About Lee-Ann Meredith

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao Tzu Lee-Ann Meredith is a second grade teacher, author, Department Chairperson and education advocate who has spent the duration of her time in public education at John B. Murphy Elementary School in inner city Chicago. Often characterized as funny, dynamic, and an independent innovator, Lee-Ann cites her idol as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Fluent in a wide range in instructional strategies for the elementary level, Lee-Ann is dedicated to being an advocate for children everywhere by implementing 'cutting edge' strategies to increase student achievement. Some of the issues that she spearhead included: promoting literacy throughout the building, leading community meetings to advocate for full day kindergarten for all students and helping implement the Responsive Classroom strategies throughout the school. In addition to working closely with the curriculum, she also had the honor to supervise (and mentor into teaching positions) numerous student teachers and practicum students from various post-secondary institutions around the Chicago area such as: Erikson Institute, National Louis, DePaul. Northeaster Illinois, Roosevelt, and North Park Universities.

I took a writing class a few years ago with a famous author. We would write for ten minutes then meditate for ten minutes. The process was repeated at least a dozen times over the weekend. I had a little meditation practice but nothing routine. The author was a Zen Buddhist and she talked us through the process.

This was the first time I heard of the “monkey mind” It is what the Buddhists call that never ending narration that natters away in our heads. It is that voice that reminds us of all our failures and mistakes, all the potential errors coming in the future, all the terrors on the way, as well as the fact that no one likes us, and we are ugly, too. It can be brutal. Our own worse critic lives in our head.

This writing workshop began a journey into mindfulness. I would like to lie and tell you that I meditate thirty minutes everyday. I simply don’t. I am a wiggler and I have learned that, for me, less is more. I do meditate for five to twenty minutes many days. I have learned a variety of techniques that help. A somewhat weekly routine has also helped. In fact, studies show that even a few minutes a day of meditation reaps numerous benefits. I do practice mindfulness all the time. It has become my way to ground myself and let go of the constant criticism of my little pet monkey.

Our own worse critic lives in our head. Click To Tweet

This fall, I have taught meditation to about six hundred students ages six to thirteen, grades one to seven. I have been substituting for the art teacher while she is on medical leave. When the classes come in for art, the first thing we do is sit, take our calming breaths, and then, I joyfully watch them slide into meditation. I see each class once a week and we meditate for four or five minutes. The whole instruction takes less than ten minutes a week.

With all the discussion of Social Emotional Learning, a bandwagon I have been on for years, mindful meditation is a skill that I believe is as emotionally important as reading is for intellectual learning. There have been hundred of studies on the effects of meditation. Here is a list of several, but not all, of the benefits.

  • Calms the monkey mind or the brain’s chatter
  • May reduce depression as effectively as anti-depressants
  • Reduces stress, fear and anxiety
  • Increases sense of well-being
  • Improves concentration and attention
  • Increases divergent thinking and creative thought
  • Increases focus and self-control
  • Increases compassion
  • Softens relationships
  • Boosts our immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Has cognitive benefits for school children

This mindful meditation instruction has worked. We have seen the kids using the strategies throughout the school. The reason it works could be that I am a veteran teacher who gives clear instructions and consistent expectations. It could be it is being done through out the school with the support of administration, teachers and families. It may work because the students know I too practice these strategies in my own life. Probably it is partly all of those.

The real reason it works is because the kids want it to work. They want to be better able to cope with stress. They want to give up the monkey mind noise. They want the incredible powerfulness of being able to focus without being bothered by the world around them. They want it. Badly. They have incorporated several of the skills in their daily lives. Parents have come to tell me how their child has taught them the calming breaths or remind them to relax and let it drift away.

Kids want to be better able to cope with stress Click To Tweet

Last week, the kindergarten teacher told me that one of her boys was falling apart. He was sobbing uncontrollably. This boy is the youngest brother of a group of rowdy boys. Their home is not stable. She asked him what he could do to fix his problem. To her surprise, he did one of the meditation breaths. He began to calm down and then taught the breath to her. The beauty of this is that he learned it from one of those older rowdy brothers. It is being used at home, by a group of boys who desperately need self control.

Here is the thing I notice: it helps everyone. Sure the kids with ADHD or discipline problems benefit, but so do all the kids who work so hard to hold it together. It helps the mean girl drama, the “my mom yelled at me because I spilled my milk” tears, and the straight “As” tension. It is not just for those who visibly struggle. It helps the worriers and the high achievers. When I commented that they could use these techniques anywhere, even at home when their parents fight, you would be amazed at how many kids signaled that meant them. It is not just for the discipline room but for us all.

This is a life skill that can be taught in any classroom. A seventh grader wrote to me and said: It makes me feel calm and lose all the stress from school. I felt like it just left and I didn’t have it for a while. It helps so thank you for teaching us that.

There too many articles to list on the research into meditation. Here are two articles that can help you learn more if you are interested.

Mindfulness and Children

Meditation’s Effect on the Brain

 

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