What does Centering look like at RCS?

What does Centering look like at RCS?

There are certain stand out elements of the Rainbow Seven Domains Learning Model that have huge impacts on the culture of the school, the daily centering practice is one. This morning ritual serves to awaken the spiritual center of each child, opening pathways to learning. This whole class activity than has an opening and closing ritual with an activity in the middle. The activity can include mindfulness, but also extends into other aspects of contemplative and spiritual learning with experiences that can integrate with the academic curriculum, social/emotional learning, creativity, kinesthetics, and students’ connection to the natural world. The learning targets for each centering are inspired by info the learning goals found by clicking the button below.

As a centering begins, the classroom is filled with ritual and reverence. These rituals vary from classroom to classroom but the essence of centering is such that the students gather in a circle on a rug, the space is set with intention, the lights are dimmed, a chime or bell invites silence, reverence fills the room, a pause is taken for audible breath work, the invitation of fire through candlelight is summoned- this begins the sacred work of the day.

What makes something sacred: A 4th grade centering

What makes something sacred: A 4th grade centering

I am sure you have actions or behaviors in your day that you could categorize or label as habitual. Consider one or more of those for a moment. For example, brushing your teeth, or filling the tea kettle, putting food in the dog bowl before you are off to work, etc… Do you consider these as sacred HABITS. I am going to assume that you don’t likely bring intentioned awareness or a mindful presence to these on a daily basis. Or that you don’t pause to give reverence to those actions. I wonder what would transpire if you did?

When something becomes habit it has the tendency to lose its power, its meaning, and its impact. As you may know from previous centering reflections- ritual, rites and ceremony are embedded into RCS’s curriculum and culture in various forms. These show up in class meetings, centering practices, celebrations, and everyday when the kids unite in a food blessing.

Recently I joined grade 4 for a two-part centering in which the teacher introduced the word “invocation.” Invocation is a sentence, poem or prayer that calls our attention from the ordinary into the sacred.

Many RCS classrooms invite the sacred into the classroom through morning verses, songs, and regular recitations. However, blessings are one invocation that serve as a sacred ritual in every classroom. They happen each day before snack and before lunch. The blessing leader chooses from the blessing wall or list and then leads his/her classmates. Often they are followed by a minute of food honoring silence.

The introduction of the word invocation opened the floor for a discussion guided by these questions … “What makes something sacred or special and why do we pause for a blessing?”

The discussion led into an extension activity in which the kids shared their own family blessings and brainstormed general elements or characteristics that make up a blessing. This brainstorm then led to some personal journaling in which the students were asked to draft an original blessing to be added to the list of blessings. This was the teacher’s way of bringing the power back to something that had lost its spark while also empowering the students to take ownership over daily rituals.

Something done everyday can become habit if we make an effort to revisit what meaning it has. It we don’t pause or bring some intentionality back into it. This is like adding water to thirsty and drooping plant- it brings the life, the enthusiasm, the perk back into it.

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

What in your life needs to be watered?
What rituals have become habit?
How can you breathe life back into them?

A reflection on friendship: A middle school centering

A reflection on friendship: A middle school centering

For many of the 8th grade Omega students, centering has been part of their educational experience for 9 years. This means that they have experienced approximately 1,500 centering practices during their time at RCS.

When Omegans begin their 7th grade year, a new ritual is invited into the centering practice. Words of wisdom, a quote, a lyric, or an invocation serve as the seed out of which the Centering lesson is born. These wise words are displayed on a white board and the Omega students are asked to connect to them in a deeper way by recording and reflecting on them in centering journals. A volunteer is asked to recite the quote and then at this time the teacher fishes for any student reflections, questions, insight or comments. Students are encouraged to offer their own wisdom, tweeze out meaning, making connections, share a personal story, give an emotional reaction and/or new perspective to the quote- ultimately this is how they breath even more life into the words.

