include it. It's more of a remembering to pay attention to "right here, right now" -- being aware of one's surroundings, physical and emotional feelings, without worrying or dwelling on them. As research has shown the negative effects that stress can have on learning and neurological development, an increasing amount of research demonstrates the benefits of the opposite, that a deliberate, intentional calming of the brain and nervous system has overwhelmingly positive effects on student behaviour, resilience and ability to learn.

In October, we brought educator and expert in social and emotional learning Linda Lantieri to Paideia for a couple of days, working with student groups and speaking to parents and faculty. Linda's book Building Emotional Intelligence, is a guide for parent and teachers to help young people develop mindful habits. Parents of teens, you are in luck! This book is especially valuable because it includes different approaches for different ages, including middle ages/young teens and older teens (often left out of active parenting books). After Linda's visit, we have had faculty meetings about our students and their stress levels, how school practices might be adding to it, and what we might do to help students manage or reduce stress. Counselor Thrower Starr has held mindfulness sessions during activity period for interested students.

In response to requests, I've expanded elementary librarian Natalie Bernstein's work on a collection of books, links and audio resources related to mindfulness practice. We have a "Mindfulness at Paideia" tab on the Paideia Library start page -- this page pulls together book descriptions, websites and links to online guided meditations. On the Library catalog, there is a Mindfulness reading list including all our books in both the high school and elementary libraries, and several audiobooks and audio guided meditations. The reading list entries even show which items are currently in and available -- e-mail me to hold one for you.

I encourage everyone in the Paideia community -- faculty, staff, parents, students -- to explore these resources. The research is solid, the effects are positive. In this busy season, making a little time to slow down, notice and appreciate right now, and breathe, will pay back much more in emotional time and freedom to enjoy everything else. I hope to see you here soon!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Conundrum

This is what the library looks like for much of the day. This is when high school students should be in class.

Most students who have a study hall in their schedules, have it 4th period. The computers are full, and a few students are working at their books.

And then there's before school, break/activity period, lunch and after school. This is when most students have free time, and can come to the library to study. These pictures show a typical Wednesday activity period -- chock-a-block with kids, at the tables, in the carrels, on the floor, talking and noisy, but by and large they really are studying.

One of the results of the library's popularity as a group study space is that some students, especially those in the younger grades or who study solo, don't feel comfortable in the midst of the activity. No librarian likes to see 9th graders come in, take a quick look and then leave. But how to meet the needs of students with different study styles?

Since the elementary library moved to its new space, I've been able to offer an alternative for students who find the library Great Room too noisy and distracting.

This was the scene in the Quiet Study space last Wednesday activity period. Eleven students, quiet as eleven studious mice. Spartan, but it works.

So what do you do when you really need extra, differentiated and divided room, but only for part of the day, and there are many other folks who also need space at school? Is there a way to meet multiple needs in the same space? There are many many possibilities and many many needs, but until our campus "musical buildings" settles out, a nice, cozy Quiet Study is a welcome place to have.