As I experiment with Mindfulness, I’ve been getting familiar with the concept of non-reactivity. Much of our feelings and emotional state is determined by external circumstances, things that happen around us in our lives. Because time always keeps on moving and relationships change, feelings like happiness can be fleeting. Nothing is static, things in our lives can be can feel good one day and then bad the next.
Non-reactivity proposes that we try to stop perceive things as good or bad. This idea of non-judgmental thinking is starting to come up a lot in my mindfulness sessions, it suggests that if we can stop categorizing sensations, thoughts and sounds as either good or bad, we can also move away from responding to them emotionally. This saves us the from stress of being tossed around by our emotions ups and downs. I’ll admit it definitely sounds a little too good to be true and also robotic. One of the ways I’ve been practicing to be non-reactive to sensations are is called body scans. Which is essentially slowly focusing on individual parts of the body and their sensations, one at time, from head to toe. Checking in and noticing/experiencing any sensation non-judgmentally and then moving on. Once you have experienced and really focused on the sensation, it is supposedly easier to let go of it. This has implications for chronic pain illnesses, which surprisingly often have psychological origins.
Last week, guest speaker Jessie Miller gave a fascinating talk to our Tech Ed. class on social media use in the modern-day, and the implications for Teachers. It was one of the most interesting lectures I have experienced at university. One of the issues he addressed that sparked a lot of interesting conversation was about screen addiction. Many of us were concerned about too much screen time in children’s lives, specifically regarding impulsivity and addiction. It has become very custom to hear screen and social media addiction presented as fact without any dispute, but Jessie Miller challenged this notion, stating there is no scientific evidence. In fact, the scientific community is not as clear on this matter as you might think. Yet, some of my classmates expressed having concerns over their own potentially addicted screen habits or witnessing impulsive behaviour amongst the children in their lives. This seems to fit well with a fair amount of social media addiction research, which relies on self-report measures. Whether or not screen addiction is a real thing, people are self-reporting as addicted. It seems to be a behaviour that they have identified as a concern for themselves. This raises some interesting questions. Does it matter if people are not technically addicted to media, or is the feeling or belief that one is addiction really what matters? Certainly, habits can a negative or undesirable effect on someone’s life with being addictive regardless. Jessie Miller does a good job of explaining how technologies like social media can have a positive effect as well, bringing people together or recognizing their skills. It just depends on how you use them.
In my inquiry into mindfulness, I have been learning about a technique called noting or mental noting. During mindfulness meditation it is easy to become distracted by your thoughts, to drift off thinking about your day or future obligations. When this happens you lose focus on your breath or the purpose of mediation.
Noting is the practice of noticing these thoughts, and then labelling them so that you can let them go. It is not about getting hung up on the fact that you are distracted from being mindful or missing out, and you do not need to note every single distraction. When you notice a distraction, categorizing it as a memory, feeling, or fantasy can give it clarity and help you let it go. An essential part of letting go of these distractions is to think of them in a nonjudgmental way, so that you do not dwell on them. Supposedly, over time you become more aware of your habits and distractions are less of a concern.
Coming in as a beginner, this idea seems kind of simple, but I have already had one instance where I found it very useful. I was thinking about several sources of anxiety at the end of one mindfulness session, labelling them really helped put into perspective their lack of urgency, and then I was able to let them go easily.
So I tried both the Apps that were mentioned in the Mindfulness Explained episode, that I talked about last week. Right from the start, I think I prefer Calm over the Headspace App. They are both are very similar and yet very different. When you start out, they make you answer a few short questions about your experience with mindfulness and mediation, and what you hope to get out of it; reduced stress, reduced anxiety, better focus, better mood. Then it gives you a 7 day program to progress through where each day you listen to a new recorded mindfulness exercise. I think the questions at the start do actually make it specific to you, because I selected no experience, and my exercises ended up being short and very easy.
I was skeptical about trying this, but I actually really enjoyed both experiences and felt much more calm after. My body felt lighter and weirdly cool too. As if my body and circulation slowed down enough to feel noticeably cooler. In terms of “wiredness”, ten minutes was like having one less coffee. Which make a difference when you are a student. I felt much better about rest of the school work I had to get done. I’m looking forward to trying in again tomorrow.
You have the option of selecting a male or female voice with both Apps, but I found the voices on Headspace less comforting. Both the sound of their voices, and the fact that they talked a little bit too much. The Calm App’s voice was a lot less distracting. They both come with free trails for the first month, but then ask for your money. Calm is $89 a year, and Headspace is about the same but comes as a monthly subscription fee.
At the link above you find the website for the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. A school I am genuinely surprised that I only started hearing about recently, because it is truly remarkable. The video on the front page describes the process by which students learn at PSII, called inquiry. Students come up with questions about topics they are interested in and then conduct critical research into their questions. They learn and reshape their questions as they go. Students then choose projects related to their research questions to work on and present to peers and teachers. Subjects are blended together when it makes sense, assessment is personalized, yet according to the website students either meet or exceed BC graduation standards.
Learning happens through the process of discovery and creation. Everyone’s learning experience is truly unique. It is remarkable to see a school with such a difference model than the public education system. This unfamiliarness can make it seem scary, free inquiry. So much of the curriculum and learning lead by the children. Who will ensure that they are actually learning everything they need to? In western society, we often want knowledge to be easily observed and measured. But we also want children to grow to be independent, resilient and confident. This school model seems to be a step in the right direction. When these students go out into the world, will they be more successful or happier than those that graduate from the traditional school model? I think the autonomy, independence, and mastery that is weaved into free inquiry will be an asset to their professional and person development.