On a Tuesday morning in January, the quote of the day came from none other than Winnie the Pooh. His wise words offered the students a chance to reflect on their fortunate friendships as true gifts- not to be overlooked or undervalued. Winne the Pooh says, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” One student reflected that “there are so many people that don’t realize how lucky they are…” “another mentioned that you don’t know you love something until it is gone” even still another noted that she recognized there have been many times in her life where she only saw the true gifts of something once it was gone. The teacher leading the centering shared a personal story which helped to create a safe and vulnerable place for the rest of the kids. At this time they were guided by several prompting questions and asked to think, pair, and share among their peers. Some of the prompts included: What qualities do you look for in friend? What are a few of your own qualities that make you a good  friend? The room came alive with exchanges. The kids listened to one another with a mutual respect and spoke from the heart.

This culture of deep reflection, critical thinking and empathy didn’t develop overnight. The culture of uncovering personal truths and speaking them with confidence emerged from years of exposure to centering and contemplative practices, it was born out of the safe space the teachers worked so hard to foster, it evolved out of the deep relationships that guide all the work of a holistic education.

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

How do you invite deep reflection into your life?

How do you access your inner wisdom and how do you create a sacred space for this?

How may you adapt this centering practice or one like it so that it may be used in your life?

Anonymous gratitude centering: A morning with 5th grade

Anonymous gratitude centering: A morning with 5th grade

As you may know there are many scientifically proven benefits of cultivating, recognizing and acknowledging gratitude in your life. Many studies suggest practicing gratitude can make you healthier and happier. Some benefits include, improved relationships, enhanced empathy, healthy physical and psychological health, and improved self esteem. Many curricular elements at RCS are designed with these proven benefits in mind. For example, practicing gratitude and appreciation shows up almost daily in many classroom closing appreciation circles as well as weekly class meetings.

Appreciating others is an act of kindness that brings joy to the giver and the receiver. But how often do you have the opportunity to offer anonymous appreciations?  Recently, I was able to experience a creative centering practice aimed at doing just this.

After the 5th graders settled into their centering rituals, their attention was directed to the word and definition of ap.pre.ci.a.tion : A feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude. A favorable critical judgement. A sensitive awareness. To increase in value. This prompted a discussion about recognizing ways we appreciate others, the gifts that others bring to our lives each day and making a concerted effort to appreciate them. The teacher then prompted the students to consider the value of giving an appreciation anonymously. She explained an activity that would award each student the opportunity to recognize the gifts of his/her classmates and to appreciate them anonymously.

The students were placed into 3 groups- A, B, C. Group A started out as the appreciation givers while B and C were the receivers. Group B and C as the receivers were asked to find a comfortable position on the carpet, one in which their eyes were shielded- child’s pose was suggested. Group A then listened for an appreciation prompt from the teacher such as “Tap someone who you appreciate for their listening skills” and then migrate around touching the backs of those classmates that embody that gift.” A rotation was established so that all groups were givers and receivers.

In true RCS style, the prompts emphasized all learning domains. Some of the prompted included, “Tap someone that you appreciate for their charismatic spirit. Tap someone that you appreciate for their athletic ability. Tap someone that you appreciate for their problem-solving skills. Tap someone you appreciate for their energetic presence. Tap someone that you appreciate for their love of nature. Tap someone that you appreciate for their strength in the face of adversity.”

Additionally, each round of appreciation offered a different focus. For example, the second round for each group focused on appreciating someone who taught you a lesson, someone who had something unfair happen to them but you appreciated how they handled it and then someone who may have been in the wrong but you appreciated the way they resolved the situation and how they grew from it.

When this unique appreciation circle began, respect and reverence showed up in a stronger way- spirit as we call it entered the room. For example, the room seemed still… other than the shuffling of migrating feet, the teacher prompts and the soothing accompanying music. I felt a strong sense of love radiating from the students, the kids seemed eager to both give and receive and they seemed to connect deeply with one another. Once the rounds were complete, the music was turned off and the kids were asked to rejoin the circle…the kids emerged from child’s pose with smiles on their faces. The short reaction round also offered only positive reactions. They were asked how they felt receiving appreciations, how it felt not knowing who gave them and how it felt making time to give them…

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

How does gratitude show up in your life? What do you/don’t you do to make time for it?

