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Mrs. Behrens, Goldie Hawn and The Optimistic Classroom

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.