The website also has inquiry resources, samples, and guides, so that other educations can see what PSII is doing and try it out for themselves.
The OER Commons and Open Education website is a hub for public domain and creative commons educational resources, like lessons plans, that are accessible to anyone, anywhere. It is responsible for building a community where actual teachers create the educational content, curriculum, strategies and tools. Cutting out the middle man, publishers, makes quality education more accessible and gives more credit to the teachers. You can search the site by subject and grade, but many of the resources are adaptable across grades. After trying it I suggest having an idea of what you are looking for, since a search can produce quite a lot of results. You may have to do a decent amount of navigating around to find resources that of your desired quality or format. Its great to see education and knowledge being shared for free, which truly befits everyone out there.
Conveniently after finding a topic for my inquiry, a friend told me about this new docuseries on Netflix called The Mind, Explained, and it just happens to feature an episode on Mindfulness Meditation. Watching the episode made me realized I should probably mention Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga are distinctly different. Yet there is lots of overlap, being mindful of your body and breathing are important parts of yoga apparently.
The episode starts by introducing Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Midfulness meditation master who supposedly has intentional control of his brain activity. Demonstrated by FMRI scans of his brain which show his empathy activation in the amygdala able to increase by 700 %. It goes on to present other ways mediation can alter the mind, and has been used by psychologist to treat stress, anxiety, and depression. I am interested in the stress management aspect and increased focus that comes with mindfulness meditation.
It does touch on how mindfulness has to an extent been appropriated by capitalism in recent years, and advertised as a sort of cure-all. This has effected its popularity, but also its creditbility. An interesting technology related moment came up in the video as well. Mediation apps Headspace and Calm both provide short mindfulness exercises for users to listen to and practice. They each have over 1 million subscribers and together are valued at over a $ 1 Billion. Highlighting how popular mindfulness has become, but also how technology is used in such diverse ways. Often we hear about how technology like smartphones cause people to live less in the moment, so its interesting to find the same technology being used to correct this. I’m downloading both the apps to see how they might guide my free inquiry or if they are just a gimmick.
Education as if people mattered, is a great TED talk by Jeff Hopkins, who is a former Welsh international football defender and … just kidding that’s the wrong wikipedia. Jeff Hopkins is the principle educator and founder of The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry, in Victoria, BC.
Hopkins’ goal is to have an exceptional education system. One that distinguishes between knowing and knowing about, meaning students are not just given a bunch of information, but instead teachers facilitate learning at a deeper level. Knowledge that sticks with you and becomes a tool, skill, or competency for later in life. My education over the years has provided me with tuns of “knowledge” that I forgot only days after the final exam. I think it is safe to say most people have forgotten more than they remember. We need to help students build competencies that are going to help them overcome problems of the future; social issues, automation, and climate change.
Jeff explains that much of his talk is already well known by educators, but the status quo is largely upheld out of convince and tradition. It can be difficult and requires creativity to adapt to a lesson style that serves this deeper, sometimes more abstract way of learning. But as Hopkins points out, the world is changing so fast, if we truly believe students matter we need teach competencies, not facts.
The 2015 documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” produced by Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner and directed by Greg Whitely explores the pitfalls of our western education system and how it can be improved. It opens with the premise that our current system is outdated, restrictive and does not suite everyone’s learning style. Which can cause some students to burn out and lose interest in school. Not a very controversial idea.
The film forces us to ask, “are we setting children up to fail?”. As technology advances at an ever-increasing pace, traditional labour and office jobs are likely to automated away. it is unsure whether the skills we are teaching kids will be useful to them at all by the time they graduate.
High Tech High is presented as a model for the school of the future. Teachers set their own curriculum, traditional boundaries between subjects are removed, and learning is much more self-directed by the students. It’s a system that places extra value on independence, resilience, grown mindset, and soft skills. This is meant to prepare students for an uncertain future, so that they have the capabilities to think critically, problem solve and adapt. Not just give up when the unexpected happens. Teachers at HTH are able to teach to their passions, which also likely helps them be more engaging with their students. Instead of final exams that force you to cram your head full of content knowledge that you will likely forget a week after, students create complex projects that instil interdisciplinary learning throughout the process. For these reasons, High Tech High appears to be the ideal school.
Most people can probably agree that our current education system needs work, but the solution presented by the film may come off as extreme for some. No tests, no specific classes for math English, and science. Even though students at HTH complete a fair amount of traditional schoolwork, like papers and reports, parents still worry that their children will miss out. When it comes to standard test scores, will they be encumbered? and therefore, will they miss out on university opportunities? It is interesting to note that according to the documentary, children from High Tech High perform better on tests then the average public-school student and have higher acceptance rates to post-secondary education as well.
Part of how I usually manage my health and stress levels, so that I can bring my best professional self to work, is to stay active and exercise regularly. A specific area of neglect in the past has been my flexibility. As I age, I find myself becoming shocking inflexible and more prone to injury. I am also increasingly interested in the benefits of mindfulness and mediation. For my free inquiry, I am planning to explore the benefits of regularly practicing yoga. A barrier that I often face, is the struggle to find motivation and set aside time to work on flexibility and mindfulness. I will use SMART goals to ensure my persistence with this study throughout the semester, that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. I think that the first step is to do some research, talk to people with a lot of experience practicing yoga and an instructor if possible as well. So that I can come up with a realistic plan. More to come soon.