As a school psychologist, I have used guided imagery and relaxation techniques in the public school system for several years and with varying populations. I have found that teachers and students alike are very receptive to learning tools to promote a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. While working in the schools, it is necessary to be mindful of the school system policy and to identify what your intentions and desired outcomes are. If your intent is to promote peaceful conflict resolution, enhance student learning, and teach students how to reduce anxiety and to monitor and positively work with strong emotions, then it is possible to teach and incorporate relaxation and imagery tools within the school setting. During my years of practice, I have found the following to be helpful when breaching the gap between mind/body awareness and the world of public education:
1) Always have a clear intention when beginning to teach relaxation in the schools. Your processes and selection of techniques should be related to enhancing the students’ education. Identify your desired outcome. For example, if a student has test-taking anxiety, your selection of relaxation techniques should be easily applied (in any situation or location) and easily generalized to the classroom setting.
2) Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!!! The school settings are designed with the team approach in mind. You are working in collaboration with the parents, school administration, and other school professionals permission. When describing techniques, it is helpful to model by using demonstrations and experiential learning whenever possible. Involve the teachers and parents in the learning process. Techniques practiced across many settings and in many situations will be more beneficial to the student long-term.
3) Communication!!! Keep the lines of communication flowing between home, classroom, and therapist’s office. Send home update notes to inform parents how the process is going and of progress being made. Provide hints for home application and practice. Phone calls and one-on-one meetings are extremely beneficial when possible, (be mindful of the student’s language considerations and make attempts to bridge the gap if language differences are a factor).
4) Terminology is important. The following words are generally well-accepted when fully explained: guided imagery, imagination, positive thinking, relaxation skills. Explain exactly how you think the skills will benefit the student in the classroom and enhance achievement and/or learning. Words such as meditation, love connection, chakras, auras, and overuse of the word “energy” are not as well accepted or understood in the public school arena.
5) Consider how best to introduce and practice the selected techniques. Lying on the floor and sitting in lotus position might not be helpful while taking a test or during quiet study time. Use your intuition from your own experience working/attending school. Your practice should vary to address the desired outcome. For instance, practicing guided imagery in the therapist’s office will probably look very different from a whole-class intervention to teach relaxation strategies (such as deep breathing, counting breaths, or imagining success) while students are seated at desks.
6) Start small. Experiment with a basic technique such as the balloon breath and observe the receptivity of teachers, parents, administrators, and students.
7) Make relaxation fun, exciting, and easy to implement. Enhance the learning process by introducing techniques that feel good and are fun to practice. Add creative artistic expression to broaden the student experience and understanding of their imagination experiences. Put stickers on tummies and watch them go up and down with the balloon breath. Be creative. Have fun and play!!!!!!
8) Design individualized activities. Students will be enthralled with a new concept if it is directly related to their interests. For example, I worked with a school phobic fifth grade student once and he was extremely fearful of entering the classroom. Soccer was his passion. He was very resistant to my techniques until I designed some positive self-talk statements related to soccer. His interest was peaked and he was able to implement the strategies and successfully enter the classroom within a couple of days.
9) Expect the giggles, particularly when working with groups. It is normal and expected to have several meetings in which you simply have to wait until the giggles and feelings of “funnies” to pass. Students might feel embarrassed at first, but it has been my experience that they grow to look forward to the serenity of pausing to relax and frolic in the imagination for a while during eventful, busy school days.
10) Flexibility and unattachment to outcomes is essential. As with any intervention, if students, parents, teachers, or administrators are not ready, it is not the intervention for them at this time. Be patient and stay connected to your own intentions. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to introduce guided imagery. Some situations or students are more ready than others.
11) Be what you want to teach. If you show up frazzled and discombobulated, you will find it difficult to teach peace and relaxation. Always ground yourself and imagine your desired outcome before you connect with the students, parents or school professionals. Modeling is very effective in teaching relaxation, imaginative tools, and the power of positive thinking. These concepts are actually more often “absorbed” or “sensed” rather than directly taught or enforced.
12) Finally, always check in with your own intuition, what “feels” positive. If you are concerned or uncertain, you will transfer that energy to your process and may not obtain the desired outcome. Of course, every intervention is a learning in progress, but is beneficial to have done your own homework to have practiced these techniques before you decide to teach them to others. Seek additional training when possible, and always keep in mind what is appropriate for the school setting (i.e., your basic intent should be to enhance learning and success in school). It is possible that referrals for outside counseling for more significant or situation-specific therapy might be necessary. Remember that working in schools is about collaboration and you are better served to work with your colleagues when planning for optimal student success.
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