Wellness and Awareness in Elementary Classrooms
WHO’S THE SPEAKER? Bonnie Greene is currently a 5th Grade classroom teacher at Cairo American College and a Circle Solutions Trainer. In this interview, she talks about how primary school teachers are now starting to see more signs of stress at younger ages than they used to. She also talks about why it’s important to have administration on board, if teacher’s work in the classroom is to have a meaningful impact on students’ well-being, and shares examples of tools she’s used to teach her students coping mechanisms for worry and stress.
WELLNESS EDUCATION: LET's START EARLY
ELENI VARDAKI: What do you think is the role of the Elementary School teacher in developing well-being skills for students?
BONNIE GREENE: That’s a great question. Actually, we think in elementary, it’s becoming more and more evident, as each year goes on, how many children struggle with anxiety, and worrying stress.
So we think, from our standpoint, we have to get them early and set some foundations and skills. Teach them some proactive skills that they can use in elementary, and hone their skills, so they are ready for Middle School, and High School when it gets really, really busy.
We think we have a really important role to be that foundation.
A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TEACHING WELL-BEING SKILLS
ELENI VARDAKI: And so how do you intentionally plan for creating that foundation?
BONNIE GREENE: I was really fortunate about 10 years ago to take part in training on Circle of Solutions with Dr Sue Roffey. And that Circle of Solutions Framework gives us the space in our school and in our classes to allow for that, and give the students time for Social-Emotional Wellness in our classroom. So we’ve been really fortunate to have that in our school (and I had it in my previous school as well).
It’s intentionally planning for activities and themes that can support your kids throughout their year. For example, last week I planned a lesson, or a circle, around Growth Mindset, and having positive affirmations in your class.
So setting up those little things every week really help the kids as they go forward in their school year.
But it is planned. It’s intentional. There’s a framework.
So it sets up nicely for what we want to get in there with the wellness, and relieving anxiety and strategies and techniques that we can give the kids for their everyday life.
TEACHING WELL-BEING TOOLS: MINDFULNESS AND TAPPING
ELENI VARDAKI: And can you give us any examples of strategies, or techniques that you’ve taught your student?
BONNIE GREENE: Well, last year I experimented a little bit with Tapping, the Emotional Freedom Technique.
I got on to it. I was just browsing on Facebook, and it caught me. The videos and the testimonials from people who were tapping, and tapping on their meridians, and finding ways to relieve their stress. So I did a little bit, and then I did it in my class.
Some of the kids, they really got on to it, and you know, some had a chuckle and didn’t really continue with me. But sometimes I would see them during a Maths test, or before, tapping, you know?
They would be tapping their hand, and just doing whatever they needed to do to help themselves.
And this year, I jumped onto Mindfulness, of course everyone’s doing that.
The breathing, and different techniques, and teaching them breaths and strategies, how to do it.
Even last year, there was a circle I planned around worry, and what kind of worry. Can we sort the worry? There is good worry and there is worry that’s not so useful. So stress, and just talking about that in the circle, and differentiating when is worrying good and when is worry something that we should let go of.
So different topics like that and any strategy that I can grab to just throw out to kids, something that they might use in their life I think is worthwhile.
The Circle of Solutions gives us time to do that, in our school.
ELENI VARDAKI: Lovely, wow! It’s incredible that you’re bringing tapping and EFT into student’s lives that young. It’s something that I really admire, so I was really excited to hear that you’re doing this kind of work.
BONNIE GREENE: Just to bring it to their awareness that it’s out there, and it’s something that they can – if they wanted to – they can pursue.
I mean, I’m not an expert, by any means, but I heard about it from my cousin, and then I saw it on media, on social media, a lot, and the testimonials from the children.
I said, “I have to do this in my classroom”.
And while we’re tapping I’m reading out a script, a student script, you know, with positivity and affirmations, and things that they can use and that they can understand.
“I will do well in my test.”
“I will try my best.”
All of the Growth Mindset phrases.
And it went really well, I think.
THE IMPORTANT OF ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT
ELENI VARDAKI: It’s so powerful – that’s powerful stuff. And amazing work, leading the way, and build the well-being into the curriculum, instead of bolting it on and waiting until the end of the school day.
BONNIE GREENE: Well we’re really lucky at our school.
Our administration is really on board with what we’re doing, and they’ve actually scheduled the time into our timetable. So we have a 30-minute block that allows for that.
So I think, coming from my previous school, my Principal, she caught onto it there, there. And then I went back to Canada for four years – I left international teaching for a little while – and I tried to do it. But I was a one-off teacher, trying to do this when I was substituting, and replacing in other schools. And it didn’t quite work.
The kids knew me as “The Circle Lady”! That was quite funny.
And we had fun, but it wasn’t as powerful.
And now we have administration on board, and they support Social and Emotional Wellness, and development in school.
So it’s really a great space that we can do this work that’s so important in this day and age with kids.
ELENI VARDAKI: So it sounds like in your experience then, having the top-down support from school leadership and the administration has been the key in seeing major shifts in the school culture and in your students?
BONNIE GREENE: Yes, I think so. The school culture definitely has an effect, as we all know, on what we do in our classroom. And having their support – and even when new teachers come to our school, I have actually become a trainer.
So now, our Principal, she has us train the new staff, there’s four of us here.
In my opinion, it’s a really worthwhile investment, because whenever there’s a turnover of teachers internationally, as we know, and to keep the flow and the importance of this framework and developing the wellness in the classroom – it’s good to keep it going.
We can’t just give up. We have to keep going, every year.
And so having us on board, and being trainers, allows for that, which has been great. I really recommend it.