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October 18, 2019


James Butler

James Butler won 2014 Teacher of the Year  for the Austin, TX, school district. 

Photo provided by The Austinot

MU Alumni Leads Professional Development Seminar on Mindfulness Practices


Jacob Hamilton

 

On Friday, Oct. 11, alumnus James Butler, who is an innovative educator, visited MU to speak at a workshop for education majors. He discussed trauma-informed teaching and how to use mindfulness techniques in the classroom to regulate students stress levels, emotional triggers and ability to focus.

Manchester students, faculty, and teaching professionals from the community gathered in the upper JYSC to hear Butler speak on the definition of mindfulness and how it can support students’ social and emotional learning. “My goal as a teacher is to educate the whole student,” said Emily Pack, a junior elementary education major. “Kids are more than test scores and academic achievements. I want to teach my students math, but I also want to teach them how to resolve conflict and manage their stress in healthy ways.”

Butler referenced a variety of techniques that teachers could use to help them and their students manage often daily struggles of stress, anxiety and depression. These techniques include methods such as different breathing techniques, stretches and self-soothing exercises for relaxation and clarity of mind.  Butler presented techniques he researched for his book “Mindful Classrooms: Daily 5-Minute Practices to Support Social-Emotional Learning (PreK to Grade 5).” The book is informational, and explores concepts such as acceptance, perspective, and mindfulness as well as how to apply these in a daily lesson plan or situations.

The goal of social-emotional learning is to teach children strategies on how to manage their own emotional states so that it can extend beyond the classroom and they can use breathing techniques to help them regulate themselves during stressful tests, when they have a conflict with coworker or when they feel overwhelmed by their at-home drama.

On Friday, Butler visited various education classrooms to take his workshop a step further. He said that teachers were often so worried about taking care of and nurturing other people that they forget to take a few minutes to check in with themselves. He asked each of the students to take a piece of paper and fold into six squares. In the first square he asked the education majors to write down a link to mindfulness resources that they could access for themselves and their class. In the next few boxes he set his timer for two minutes and had people ‘draw’ and ‘doodle’. He said that there is a significant amount of research that shows that doodling and drawing can significantly reduce stress and anxiety because it allows people to focus on a simple task rather than the mounting pressure and stress.

“It was amazing how much better I felt after I took a few minutes to focus on myself,” said Destinee Boutwell, senior secondary education major. “I have so many things that I have to do that attending class feels like an inconvenience sometimes. Between my honors thesis, my English SCE, my Education SCE, studying for my licensure exam and my regular class load there isn’t much time to take a few deep breaths. However, what I learned when James came to our class was that the world doesn’t end when I take two minutes to check in with myself. I even felt much more productive afterward.”

In the next few practices he showed future educators how to center themselves by performing breathing exercises. After each activity he reminded people to “check-in with themselves.”  Butler visited Manchester University on Homecoming weekend, traveling from Austin, TX. He is originally from Cleveland, OH, but attended Manchester College and graduated in 2002. He was active on campus, having been a self-proclaimed “super fan” and rallying students around different activities for school spirit and other things on campus.

Butler moved to Austin after college and began his teaching career in kindergarten and preschool. In 2014, Butler won Teacher of the Year for the entirety of the Austin School District. He carries a light hearted and comforting air about him. He seems quick to laugh or crack a joke, which helps him to convey fairly serious subject matter in a graceful manner. He, like many others, encountered struggles in his life, and yet he seems determined not to be defined by them. Instead he learned from his struggles, and, like a great teacher, he helps others to learn and work through struggles of their own.

At the workshop, Butler was described by a friend’s mother as “one of the kindest and most inspiring people [she] has ever had the pleasure of meeting.”