Be Calmer and Happier with TAPS: A Mindfulness Exercise for BOTH Teachers and Students
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
– Dalai Lama
When I first read this quote, I thought, “Whoa! How bold!” Then I thought about my own experience of witnessing the power of mindfulness.
When I was a 4th grade teacher, our public school was fortunate to have a Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST) plan school-wide, which provided consistency of expectations and support for all staff and students. Our BIST plan included a consultant, Jacquie, visiting our school once a month to meet with teachers in whole group trainings AND she was available to meet with teachers individually to problem-solve concerns relating to student behavior, mindset, and the flow of school expectations.
“BIST Jacquie”, as we lovingly referred to her, taught us a mindfulness technique called Total And Perfect Silence (TAPS), and she came into individual classrooms to model it. Besides the calming effect on my 4th graders, I was amazed with the calm I personally experienced. The silence of the classroom and the attention on my breathing (or any one or more of the senses) made me feel refreshed, and I felt that I was a better teacher afterward because of it. TAPS became my go-to during transition times when I needed a moment to transition to the next subject or get the technology ready, or when students entered the classroom unsettled and we needed to get down to business and focus. It felt like a lifesaver.
Total And Perfect Silence (TAPS), is a mindfulness technique that can be used with students of all ages to connect to their present moment experience (which often has a calming effect). Eventually, students realize they have the choice to take a mindful pause to respond, rather than impulsively react. So, they learn to practice TAPS on their own, especially when they’re feeling strong emotions. When first being introduced, students are instructed to add one step at a time, until they are practicing all components of TAPS:
1) Sit up straight with legs uncrossed and feet touching the ground, if possible
2) Hands buckled (fingers interlaced, resting on the table or in one’s lap)
3) Slow, deep breathing (in through your nose, out through your mouth)
4) Eyes closed (if it’s comfortable; I never force anyone to close their eyes; a fixed gaze can work also)
5) Bring awareness to the breath (or any one or more of the senses)
After practicing these steps for a few minutes the first few times, the group discusses how they feel after TAPS. Generally, the overall consensus is that people feel calmer, happier, and more focused after TAPS. Eventually, everyone is so familiar with this mindfulness meditation practice, that all that needs to happen is that the teacher says, “TAPS” and the students automatically know to immediately sit in the TAPS position, practicing all five components. Like trying anything new, it’s not always easy to focus. Fortunately Mindfulness isn’t a judgmental activity. It’s about noticing.
What is Mindfulness?
I think of Mindfulness as the ability to be fully present, aware of the senses, without judgement. Mindfulness can be practiced by devoting one’s full attention to the task at hand. This means that we’re practicing Mindfulness even if we’re doing simple things like feeling our heart beat or paying attention to the sounds around us: the ticking of a clock, distant voices, etc. One of the most common forms of mindfulness is simply being mindful of your breath. Noticing your breath improves your awareness of being in the present. If you’re like me and you need specific “tasks” to help you focus, count your breaths. I count the number of seconds per each inhale and exhale.
Why is it important for teachers and students to practice Mindfulness?
Studies have shown that people who regularly practice mindfulness experience:
–increased focus leading to greater productivity
–a greater ability to cope with stress, and therefore experience greater calm and empowerment
–improved health and quality of life in general
According to Medical Daily:
“One recent study found that people who practice mindfulness had healthier glucose levels, suggesting that improved focus and self-control could help fight obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Mindfulness meditation was also linked to improved sleep quality among older adults who would normally be using pills. It has been associated with improved focus, reduced dependency on opioid drugs, and lowered anxiety and depression levels. But perhaps what’s most remarkable is that research has actually shown that mindfulness and positive thinking had a beneficial effect on the DNA of breast cancer patients, suggesting that the effects of mindfulness meditation on the body may be far more extensive than we know.”
What if I don’t have time to incorporate Mindfulness?
I get it. It’s an understatement to say that teachers are busy. There is continuously more and more responsibility piled onto already-overworked teachers. Every minute of class time is precious. Fortunately, teachers are amazing problem-solvers, fulfill many roles, know how to prioritize, and care wholeheartedly about their students’ well-being.
I remember thinking, “Really? How do I squeeze in something ELSE?!” Fortunately my mind goes back to this realization:
When teachers are stressed, students can feel it, and the stress transfers to them. It’s a cycle. In the same way, however, we can also radiate calm and positivity to others around us. When overwhelm has us functioning at an anxious, distracted level, it’s time to pause. Recalibrate. We’re able to better focus, retain information, and have willpower to sustain difficult tasks after we’ve taken a calming break.
TAPS was the impactful beginning of my Mindfulness journey.
After using TAPS in the U.S. public school system, I started using it while teaching English Language Learners in an international school in Athens, Greece. Classroom teachers became interested when they saw their students so quiet and focused in my ESL classroom, and then even the principal asked me to model it at a school-wide assembly. Then, when I was training teachers in Panama, I modeled TAPS in workshops and individual classrooms. Why? Teachers are better teachers and students are better learners when their minds are calm and present. This also relates to all humans in a broader sense. Jon Kabat-Zinn, researcher and author of Mindfulness since the 1970s, said, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” I am a better decision-maker, communicator, and productive worker when my mind is calm and present. When I find myself suffering from monkey mind and analysis paralysis that hampers my productivity, I turn to meditation.
Meditation allows me to be present. This has come in handy when I want to bring awareness and relief to strong emotions.
What if teachers could teach and students could learn with calm, focused mindsets, even when circumstances are difficult?
In order to diminish my overwhelm as both a teacher and student, I choose a Mindfulness strategy. I view Mindfulness (and meditation in general) as a way to be proactive instead of reactive. Group Mindfulness activities can be as simple as listening to different bell tones and having participants raise a hand at the moment they hear the tone stop. My Mindful Minutes blog post includes several exercises and short, two-minute guided videos for children–and anyone who could use more calm and empowerment!
So now when I see the Dalai Lama’s quote, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation”, I still think that the quote is bold, AND it’s a powerful, purposeful, possible vision that I choose to support. Because if I can use meditation to stop obsessing about a break up or budget cuts resulting in my friends and I losing our jobs; and the resulting focus and empowerment of meditation allows me to create action for a new chapter of life in an impactful way; then can’t eight year olds use it also to calm down when a beloved eraser is lost, or their kickball team loses a game and they want to lash out at a bragging classmate? These are scenarios I have witnessed as an elementary teacher– students who were formerly quick to react encounter a maddening situation, but then they remember they’ve been taught Mindfulness, and they choose to take a break to breathe instead. Like most teachers, my hope is that students will transfer these skills into everyday situations.