Morgan Atkins is a third and fourth grade teacher in Rochester, NY. Morgan specializes in Social and Emotional Learning in the classroom. SEL defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” She is currently also the head of the General Studies department there where she helps plan events and lead teachers in their creation of curricular scope and sequence documents.
Morgan opens the conversation with the urgent message that children who don’t have their mental health needs met are more likely to struggle with attention to content in the classroom. Education needs to reach all students not just white children. That’s what drove her to apply an anti-racist curriculum for her class. It’s important to educate all people on the history and current reality for everyone. But all of this requires the right energy from school staff who may not feel like they have that kind of time or energy. Morgan acknowledged that many teachers are drained and just trying to make it through the day. The way things are currently isn’t going to be sustainable for teachers or their students long term. There needs to be a change with the way we assist teachers and give them the tools they need to support their students in return. So the question that comes up is: How do we improve mental health? What techniques or methods can be used?
Putting mental health at the forefront has always been a big dream for Morgan. She believes schools are capable of finding a way to blend social and emotional learning with academics in order to really support these future leaders. She joined a charter school after graduating and was impressed by the school’s attempt to close the achievement gap for low income students and students of color. But even with those attempts, there was a link missing with considering students’ needs. So it was time to head off to another school that had shared leadership and allowed her to choose a behavior management system for each student. During this period, the one thing that Morgan says made a big difference in her teaching life was being introduced to mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined in one way as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Another way to think about mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness is something anyone can benefit from, teachers and students included. It gives students and teachers some powerful ways to cope with stress and find an inner calmness. Not to mention it boosts self esteem. Some teachers across the country have been using mindfulness in their classrooms, hoping to see these changes in their students. Research shows that mindfulness for teachers has reported teachers feeling more successful in their work and having more emotionally supportive and organized classrooms. In the case of children and teens, the results have been impressive. Students who practice more mindfulness show:
After realizing these benefits, Morgan decided to share her practices with her own students. She shares,
“I want to give them that tool to cope with their emotions and past, current, or future trauma and I think that adults deserve that, too,”.
Educators who are inspired to get more mindful can start this journey is to try some popular resources like the CALM app, Headspace, or Mindful.org. Leaders and admin can also take initiative by hiring outside contractors to guide professional development sessions. There’s a lot of value in having an external organization or consultant who can drop in on virtual classes and offer some objective feedback. This is all connected to the idea of instructional coaching and how it can really help teachers develop their practices in a way that feels manageable. With instructional coaching, there’s no pressure to apply all these things that a coach and teacher discuss. Instead, it’s a way to ignite creative energy and name goals whether that’s a personal goal or a goal for your students. The last thing Morgan recommends is to find some time for journaling. Writing down your thoughts is a simple but effective way to release some emotions, find extra gratitude in your day, and change your mindset.
If you want to connect with Morgan, you can find her on her LinkedIn account Morgan Atkins or on Instagram @mindfulwithmorgan.
To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.