Barbara Kurtzman, a teacher at The Study for over 25 years, is changing the lives of thousands with her Mindfulness Journey. Drawing inspiration from her students and personal life, she expands on the power of mindfulness and what it means to be present in the moment.
“When is the last time you took a breath?” Barbara Kurtzman asked her 21-year-old daughter. “Mom, if I wasn’t breathing, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you!” her daughter promptly replied. “No. I mean, when is the last time you really stopped and consciously took a deep breath?”
That was it. In that moment of clarity, the Grade One teacher had everything she needed to embark on her journey. Maybe Barbara’s daughter wasn’t the only one that was whipping through life without stopping to take a deep breath and be present in its moments (good or bad). Children are growing up in a world where expectations are increasing and where they start feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders as young as 6-years-old. Students’ schedules are busier than ever these days with homework, tutoring, dance practice, piano lessons, sport meets and so on. Barbara, being a teacher at The Study for more than 25 years, had a front row seat to this reality.
After several years of honourably being seconded into the Ministry of Education and training teachers around the province of Quebec, Barbara was able to come back to The Study with a new vision for her classroom. She began perceiving her students and their needs a little differently; recognizing that children come to school every morning with baggage and concerns – just like adults.
Being on a meditation journey herself, Barbara decided that yoga would be the first integration into her pedagogy. Between subjects, the class would push their desks aside and create a space for one another to relax and breathe deeply in. Mandalas came second; an outlet for the students to be creative and rebalance their energies. “Illustrations tell amazing stories.” the Grade One teacher explains. These reflective moments became a point in the day that students looked forward to. Before Barbara knew it, her colleagues began adopting her zen teaching style as well.
On the first day of the 2015-16 school year, Barbara ran the idea of an official “mindfulness month” by her teaching team. The positivity and enthusiasm that greeted her was exactly what she needed to launch the program! Teachers began incorporating “1 minute of mindfulness” into their daily routines. Some classes practiced meditation and stillness, some further explored Mandalas, others created Mind Jars – a metaphor for what the brain looks like when it is feeling anxious or overwhelmed. The minute looked different in every classroom, but the underlying idea remained the same; be still and present in the moment. Children, teachers and parents alike began noticing the difference that merely one minute of mindfulness a day was making in their lives. “I appreciated the 2 minutes to collect myself and think of nothing but the moment. I could feel a heaviness in my feet each time which made me feel grounded.” another teacher from the school explains. Barbara’s Mindfulness Journey was featured on the blog “Clarity and Living Mindfully”, which can be found on The Study’s blogosphere. Soon enough, 13 schools around the world joined in on the Journey!
The overwhelming participation from students and teachers around the map makes you stop and wonder if the “highly-stressed” child has become a trend in our society. Barbara mentioned that she saw the biggest change in her students when their “minute of mindfulness” was spent in a restorative Shavasana yoga pose on the floor. Taking a couple of minutes to reflect on the day and lay on your back could be the difference between a calm or a frustrating day for many kids. A study carried out by the Early Child Development and Care journal on what happens when children use yoga and relaxation activities to manage their stress found that, “Feelings of helplessness and aggression were clearly reduced. Beyond this, the participants transferred the learned breathing techniques and self‐instructions to situations beyond school, in order to relax after the lessons, to improve well‐being and to control negative feelings.” (Stueck & Gloeckner, 2007).
This thought was perhaps the biggest motivation which propelled Edoki Academy’s app, Zen Studio – a mindfulness tool that promotes creativity and stillness in children. Barbara and her students found many parallels between Zen Studio and the Mandalas they worked on: “Zen Studio allows students to use their imagination and do designs that they want to do. Like animals, people or drawings that make you feel calm.” 7-year-old student Jessica, proclaims. Barbara also mentioned that she could not believe that 10 students were able to share the iPad and collaborate on Zen Studio at once – a rarity known to few educators in the field, especially in Grade One!
The success that Barbara’s Mindfulness Journey has received this year is only the beginning for the Grade One teacher, “I feel an obligation to continue and dig a little deeper.” she divulges. In the authentic one-hour conversation we had together, it is undeniable that Barbara changes the lives of her students every day that she walks into her classroom. But now, thanks to her distinguished initiative, she is able to enhance the lives of thousands around the world. You’re truly an inspiration, Ms. B!