Beyond the Lesson: How a Mindful Math Coach Teaches Emotional Literacy

Kim is a math coach at Title 1 schools in the West Warwick Public School District in Rhode Island.

Her practice helped her heal from a crippling bout of Lyme’s disease and build loving relationships with family and colleagues. She is currently completing our Mindful Schools Mindful Teacher Certification. 

Name: Kimberly Ochs
Cohort: Mindful Teacher Class of 2018
About my work with kids: K to 6 Math Coach at West Warwick Public Schools
Location: West Warwick, RI
Connect with me: Twitter,  Facebook

What kind of kid were you? What kind of student?

I was a very shy, insecure, quiet kid. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough and thought everyone around me was better. (Looking back, I wish I’d valued myself more.) I loved school, and “played school” on weekends and summers. My two sisters would run from me when I asked them to play school with me.

My mother passed away at the age of 34 and at the time my father was in a mental hospital.  When my sisters and I were separated, I felt a lot of sadness, struggled with self-worth and confidence. So I put all my energy into school.

Kim growing up with her sisters

How were you introduced to mindfulness?

Five years ago, I became extremely ill, with many unexplained health problems – constant pain, bedridden, fevers and panic attacks and I became depressed. I was finally diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. When a massage therapist told me about mindfulness, I researched it, and it became a passion of mine. Then I read articles about the benefits of mindfulness for children and stumbled across Mindful Schools – I took every course and loved them all.  

I am still being treated for Lyme, but mindfulness has been a major part of the healing. Mindful Schools has inspired me to share this with my students, teachers, and my district.

Can you share a memorable moment with your students?

A fifth grader’s reflection on mindfulness, “If everyone practiced mindfulness, the world would be so much better.”

One of my first mindful moments was in a fifth grade classroom. I asked the students in the beginning of the lesson if they had used mindfulness that week.

A boy named Max raised his hand. Normally Max didn’t share. He said with a proud smile, “My dad was yelling at me and was very stressed out. I taught him how to do mindful breathing and now we do it every day together.” I had immediate goosebumps.   

I knew in that moment that these lessons and sharing mindfulness with children goes way beyond the lesson. I knew I impacted Max’s life and it inspired me to do this work again and again.

Kim shared a video of many of her student reflections here.

What is one of your favorite activities when you’re teaching?

I have an activity called: Noticing EmotionsI invite two student volunteers to come up and stand one in front of the other. The student in back places her hands of the shoulders of the student in front.

Another fifth grader’s reflection on mindfulness, “I think the world will be more calm and people wouldn’t be nervous or distracted.”

Tell the student in back, “You are ANGER.” Ask ANGER to guide the student in front. She might walk all around the room – she usually turns in all directions and the student in front has no control. I ask the class, “Who is in control?” … ANGER.

Then have the student in front stop. Turn. Face ANGER and say “I see you ANGER. I feel you ANGER.” Now ask the class, “Who is in control?”

This leads to a great discussion. This visual allows students to see how emotions can control them, and with mindfulness, they can see and feel emotions, and respond with more choice.

One student shared that when she felt anger, she felt it in her chest and now she knows that is okay and she isn’t the only one. I could see this lesson was a huge relief for her.

Speaking of noticing, what have you noticed on your path? Anything surprising?

I am a math instructional coach and I took the Mindful Schools courses not knowing where they would lead me. I paid with my own money. I just knew I wanted to be a part of this important, inspiring work.

Students and teachers reach out to me for support and often say, “I love working with you because you genuinely care and don’t judge.” When I hear this, it warms my heart. Whether I am modeling a math lesson, planning with teachers, or in a meeting, I am nurturing the skills of being present, with genuine caring.

Kim with her wife

Through mindfulness, I have learned to trust my journey. I am more present in moments throughout the day. I have developed more self-compassion.  I have become a better listener, and learned not to judge myself and others so harshly. This has allowed me to become my true self and it has been so amazing. That journey has included my relationship with my wife.  She’s been my biggest supporter.  I couldn’t have done this work, or gotten healthier without her.

Thanks Kim for sharing your story!

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