Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress, by Laury Grossman, Angelina Alvarez, and the students of Mr. Musumeci’s 5th Grade Class

master of mindfulness

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Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress

Hats off to Mr. Musumeci’s 5th grade class of 2013 – 2014 (Reach Academy, Oakland, CA)!  I wish I could give a copy of this book to everyone I know, both children and adults.  This book, with a foreword by MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) founder, Jon Kabat-Zin, is written and illustrated by kids, for kids, and it is the most accessible and complete description of mindfulness for children I have read yet.  

The most powerful parts of the book are the students’ own illustrated accounts of instances when mindfulness could be helpful in dealing with difficult emotions and situations.  This could be infinitely helpful to students and teachers alike in defending the why of mindfulness in schools.  The students cover topics ranging from dealing with anger when hit in the face with a soccer ball or cut on the lunch line, to loneliness when family members go away, to nervousness when their ride is late to pick up from school, and how to effectively “shield” from bullying.

These kids have done their research too.  There are pages relating to the science behind mindfulness, specifically how it changes brain function.  Illustrations accompany information about brain chemistry, the brain on stress, the release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline when we enter fight or flight or flight, and how mindfulness practices can set things right.

The last portion of the book contains techniques for practicing mindfulness such as mindful breathing, body scan, mindful walking, mindful noticing of feelings, and mindful communication.  My favorite is a technique called “shark fin” which I intend to use with my own students.  There is even a bit on mindful eating.  The scripts are designed to be recorded by the reader and listened to for practice.

They close by reminding the reader to practice mindfulness every day and wishing the reader a happy life.  They liken mindfulness to a seed growing inside your body, and mindfulness practice being what helps it grow.  Such a powerful experience for the students involved in creating this, and a such a gift for all who read it!

The Wheel of the Year

Tomorrow begins our Memorial Day holiday weekend, so my colleagues and I thought it a good time to sit down and go over our calendar for the rest of the year.  I nearly fell out of my seat!  Three more weeks of classes??  There is still so much for us to do.  (Let’s not even consider the dust-covered reference in need of weeding.) 

Now for the past two months I have been patiently (sort of) enduring the freezing rain and grey sky, along with the unusually slow first blooms of spring, in the great anticipation of summer vacation, as most of my teacher-friends will sympathetically understand.  But sitting down today with the May and June calendars set in front of me made me wish things could slow down… just a little, and reminded me of the importance of being mindful and present and truly appreciating the wheel of the year.

The wheel of the year, for me, has to do with more than just seasonal changes; it has to do with deeply personal changes as well.  Anyone in tune with nature may inherently understand this.  (Really FEELING the seasons was one thing I sorely missed when living in the tropical climate of Florida for six years).  The wheel of MY year is as follows:

State Arboretum of VA

Spring – Spring is the time for rebirth in nature.  It is the season for spotting baby wildlife and daffodils pushing their way through cold, stubborn soil.  Personally, it is also the season for burgeoning ideas.  This is the time I take stock of what worked and didn’t work for my library program over the course of the school year, as well as in my personal life, and I begin to plan.

Orlando, FL

Summer – During summer, nature is in full swing.  All animals, birds, and bugs (eww) are out and about.  The weather permits all sorts of outdoor activity and the mood is generally festive.  Summer, for many, is a season for action.  During the summer, if I am not working, I usually take some type of class or try something new.  (Last summer it was stand-up paddle boarding!)

Long Lake, NY

Fall – Fall is the harvesting season.  We reap the benefits of the previous year’s hard work.  The leaves begin to burst forth with amazing colors, wilt, and then drop to the ground.  The animals begin to forage in preparation for the cold.  Fall, with the beginning of the new school year is a time for letting go of everything, both good and bad, in preparation for the new.  (New backpack, new notebooks, new attitude)

Sag Harbor, NY

Winter – The trees are bare.  The air is chill.  The birds are silent.  Fauna is in hibernation.  This used to be the toughest month for me, as I so love the outdoors and sun on my face.  But as we humans are forced inside and out of the elements, winter becomes a time for introspection and HYGGE.  Instead of sunshine, there is candlelight and fireplaces, warm blankets and hot tea.  For me, winter is the easiest season during which to meditate.  With the holidays it is also the time to make a marked effort to reconnect with family and friends who may have been neglected during the bustle of the other seasons.

To conclude, as we yearn for those last days of school leading to summer, be mindful of the natural and personal changes occurring throughout the wheel of the year.  (Well… we can be a LITTLE psyched for the beach!)



