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  • Writer's pictureRachel Terlop

...When I am Calm

In fall of 2017, I completed my 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) program. I have written about it before, and I still maintain that is the best thing I ever did for myself. I can not express my appreciation enough for the Breathe for Change program, led by founder Ilana Nankin. After completing the program and making some life adjustments of my own, I celebrated by joining the Breathe for Change team as a training in July 2018.

For 16 days, I was on the other side of RYT training, and co-lead the Social Emotional Learning and Facilitation (SEL*F) course for over 75 educators in the Washington, D.C. area. Breathe for Change has a specific mindfulness and SEL*F curriculum that I loved teaching, and wanted to bring to my new setting.

Stop. Yes, you ! Breathe. Unclench your jaw.

When I arrived at my new placement in August, I spoke highly of Breathe for Change. Upon settling into my new environment, I found out that our school uses a few different programs, and was looking to settle on one. I offered up Breathe for Change as a resource, however, there was already a local curriculum designer for mindfulness that reached our and our school agreed to pilot.

Skeptical of adding something new to my life, I attended the first meeting and instantly settled in. The Peace of Mind curriculum and Breathe for Change could not be more similar. Both of these curriculums have brain development research at the core of their learning, and help students understand the science behind their emotions. I was hooked. Growing up with a health teacher for a mother has cemented the idea that the human body is fascinating, and everything is health. Everything.

Luckily, Breathe for Change offered a Change Agent program that includes weekly professional development, and support bringing the mindfulness practices to facility and students alike. I am fortunate enough to be a part of that program – but more on that later.

Peace of Mind started off slowly in our classroom. We started with Kindness Pals – everyone having a weekly person assigned to them to go out of their way and be kind to. The thought behind this is that intentional kindness, helps condition us to be kind to others at all times – on purpose. At first, I had doubts that students would just agree on Monday morning to be kind to a designated partner for a week, but it has caught on! Students not only love getting new Kindness Partners, they openly share ideas of how to show kindness to one another.

Here are some ideas we have come up with over time:

Pick up their pencil

Sharpen their pencils for them

Share your crayons

Carry their instrument

Go downstairs to get a fork if they forget it

Check on them when they’re upset

Check on them when they’re excited

Write them a compliment


Stop. Yes, you, again! Take a deep breath. Unclench your jaw.

Due to the success of Kindness Partners, we added another job in our – Mindfulness Leader.

The Mindfulness Leader settles us in throughout the day. It might happen once, twice, maybe three times a day – but the routine is the same.

Let’s get into our Mindful Bodies.

Students should ground their feet into the floor, and straighten their backs. Straight posture, and hands on table, or on lap.

Let us close our eyes.

Students are invited to close their eyes, but it is never mandatory. This is an opportunity for students to settle in, and reconnect to their breath.

Let us take three deep breaths.

Mindfulness Leader may participate in this, but it will be about 15 seconds of deep breathing.

After the Mindfulness Leader rings the bell, students will open their eyes, and you may ask – How do you feel after your Mindful Moment?

What went well?

Did you hear noises that distracted you?

What is a strategy you can use to be successful during this?

The incorporation of this has helped students settle into lessons, and prepare for their lessons. You may have noticed throughout this blog entry that you were asked to take a deep breath and unclench your jaw. Did I catch you? One of the most powerful things my mentor yoga teacher said during our classes was, ‘Unclench. Breathe.’ He would sprinkle it in throughout asana practice, but sure enough every single time, I felt myself unclenching my jaw and remembering my breathing.

After Mindfulness Leaders and Kindness Parters came into our room, the Mindfulness Bell came. Though the Mindfulness Bell is not part of the Peace of Mind Curriculum, it flows into our day smoothly. There is truly an app called ‘Mindfulness Bell’ that you can set to go off sporadically throughout the day. The tone sounds much like a singing bowl, and is short and sweet. I introduced this bell to my students, told them about my teacher telling me to “Unclench and Breathe,” and invited them to join me in intentionally taking some deep breaths.

Now, if you are a teacher you know the flow. You are in the middle of a lesson, or an explanation, and of course you are passionate so you’re talking a mile a minute, and


There it is. Stop. Breathe.

