Skyping with Susan Kaiser Greenland: Questions and Extensions

Dive deeper into our relationship with Susan Kaiser Greenland by reading about our recent Skype session. 

By Momentous Institute | Jun 06, 2016
Skype Blog

As we mentioned in this post, we have worked closely with Susan Kaiser Greenland here at Momentous School. Sandy shared that several of our teachers have been working with Susan’s Inner Kids curriculum this year. We recently had a Skype session between these teachers and Susan, and we wanted to share a few excerpts from that conversation to give more insight into this valuable relationship. Although we have been working with mindfulness in our school for quite some time – we still have questions about it!

Kim Robinson, Fourth Grade Teacher:

I wanted to share a really great moment I had this week. We’ve been working a lot on perspective taking in our class, because I have seen quite a few kids struggling to think about others and really only focused on themselves. One student in particular has been a challenge in this area. But he had a really great week, and so on Friday I asked him, “What made this week different for you?” He said, “I thought about it from your perspective. You put a lot of work into these lessons and I didn’t want to slow you down.” It made me so happy – he really got it!

Susan Kaiser Greenland:

That’s wonderful. What are some things you did to help with perspective taking?

Kim:

We worked on it all week. We were really explicit every day about calling attention to it. And any time I saw a moment that could be framed as perspective taking among the students, I used it as an example. It was a lot of front loading, and it definitely paid off for this student!

Susan:

Absolutely. It sounds like you did a great job. It’s really impressive that this student made such great progress within a week of focused attention on this area! If you need any additional resources, there are two great books that I recommend, “Not a Box” and “Not a Stick” – both are great for perspective taking.

Talitha Kiwiet, Art Teacher:

I did one of the activities from your work this week called the Mystery Box. I decorated it with lots of colors and the words “Mystery Box” so that it was fun and exciting for the kids. I used this with Pre-K and Kindergarten classes. I had them guess what was in the box – I didn’t give them any hints, so of course their guesses were all over the place. Then I started proposing irrational ideas, like, “Do you think it could be an elephant?” Meanwhile the suspense was building – they couldn’t wait to see what was in the box! I finally opened it and they were surprised to find that it was flowers. Then I asked them to draw the flowers. We ended up only having a couple of minutes for drawing, but they were very focused on the task because of the anticipation and excitement around it. It was a great activity because it involved critical thinking and art, and they ended up having some really quality focused drawing time.

Susan Kaiser Greenland:

I love this! Sounds like you did a great job. I think you can also extend the Mystery Box activity out even more. You can add in a conversation about different opinions and focus on perspective taking in that way. You might say something like, “We all had different ideas of what was in the box. Where else might we have different opinions about things?” and see where the kids take it!

Jacqueline Martinez, Fourth Grade Teacher:

Well, I did an activity this week that didn’t really work out as well as I had hoped. We have been working on procedural text in our class, and so I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a mindfulness component into that. I decided to do a lesson with mindful eating and work in the material about procedural text. It turns out that it was just too much all at once. I ended up just shutting it down and telling the students, “This isn’t really working out because we’re all getting a little too excited and overwhelmed. We’re going to stop this activity and we’ll try again another time.” I plan to go back to it, but I’ll separate out the mindful eating activity and do it alone first. I thought it would be good to try it together, but I think they need the basis of mindful eating first.

Susan Kaiser Greenland:

It sounds like you handled it well! Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and we can just stop them, like you did, and decide to try again another time. I’m curious, what were you using for this activity?

Jacqueline:

We were doing “ants on a log” with peanut butter, raisins and celery sticks.

Susan:

I think a great item for an introduction to mindful tasting is a Hershey Kiss. I love this one because they can hear the sound of the tin foil opening, so it adds in an auditory cue. It’s also a self-regulatory act to have a piece of chocolate that they have to wait to eat! I think you could go back and try the mindful eating activity with something like a Hershey Kiss, and then I think once they have the groundwork, you absolutely could move on to your “ants on a log” activity!

Jennifer Grauberger, Technology and Media Specialist

I had a question for you. I run our school-wide morning meetings that we do every day at the end of breakfast before the students go to their classes. I’ve been doing all sorts of different activities, many from your materials. But I was wondering if you had suggestions for modifications or changes based on working with such a large group.

Susan Kaiser Greenland:

Yes – many of these activities are still really great with a group that large! It can definitely take awhile for everyone to get there, though. I think of it like a moment of silence with adults. At first, it gets quieter but there’s still some stirring and rustling. It may seem chaotic at the beginning, but then there’s a remarkable moment when it shifts. You have to hang in there through the chaos to experience that.

I think that you have an incredible opportunity to help your students understand that mindfulness is broader than self-regulation. Of course self-regulation is the groundwork for this, and we can never lose sight of that, but at the same time, there are so many incredible concepts that we can use mindfulness activities to help children with. Perspective taking, like we talked about earlier, for example. So in your school-wide meetings, maybe you could do a very quick breathing activity to focus the group, but then you can move into a friend activity, encourage a kind act, a reframing game, a big picture game. You know that story of the blind men and the elephant? Maybe you can get a big stuffed animal and have the students guess the parts, and then use that as an opportunity to talk about perspective. Maybe you could do a mindful listening activity with a group that large, or you could have people pair up into buddies. I love the idea of having kids lead the group.

Jennifer:

We have that now! We have student reps from each grade level, and we love that.

Susan:

That’s wonderful! I think that’s a great addition. I’ve noticed that mindfulness sometimes gets stuck in the self-regulation and breathing space, and I think there’s room to grow it larger. Again, you can start with something simple like breathing, or feeling your feet on the floor. And then you can do something like a mystery box, or the “life is good” activity, where you say something that you’re struggling with and follow it with, “But life is good.” And of course you can model a game or activity in front of the school, and then send them to their class to continue it throughout the day. There are so many possibilities! I think it’s great that you spend those few moments in the morning doing this.

We are so grateful to our friend Susan for her invaluable insight into making our school a better learning environment for our students! This skype conversation was just one tiny glance into the relationship we have with her and the work we do all year long that stems from her expertise.

We can’t wait to welcome Susan to the 2016 Changing the Odds Conference in October!