We are very excited to embark on a new initiative at our school with all of our grade five teachers and their students. This initiative was in response to the rise in students’ rate of generalized tension/anxiety and an inability to quickly get back to work during and after transitions. In other words, we wanted to try to support students to focus, calm down, and get meaningfully engaged in the classwork more quickly and easily.
Our school, like many, has embraced the “Zones of Regulation” and has a school wide language embedded in our discussions and understandings. Part of the use of “Zones” is to support and guide students into the ‘green zone’ to be able to learn and participate optimally in classwork and interactions. This ‘green zone’ is said to be optimal as it describes students who are calm, alert, engaged, focused and ready to be on task, both internally and externally. As a school, we decided that this new initiative on ‘mindful breathing’ fit perfectly with our school’s ‘Zones work’ as one more strategy to help students get to this green zone.
As a grade level, the learning time lost during and after transitions was identified as a concern. This ‘mindful breathing’ strategy was brainstormed and we had a meeting to get it started. We met with grade level partners, administration, the school psychologist and the inclusive education coach. It was decided that three times a day, when needed, each teacher would lead a two- minute guided breathing exercise with a pre-set script (from you tube or from the script directed by the teacher). Students would then follow the short prescribed breathing and theoretically, be ready to engage more productively. We are hopeful and eager to gather the post data to compare the differences. This two- minute investment, we expect, will pay off in dividends with more on task work time and higher quality interactions.
Before beginning the actual practice of mindful breathing, times were recorded of transition time and engagement time were recorded to attain a baseline. After the baseline information was collected, the staff addressed the students about the new initiative and its intent. A class survey was given based on the students’ own perception of the issue, their own perceived levels of engagement and their awareness of strategies to help them exist in the ‘green zone’ at school. This same survey will be given to the students again after the initial weeks of the program.
The hypothesis is that by highlighting, discussing, and teaching a relaxing, focusing breathing strategy and using it with the students consistently throughout the day for five weeks (trial time), we will see the time lost in transition decreased and the engagement time increase. Five weeks was the time period that we chose to check to see if the strategy was having a positive effect for students. A positive by-product of the use of this relaxation/focusing strategy would be that students may see this as a tool that they can apply in other areas of their lives (home, community, extracurricular events, etc.). Students would begin to see the inherent value of having this specific breathing technique to self-regulate and focus their bodies and minds.
This initiative was shared at the onset with parents of all grade five students to help explain the idea behind it and serve to answer any initial questions or concerns that parents may have. A common message went out to all grade five parents and was well received. This is another way to build a positive home/school connection by sharing information and strategies that may be helpful for families as well. Our motto is that ‘you cannot over-communicate’.
Another related action that the school is undertaking to creatively engage our PCS team members is to have one of our psychologists host an evening presentation for parents (all parents welcome) to highlight and define anxiety for students and families. We have had great interest in attending and parents are keen to learn more about this issue and how they can better support their children in this area and related areas. This PCS member gave a similar presentation at a staff meeting this past year as staff are not immune from stress or anxiety themselves. Taking a mindful breathing break was welcomed, honestly, as opposed to ‘one more thing added to a full plate’.
We see this targeted, attainable initiative as one more way to build the tool box for students in order to help them engage and relax more quickly and effectively after a short transition. Although we are only beginning with the grade five classes, if successful, we hope to grow the strategy to other classrooms in the school. By collecting ‘hard data’ on its effectiveness, we hope to share this ‘mindful breathing’ with others. Having the entire class take a collective ‘breather’ will only serve to enhance the overall regulation of the students. This is just one intentional way to build the staff and students’ ‘tool box’ of self- regulatory strategies but we hope to build this naturally into the school day long term if successful.