It brings you back to the room, to the students, to their eyes, and to neutral. The Mindfulness Bell has brought me out of a tense moment, a sad moment, and has brought my attention back to the things I need to focus on. The gentle reminder of breathing deeply has improved all of our days. Don’t believe me? You’re welcome to come in and have the 24 humans remind you that, “Its been a little too long since that bell welt off, Mrs. Terlop,” or “Do you need to take a deep breath without the bell?”

What I am trying to convey is that Peace of Mind has brought some Peace of Mind to the classroom, and I fully love it.

Love it so much that I went to the first Peace of Mind mini-conference on a Saturday Morning at 8:30 am. Educators from all around DC met to talk brain development, curriculum implementation, and check in with progress.

Being a Pre-School teacher in my heart, I went to the Early Childhood session where we were shown a puppet with different parts of the brain labeled. With partners, we practiced teaching the different parts of the brain using our puppet. It was adorable, informational, and just something I downright hated.

Anyone who has every worked with me, or taught alongside of me in the classroom knows I hate puppets. Puppets and felt boards. I just struggle to connect to them. I feel like a fake. For me, music is how I express excitement. My co-worker happened to be in the room with me, and paid no mind to when I got the laptop out and started typing. She happens to be one those glowing and gorgeous ‘end of my end of day debriefing’ people, and knows the routine – when I have an idea, I have to do it now. She helped me wordsmith all the information the puppets just said, and sang loud and long at the end of the seminar.

Parts of the Brain Song

Supporting Peace of Mind Curriculum

Vocabulary in the Song:

Prefrontal Cortex – make decisions

Hippocampus – remember

Amygdala – feelings

Sung to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”

Mindfulness helps me learn, helps me learn (swirling motion around the brain)

Mindfulness helps me learn, helps me learn

I know how my brain operates (point to brain)

Mindfulness helps me learn, helps me learn (swirling motion around the brain)

Prefrontal Cortex helps me choose, helps me choose (Point above eyebrows)

Prefrontal Cortex helps me choose, helps me choose

I can make smart decisions (Thumbs up)

Prefrontal Cortex helps me choose, helps me choose (Point above eyebrows)

Hippocampus helps me keep all I learn (massage scalp)

Hippocampus helps me keep all I learn

I remember day after day (tick off fingers to show time)

Hippocampus helps me keep all I learn (massage scalp)

Feelings change rapidly, rapidly (ASL feeling and temporary)

Feelings change rapidly, rapidly

My amygdala controls emotions (ASL control)

My feelings are temporary (ASL feeling and temporary)

ASL Signs

Ever the educator cheerleader, she even told the presenter what I had written. I was embarrassed at first, but then I actively chose to be proud. I adapted something and made it work for myself, and my classroom.

I am, in fact, not a puppet.

So, Monday rolls around, and I am exited to share with my students what I learned at the mini-conference. I print out the lyrics to the song to share during Morning Meeting. Since m 24 humans are familiar with the parts of the brain, they did not struggle with the terminology. It took one demonstration before they were singing independently.

I bet that’s how rockstars feel – everyone singing their words right back at them.

Next thing you know, it’s a week later and we’re having a hard time in class. Someone explains that its just their darn amygdala taking over. Have you eve r heard a third grader blame their behavior on their amygdala? It is incredible, and hysterical, and pure, and accurate.

The next day, our Morning Meeting activity was writing our own next verses.

A creative 3rd grade human wrote this!

The next day, we reflected on times we used our Prefrontal Cortex, and when we used our Amygdala.

Amygdala problems: I get that.

One of my first real teacher lessons came from a four year old in my first class. Wyatt had a irregular morning, and we were taking a break. hHe turns to me and says, “I can do anything when I am calm.” I think about that every morning when we do our Mindful Moment. I think about Wyatt when my students talk about their amygdala taking over. I think about that when kids reflect on the best parts of their day, and all they accomplished. I think of Wyatt every single time I hear the Mindfulness Bell.

Have you ever thought about how fascinating our brain is?

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