On the first day of my second year teaching high school French, I knew that my sixth period was going to need some serious magic to get them to calm down. The bell rang for class to begin, and I looked around at 35 boys (yes, 35 BOYS) who were bigger than me, all still running around the classroom, throwing papers into the trash can like basketballs, using curse words to talk about their days, and some of them were drowning out the chaos by blaring rap music from tiny headphones into their ears.
Oy vey, I thought, this is going to be my problem class.
About a quarter into the year, I started having the class come in, sit down, and take out their headphones. Then I would have them start talking about their day from start to finish–all at the same time. The kids’ yoga training company, Kidding Around Yoga, calls this meditation practice “Crazy Koo-Koo Heads.” And, when my hand goes down, they have to stop talking and stop moving. The first few times we did this, they all giggled. Then after a few times, they all would be quiet and still, enjoying their few moments of quiet time in the middle of a hectic school day.
Of course, the moments of meditation did not solve all of their issues. There were still hormone-raging arguments breaking out, and some were failing my class, but meditation certainly made class time a little sweeter. It was magic–kids that wanted to test me stopped testing and started talking to me like a person. Kids that were constant talkers suddenly became focused for a few minutes. Kids that were upset became less upset.
I started implementing a few moments of meditation in all of my classes (and sometimes created a full-length yoga class) and these are rules I learned for using yoga and meditation elements in a public high school classroom (as a classroom teacher):
1) Don’t call it yoga. Even though we live in the 21st century, some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of “yoga”. Avoid a lawsuit by avoiding the term “yoga” altogether. *Disclaimer: the one class I do an entire yoga class with, I asked permission from the parents first.
2) Don’t even call it meditation. This one isn’t for the parents, it’s more for the kids. High schoolers’ only desire is to be cool, and once you put a label on these few moments of “chill time” then it stops being cool and they become disengaged.
3) DO call it “chill time.” Start off by saying “today, we are going to start by chilling out a little.” This way, you haven’t made it uncool by giving it a label.
4) Do let them giggle. High schoolers forget to laugh, so when I see them giggling out of pure joy–and not something mean–then I am overjoyed.
5) Set rules for “chill time.” Kids like to know that they are not being forced to do something–even if it’s fun. I always say “You don’t have to follow along to your happy place if you don’t want to, but you do have to be still and quiet so that others can focus.” This works–and it gets the apprehensive kids to be still and eventually comfortable enough to meditate.
6) Do use calming music for a longer mediation. After my students were in the routine of sitting still and being quiet in “chill time,” I started using meditative, relaxing music to guide them a little further. I still did not call it meditation–I simply used it as a background to have them focus.
7) Work your way up. Start small with a breathing exercise. Then, as the year continues, use more techniques to clear your students’ busy minds.
8) Do ban cell phones. It’s such a battle with teenagers, isn’t it? On one hand, they are being quiet with their phone in their hand, but on the other hand, their mind is going in all different directions with the tiny device in their face. During “chill time” it is crucial that no students have their phones out–it completely defeats the purpose of chilling out. If they are in a virtual reality, then they are not focused on their own reality in the classroom.
Using elements of yoga in my French classroom has improved my relationship with students drastically throughout the year. After they meditate–or “chill”–I trust them to focus and do their work, and they trust me to listen to them like a human being, which makes all the difference. I hope every high school implements meditation–I can clearly see a difference in their behavior and academic achievement!