So what is a LIBRARIAN?  Well to me, it is more than a profession; it is a mindset.  Allow me to explain…

For some, the word “librarian” brings to mind matronly old women with bifocals and hair buns, shushing patrons and stamping books.  As a librarian myself (neither old, nor matronly), I beg to offer a slightly different perspective.  Bear with me…

Now I began my career as a high school English teacher.  Segueing into school library initially meant a position in education where the things I loved could be amplified and the things I hated, eliminated.  I could foster a love of books and reading in kids and not be held hostage to the responsibility of grading!  Additionally, my penchant for organization and love of learning could be satisfied vicariously through the research of my students.  Yay!  This is pretty much what it was in the beginning, but with the speed-of-light integration of technology, came the overhaul of education as we once knew it, and my position in the school system had to evolve or I was out.  Little did I know, the uncomfortable evolution of my cozy career would ultimately lead to a profound evolution of self.  

First, there was the “Makerspace” movement in libraries.  All of a sudden I found myself coding, 3D modeling, engineering, tinkering and more.  Talk about exiting my comfort zone!  It wasn’t easy to surrender mastery to my students.  Having been so accustomed to being the authority on everything I presented to students, I had to feel comfortable providing them access to innovations and letting them run, and oftentimes surrendering the role of “teacher” to them.  My library became the hub of inquiry and problem based learning.

On a personal level, as tech infiltrated my profession at warp speed, I felt a dire need to ground and center… to separate and meditate… to get outside and UNPLUG……

So how to reconcile the personal and the professional evolution happening in my life?  It wasn’t hard.  In addition to being a place that fosters inquiry and technological innovation, the library has always been, and always continue to be, a safe haven for kids.  It is a place without grades and without the noisy confusion of school life.  It’s a place that is at once bustling, but also quiet and serene.  What better place than the school library as a hub for mindfulness practice?  

So what is a LIBRARIAN?  A librarian to me, is an individual who loves learning and access to information, someone who is open to change and embraces inquiry, someone who appreciates the din of silence, and someone who seeks to create an atmosphere that fosters calm reflection and presence.  Even if I eventually change careers, I will always be a librarian at heart.

Communicating Mindfully With Students

There is a distinct difference between listening and hearing.  Everyone knows that.  How many times have we nodded at someone talking to us without processing a single word?  As a librarian in a lively middle school, I encounter students all day long with various requests that range from book recommendations, to tech conundrums.  Multitasking is often, sadly, necessary.  Through the hustle and bustle to get things done I have come to realize that I am not always mindful in my communication with students.  I need to work on this.  

So what is mindful communication?  To communicate mindfully, one needs to be completely focused on the other person; not distracted or half-listening.  Responses should be thoughtful, honest, and considerate.  One should try to sense the emotions of the other, and in turn, project kindness and caring.  I have always believed in the transfer of energy between individuals, and mindful communication ensures the best possible flow.

So regarding book recommendations, instead of simply pointing kids in the direction of the hottest best seller, I dig a little deeper and try to get a sense of what the students would really like to read.  I ask questions about likes, dislikes, and books previously read.  I have to be careful not to judge appearances either.  It is easy to assume that a sporty kid would like to read an athlete biography when what he is hungering for is a great mystery.  My students have their own chromebooks and often pop in for tech help.  I am careful to convey that no question is silly, and rather than merely fix the problem myself, I try whenever possible to guide the student through the steps to fixing it themselves so that they learn.  If I am checking out materials, I look students in the eye, I smile, and I ask them a question about their day.

Now these may seem like things that all educators should inherently practice.  The thing is though, we get busy and preoccupied and it is sometimes an effort to communicate mindfully.  But it is an effort well worth it.  When we interact mindfully with students we convey the message that they matter and that we care.  It is impossible to know all that happens to these students outside of school and it is crucial that we are mindful that we may be the most kindness they experience during their day.

Library Hygge


Ah, hygge…  The Danish term for me conjures images of a fireplace, a steaming mug of hot chocolate, the purring of my cats, and a soft blanket.  I only just recently took into consideration the hygge of my library.  I am truly blessed to work in an absolutely wonderful space.  Looking beyond it’s functionality, I notice the way the sun shines through the windows and illuminates the stacks, the charming student artwork carefully displayed, the cozy seating areas with beanbag chairs.  

Hygge though, by definition, is more than just a cozy appearance.  It is also a mindset and an attitude and the reason that the Danish are “the happiest people on earth.”  In order to create a true atmosphere of hygge, I need to be mindful in my communication with students in order to ensure that the space is not merely pleasant or attractive, but welcoming and warm.

Why is this important?  The life of a child nowadays is stressful; I daresay a good bit more so than when I was a young lass.  My library is the one place in school where students aren’t being graded.  There is no pressure here.  Kids who enter need to be welcomed with a warm smile and an open heart (before they are accosted for a hall pass!)