Transforming the World, One Poem at a Time

Being a teenager can be tough, so Kyla Wendell McIntyre at Sheldon William Collegiate High School developed a Mindful Creative Writing course. Students are listening to and trusting each other.

We caught up with Kyla to learn more about her students and the inspiration for this video.

Name:  Kyla Wendell McIntyre
Cohort:  Mindful Teacher Class of 2017
My work with kids:  Secondary Teacher (English as an Additional Language, Mindfulness, Creative Writing)
School:  Sheldon-Williams Collegiate High School
Location:  Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Connect with me:  Facebook

About my school community:  Sheldon-Williams Collegiate is a school with a diverse student population. 25% of the students at our school speak a language other than English as their first language.

Why did you create the Mindful Creative Writing course?

Our Mindful Creative Writing class intentionally brings together students from different backgrounds. This year’s class included students with autism, refugee experiences, First Nations backgrounds, immigrant experiences, recent newcomers, all levels of English, and students from over ten different cultural backgrounds. The course creates reciprocal learning opportunities between newcomers and Canadian students while supporting all students to improve their English skills.

The students’ stories are the curriculum. Whatever they want to share is welcome. When students’ stories change, the class “curriculum” changes – what we discuss, learn and become aware of all changes! This is a unique class in that students are able to take this course more than once, often with heartening results.

We become a tight community and start to realize that we all feel like outsiders in some part of our lives. Mindfulness supports them as we explore these insights and discover the courage to share ourselves through their writing.

One student with autism and a tendency to panic talked about how mindfulness in this class supported him – it allowed him to get through his days in a good way, rather than just surviving.  

How does the impact of your Mindful Creative Writing class reach beyond your classroom walls?

Every year we have a week of Multicultural Celebration – the purpose is to honor the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and celebrate the cultures and diversity present at our school. Our class shares their writing at the assembly – the whole school attends and is so supportive of our students as they perform.

Students who came in feeling like outsiders can be transformed by this process. Some writers had never performed prior to this class, but by the end, they are making eye contact, and conveying confidence and vulnerability.

As newcomers who don’t speak English readily, sharing their voices is so important. And it’s important to hear these voices. I am inspired how sharing these stories impacts others. Many teens struggle with self-acceptance. When my students perform, other students in the audience can find a part of themselves in these stories.

When one student shared something deeply personal during her final performance for our class, the whole class really held her. Two boys ran to find Kleenex – so many of us were in tears.

What was the inspiration for this video?

The way the students are able to come together and collaborate across cultures in order to really know each other has really been transformative and mindfulness has supported this to happen. I think the video shows how mindfulness is for people from ALL backgrounds and cultures.

Our students wanted to make the video to be viewed by as many people as possible – they were hoping it would ripple into our school, community, and beyond. Please watch and share widely!

What impact have you seen in your Refugee students?

One of my Syrian students, Mays, conveyed this to the President of our Saskatchewan Teachers Federation:

“This class has helped make me strong because it improved my English, taught me mindfulness, gave me confidence, and helped me make friends….Before I came to Canada, I had a difficult life in Syria. There was a war and it was very unsafe. When I came to Canada, I started mindfulness at Sheldon Williams Collegiate, it was helpful because when I had a bad memory from the war, I could realize that was the past and now I am in the present here in Canada and I am safe.”

What are your hopes for mindfulness in education?

It’s no exaggeration to say mindfulness can transform the world – if kids can learn mindfulness, they can transform the world from the inside out. This is a gift we owe to kids – all kids, not just the ones who have the money to pay for it, who’re born into a certain class or color. We all gain more when our classrooms are a mix of kids. Saskatchewan’s motto is “Multis e gentibus vires,” or “From Many Peoples Strength.” Working with my students is the way I’m helping transform the world, one poem at a time.

How did you come to mindfulness yourself?

Mindfulness practice helped me get through the challenges of feeling too stretched as a wife, mother, and teacher when I had young children and was in a new school. I focused on my personal practice for two or three years before discovering Mindful Schools. For an entire year, my mindful presence in the classroom was my focus: I truly believe my students absorbed something even though I never said the word “mindfulness.”

When my practice is solid, my teaching is more alive because I’m able to respond to the students in the moment. I’m not attached to expectations or what I think is going to happen on a certain day. Students can show up in ways that surprise me, everyday – and I can be with them in that moment.

What do you love to do for fun?

I love to be with my family at our cabin. We go and read books and play in the yard, walk to the nearby lake and go to the beach. It’s simple, and so it’s perfect. I love simplicity. I like wide open spaces – in my surroundings, in my practice, and in myself.

Thanks Kyla for sharing your story!

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