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Mindful : October 2015
developmental delays and emotional problems as a result of abuse and neglect. He had lang uage and motor delays, but he had a powerful urge to learn. My aim was to increase his vocabulary and to help him develop fine motor skills so he could hold a pencil and write. Every day during class, I would introduce him to new words using picture cards and books. He was ravenous to learn and learned very quickly. He saw an older classmate spelling out words with plastic letters and wanted to know what they were, so I began teaching him the sounds associated with letters. Using a Montessori approach, I taught him the sounds of a few letters that can be easily combined into words. From my teaching experience, I had found that children can begin to sound out words before they know the entire alphabet, so I introduced him to the letters c, a, and t. Before I actually showed him how the letters could be put together to form the word cat, he unexpectedly did it himself. He looked up at me and beamed, “I can write words!” He was thrilled that he had discovered the secret of making a word. It was such a delight to be part of this child’s discovery—the overwhelming joy experienced by a child who had been abandoned to a crib without adequate food for most of his early childhood. I wanted to cry with joy. As I think and write about this experience, I get goose bumps all over. My body tingles with joy. I can sit with this feeling and savor it, like a delicious piece of gourmet chocolate. When I do this, I am using positivity to build my resilience. It’s like making a deposit in a bank account. Over time, small but reg ular deposits grow into sub- stantial psychological and physical reserves that we can draw upon during challenging times. Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by our students’ needs, we may tend to dismiss them, especially if their needs conflict with the institutional needs we feel professionally responsible to fulfill. Mindfulness can help us recognize when we are beginning to slip into this tendency to overlook students’ needs and to find and maintain the composure we need to accept the limitations of our role. For example, sometimes our students have problems that interfere with their ability to function in school. For a whole week, Derek came to school with a chip on his shoulder. Whenever I greeted him, he gave me a sour look, and he was hostile to other students who tried to talk to him during lunch or recess. When it was time for math, he just sat there in front of his work looking glum. “ Do you need some help?” I asked. “I hate math. I can’t do it.” As he spoke, I noticed the bitterness in his voice, but also resignation. I took a deep breath. “Math can be challenging. I find it especially difficult when I’m feeling down.” He looked up at me with surprise on his face, as if he had expected a reprimand. “ Yeah, I guess I’m having a hard time.” I offered to talk with him some more during recess. As he lingered in the classroom after the rest of the students had left the room, he looked down at his feet. “Let’s have a seat and talk,” I said. When I suspected that troubles at home were at the root of the problem, I decided to begin by sharing my own experience, hoping that it would help him open up. “When I was a kid, I found it really difficult to focus on school work when I was having trouble at home.” “My mom and dad are getting a divorce.” I sat quietly for a minute. “I’m sorry. I know that can be really hard.” We sat together quietly for a few minutes. While I couldn’t meet his need for an intact family, I could meet his need for a caring relationship. I could feel that my compassionate presence was making a difference. As I sat, I brought mindful awareness to the experience. I observed my urge to tell him that everything was going to be all right or to find a way to dis- tract him from his feelings, but that would have felt dismissive. I knew that the best thing I could do for him was to be fully present and to give him my caring attention. → As a special treat, Marian provides the students with strawberries for a mindful eating exercise. Jewel Williams (pictured) and her classmates practice impulse- control by waiting to eat the strawberry, using their senses to study it and reflect on its growth. We sat together quietly for a few minutes. While I couldn’t meet my student’s need for an intact family, I could meet his need for a caring relationship. 54 mindful October 2015 education