Take notice- the next time someone appreciates you, how does it make you feel physically and emotionally?

Challenge- appreciate a complete stranger. A minute of your time could change their entire day. 

Supporting our emotional immune systems: A 6th grade centering

Supporting our emotional immune systems: A 6th grade centering

Centering practices not only fuel the spiritual identity development of those who embrace them but they support healthy development across all learning domains. Recently, in a two-part centering, grade 6 explored the interdependence of a healthy physical immune system and a healthy emotional immune system. I had the pleasure of joining them on day two but as evidenced by the notes from the previous day, the centering yielded a great discussion about things that cause imbalances in physical immune systems. The kids produced a lengthy list of ways to fuel a healthy physical immune system.

On the second day, after setting the tone with their rituals, the 6th grade teacher began the centering with guiding questions: Can you remember a time when your emotional immune system was out of balance? What happened- how did you feel and what tools did you use to bring yourself back into balance?

As I listened to the discussion I smiled with awe and gratitude as these 12 year olds dropped into a deep discussion of their emotional well-being- How often do you hear 6th graders chatting about just that?

They shared openly and honestly about tools that they use to bring themselves back to a state of grace. Some of the insight that emerged from that discussion included “being quiet in my room”, “listening to music”, “spending time in my backyard”, “taking a quiet time to reflect and draw” and “taking a walk outside” The discussion continued with the introduction of a new word- catharsis. One of the teachers offered the analogy that an emotional back up is like damming water in a river…the catharsis or release is so important to move the waste through. The conversation continued to emphasize a holistic perspective of the body- anything you do for your emotional health will in turn support your physical health and vice versa. As with many centerings, the practice is extended via a creative project. At this point, the students were asked to write a “doctor’s prescription” This prescription was meant to outline steps taken that would bring their emotional immune system back into balance. The extension encouraged creativity while nurturing a deeper connection to the tools and resources that the kids use to bring themselves back into a state of grace. Below is a humorous example offered by student, Noah Anderson.

“Hug a cat for 10 minutes, 12 times a day for 2 months. Side effects may include itchy skin from fleas, running eyes from allergies and lots of accumulated fur. Warning! If you are hugging dogs instead, ask a doctor if hugging cats is right for you.” This prescription would certainly nurture my emotional well-being.

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

In the spirit of connecting with the work of these students, what would your prescription be for a healthy physical immune system? Emotional immune system?

What tools or resources would you use to bring yourself back into a state of grace?

All I See is Part of Me Centering

All I See is Part of Me Centering

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  William Shakespeare

You didn’t come into this world.  You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.  You  are not a stranger here.  Alan Watts

We inter-breath with the rain  forests, we drink from the oceans.  They  are part of our own body.  Thich Nhat Hanh

Children are fascinated and awe inspired by nature, its beauty, is vastness, and its magical powers. Children want to get close to the Earth, to be dirty, to be wet, to feel the sun and to stop and smell the roses. Children feel that spiritual connection to Earth on a much deeper level than do adults and know it calls to them. I teach the children through various Centerings about how we are so deeply connected the Earth because everything we see in the Earth can also be seen within us. I begin these lessons by first handing each child an item from nature. Then the children are asked to think of how they are like that item. We then build an altar with these gifts from nature while sharing how we are like the gift. For the following Centering, I read the book, All I See is Part of Me and we discuss its lessons. We then follow up with a movement Centering that takes place outside. I tell the kids that when they move the Earth moves with them and movement is but one way to communicate with the Earth. The children then choose a being from nature, come up with a movement inspired by that being and then express something like this, “I am the flower because I am full of color!” Throughout the year, I reinforce these ideas. For example, every time I hear a child say something like, “That flower is beautiful!” I say, “I see the flowers beauty in you too!”

These types of Centerings engage the children in such a way that they are able to look at nature differently. If they can make the connection that what makes a pine cone a pine cone is also what makes them who they are, then, a sense of appreciation and protection of that pine cone and thus the tree will then live inside of them. Teaching like this will nurture nature-child relationships that will ultimately lead to stewardship practices and conservation efforts. This is how we bring about change- through relationships and connection.