Mrs. Behrens is probably 110 years old now but wherever she is, God Bless her. She was my third grade teacher and she introduced my class to mindful education. But Mrs. Behrens didn’t know it.

I just spent a weekend at a MindUP Curriculum workshop, a collaboration between The Hawn Foundation (as in Goldie!) and Scholastic. The concept behind MindUP is a bit revolutionary. It’s goal is to introduce more joy of learning in the classroom. Joy in the classroom? Is that allowed?

All kidding aside, I was fascinated and inspired by the presentations by impressive experts, including social scientists, neuroscientists and educators. Over the course of the two days, I learned more about my brain and was thrilled to find out that it doesn’t look exactly like my Tangled Ball logo. Not at all. It’s probably fairly ordered like everyone else’s. It has a compartment that reacts to fear and novelty, it has a fairly big part that stores info, it has a part that makes me aware when I’ve had one glass of wine too many, and it even has a filter.

It was explained in a way that a first grader could understand (except for the bit about the wine) and that’s the point. The more kids know about how their brain works, the more they understand themselves and can adapt to different situations and to each other.

Less stress. As a matter of fact, the exercises that teachers introduce in the classroom through this program include stopping to mindfully breathe several times a day to relax the students, help them push away the clutter, find a little peace and help them become aware of the moment.

This brings me back to good ol’ Mrs. Behrens. I went to Notre Dame Elementary School in Long Beach, Indiana. It was absolutely wonderful but I can’t say that in the 1960’s it was very progressive. There was a lot of discipline and memorizing and general fear when you didn’t do your homework, but Mrs. Behrens’ class was safe. She would have us stand up and stretch every once in a while. She would encourage us to look out the window. She would speak in such a way that you felt that she liked you. And my absolutely favorite thing she did was asking us to clean off the top of our desks, then take out a pen, pencil or crayons. In a soothing voice, she would instruct us to draw or write or just sit and think as she would turn on the record player and introduce Bach or Beethoven or some other amazing piece of music.

It was no wonder that we had such a nice class. That type of atmosphere nurtured inclusion, happiness, and understanding. (Not a lot of bullying went on that year.) It’s funny because I always thought that I was an outstanding student in her class but when I found my old report cards, I really got average grades. She just made me feel extraordinary and I went on to get very good grades.

Introducing evidence-based curriculum like MindUP in the classroom makes so much sense to me. Positively changing how children approach the academic learning process as well as developing greater social and emotional intelligence will change school climates and the rewards of an Optimistic Classroom will last a lifetime.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Mrs. McCloud was the one for me – Lord Roberts Elementary, Vancouver, third grade (1973). She gave us cookie breaks (with cookies she'd made at home), played music on her kitchen blender to make us laugh, did voices when she read stories to us (I still hear her Wilbur when I read 'Charlotte's Web') and encouraged us to be happy when we learned things. This was the only school year that I ever remember hating having sick days – even when I had to get glasses she made me feel special. I remember her when I bake cookies, smell crayons, see the colour orange, use my blender, read a book… she's part of the reason I became an artist 🙂

    I loved your blog post and I love the work that The Hawn Foundation is doing – this is EXACTLY what we need!

  • SRaisch says:

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  • SRaisch says:

    Aren't the Mrs. McClouds and Mrs. Behrens of the world awesome? Thanks so much for your comment because I think it's a shout out to teachers past and present that their enthusiasm, compassion, and general joy of teaching will be remembered forever. It must be hard to be a teacher and never know the impact you are making.

    Even the name The Optimistic Classroom makes me feel hopeful.

    I hope others share their favorite teacher stories. I loved hearing yours.

  • very nice post..Thanks for sharing this with us. But can you provide some more details aboutInternet Safety?

  • SRaisch says:

    Sure, Hollis. Thanks for the feedback. Recently I wrote a post called Schools, Parents, Internet Safety and the New Year. I included a link to Net Cetera and there are a few links to the right of the post that are good resources regarding Internet Safety, including iKeepSafe and Common Sense Media. All that being said, I will concentrate on Internet Safety more because it's so important to start early. Internet Safety is as much about building judgment in kids as it is about technology. Thanks again!

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