For up to 10 minutes after lunch or specials classes, students return to the classroom and take part in daily mindfulness practices through Inner Explorer, an audio-guided program that includes breathing and relaxation, understanding emotions, gratitude, focus, empathy, and self-regulation. Pamela McKenzie, achievement and behavior specialist, said the school started using it during remote learning in the 2019-20 school year, implemented it the following year, and it’s grown since.
“It’s amazing to see that progress through the school year because you can see that the students get into that routine that’s been set up for them,” she said. “They sit on the floor, they close their eyes, they listen to the mindfulness. It’s just a great experience to watch the youngest of the scholars in the school be able to do it.”
Even parents can get in on things. The program has a tune-in option in which they can listen to that day’s mindfulness while students participate or after the fact, or in the summer away from the classroom. Either way, it’s something the whole family can do each day to refocus the brain.
“It’s a good way for us to have that connection with the teachers, doing mindfulness with the students, and then, in turn, having that family connected with what the student is doing, to have us all getting that mindfulness time,” McKenzie said. “I know that helps me for my family, just having that time where you’re taking, five to 10 minutes.”
Having students and teachers working in harmony in adhering to routines sets up both parties for success. Some teachers might assign students a task in the classroom for a month or for the year. For Fortis Academy Fifth Grade Teacher Jean Hillis, part of the routine is having students know all the procedures so she can ask any given student and they’ll be able to help.
“I think that’s really important, training your students for your expectations,” she said. “One of my biggest strategies for organizing my space is that I can find things quickly and that my students can find things and also put them away. Sometimes your things look great and they’re all fancy for your perfect classroom, but you also want it to be organized in a way that’s easy to put back when you’re done. Using containers that a teacher likes, it has to fit your personality, every teacher is going to be different.”
In her 22 years of teaching, Hiller has tapped into many resources in creating classroom routines. She has culled tips from Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek for strategies to organize time, and even started her own blog, Classroom Cleanup. In it she offers tips to help teachers keep their classroom clean, going beyond just the physical cleaning but also straightening things up such as students’ cubbies.
“Every Monday, I clean one part of my classroom. Then on a Tuesday, I clean a different one, and I spent 15 minutes just straightening that up,” she said. “I wiped down spills and then I let it go for the rest of the week so I’m not doing a deep clean of the whole classroom every single day. Because I’m in a routine, I can get that done in 15 minutes.”
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About Fortis Academy
Fortis Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 99 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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