Minimizing the Stress

by Dr. Christopher Chew, Principal, Stony Brook Middle School, Westford, MA

mindfulnessThis summer it quickly became clear that the universe was conspiring to send me a very important message as we prepared to start a new school year. One of our teachers contacted me over the summer asking if she could dedicate some of her science class time during the first few days to introduce her students to mindfulness. Our school psychologist asked me at the end of last year if she could lead the faculty in a short mindfulness workshop at the beginning of this school year. Our opening day district meeting included an incredibly inspirational session with Dr. Robert Brooks on the power of relationships in creating positive mindsets.  Finally, my September 2016 copy of Educational Leadership arrived with the entire focus being on Relationships First.  At least, I was choosing to receive all of these messages as validation of the direction we were already heading.

For the past few years, I have been explaining to parents on a regular basis that I, too, was surprised at the amount of stress with which students were entering our doors each day.  We were hearing concerns from parents about the stress that school was putting on the students; meanwhile, the parents were exhibiting in front of us the amount of stress they were putting on their children in various ways from over scheduled activities to overly competitive academic expectations.  In response to the increasing numbers of students diagnosed with anxiety, our school nurse shared The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr. Patricia Collard with me and I began considering how some very simple opportunities to model some mindfulness techniques with our faculty could in turn encourage them to look at which strategies might be beneficial in their classes helping students both within our walls and hopefully at home, as well.  So, I started my next faculty meeting with a simple visioning activity asking the faculty to look at a peaceful image of snails’ trails on a beach.  It only took a few minutes and everyone commented on how it helped them focus at the beginning of the meeting and not on everything else they would rather be doing than sitting in a meeting.  We then joked about the challenge of keeping everyone in that focus as the meeting continued since the agenda included upcoming PARCC assessments; as expected, the laughter kept participants engaged.

With the simple success at the faculty meeting, the assistant principal and I decided to purchase copies of the Dr. Collard’s book for our entire faculty for opening day in the fall.  That was followed soon by the school psychologists offer to lead a workshop as she was already familiar with mindfulness and wanted to do more with students. My favorite moment was receiving the science teacher’s request to front load some mindfulness activities into her first week of classes.  I told her she could under one condition: that she share her plan with the entire faculty on our first day together in the fall.  Of course, I told her she could still do it even if she didn’t want to present to the faculty, but she was excited for the opportunity. We were on a roll.

The second piece was somewhat accidental.  Over the summer, we were able to purchase a few large screen monitors to put in the cafeteria and hallways near entrances to the building.  The original idea was to use them for digital signage communicating upcoming events and daily announcements.  The happy accident occurred when our technology support was not able to get the monitors linked before school started.  Not wanting to have school open with blank monitors hanging on the walls, I searched for images of peaceful scenes and inspirational quotes to scroll across the screens.  We put about 15-20 separate images on flash drives and they played independently on each monitor.  The response was overwhelming from students and staff.  They enjoyed reading the quotes during lunch and felt the random pictures of beaches and balanced stones were encouraging and relaxing.  We decided that we are going to keep the images and quotes coming even after the monitors are linked and integrate them with announcements, upcoming events, and images of current students actively enjoying themselves in different classes.

Finally, in the spirit of trying something different, we decided to create our own version of Car Karaoke and surprise the students and faculty on our first day back as they had not seen us do something like this in the past.  Not only was the video successful in making everyone smile and laugh, it helped ease the pressure of perfection for everyone else and made a wonderful segue into encouraging students to believe in themselves!  After all, it is about minimizing the stress…not contributing to it.

DrChewDr. Christopher Chew is entering his third year as Principal at Stony Brook School, one of two phenomenal middle schools in Westford, MA. He is very proud to be part of such an outstanding district and is equally grateful for his previous opportunities to work with other wonderful colleagues in North Middlesex, Tynsgborough, and his alma mater Chelmsford High School.  He received his Ed. D in Educational Leadership from Northeastern University. Follow Christopher on Twitter @@cchew775

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues!

 

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