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Incorporating Focusing Into the Classroom

The Folio, 1997

Andrea Conway is a teacher, living in Thunder Bay, Ontario.


When I initiated focusing with my grade six class six years ago, I very cautiously introduced bits and pieces, and received such feedback as, “No offense, Mrs. Conway, but this is really boring!” It was those brutally honest comments that inspired me to seek more creative and fun ways of approaching focusing. Today, I take a far more holistic approach as I look to incorporate it in all the ways we live together in our class.

Focusing Environment

I work at creating a sort of ‘focusing environment’, both in and out of the classroom. It’s a safe atmosphere - what Carl Rogers might call a student-centered environment, where all the necessary conditions of empathy, uncon-ditional positive regard and congruence are found within the relationship between myself and the students. It is a place where teacher and student alike can risk being who we really are, not who we, or others think we should be.

It seems to me that this relationship must exist both in and out of the classroom. Students must know that if there is a problem in the school yard or on the way home from school, I will listen. All too often, students hear from teachers that, “There’s no point in telling me ... I can’t do anything about something I didn’t see.” What nonsense! We can always listen, and we can always offer to stay with that child if he chooses to spend time with how it feels on the inside.

Focusing and Curriculum

I’ve looked for ways to make focusing a part of as many subject areas as I can, and I’ve also set aside time for planned activities. Certain subjects lend themselves to an attitude of body awareness of feelings and issues: Art, Music, Literature, Drama, Physical Education. It is quite easy to incorporate focusing into these subject areas and, as well, to enhance these subjects because of the increased body sense. Yet it is also possible to integrate focusing in all subject areas, without using all the traditional Focusing Steps. There are many examples of ‘teachable moments’ for focusing: first day of school jitters, pre-exam fear, excitement over a special event or school holiday, upsetting situations that occur, in or out of class time, feelings of boredom or stupidity.

As a teacher in the Catholic School System, I can incorporate focusing into any prayer situation-even on a school level. One of my roles is to encourage students to know God - to become more whole or more fully human. Yet the religious education programs tend to teach students about God, thereby encouraging the use of the intellect or head- brain as Campbell and McMahon refer to it. We must all - teachers and students alike - come to know God from within our body or our body-brain. If we experience who God is, and if we learn to recognize the body-feel of grace, then we will come to know God in our body, in everything we do, experience and feel.

I have found focusing useful on a one-to-one basis with students who are experiencing difficulties (or who are causing difficulties!). To date, I have used focusing with primary, junior and high school level students. I’ve had some enlightening and even exciting feedback from them, which has helped me in this process of bringing focusing into the classroom.

Long Range Plan

If Focusing is to be useful in my classroom, in any grade or subject area, then it must be part of my Long Range Plan. I try to include the following in this long range planning:

Teach about this special place inside ourselves where we can trust, find answers, and KNOW what is right for us. This knowledge is empowering.

• Remember that if I want students to trust me, then I must be trustworthy. Criticism erodes trust; sarcasm and ridicule kills it.

• With students, either individually or in a group, practice paying attention to how issues feel in our bodies. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

• Learn to listen to these feelings in a caring way, even the feelings that are angry or very painful, because every feeling has something important to say and to teach us. Remember to be respectful if it is not okay to be with certain feelings and to listen to “not okay”.

• Once we can get the feeling of the issue in our body, learn to wait and listen to its story.

• Take time with my students to be grateful, in whatever way feels right, for this gift of our bodies. Reinforce the importance of this gratefulness.

Focusing With Teens

Early last spring, I was Invited to spend a half-day with forty-five high school students, in order to introduce them to Focusing. These students, ranging in age from 14-18 years, were spending their weekend at a Leadership Training Program, and I was well aware that many of them were hoping to combine learning with fun.

The workshop, entitled, Free To Be Me: Listening To The Story Inside, encouraged students to discover their “all-time favorite” ways of getting rid of their problems. It invited them to take a peek at the feelings that they tend to push away. Together we discovered how often our outsides do not match our insides and, finally, we spent time focusing as a group. I was overwhelmed by the oral and written feedback of the students, many of whom feel out of touch with their feelings and don’t know what to do about it. Of the forty-five evaluations received, thirty indicated that they wanted to attend a workshop to learn how to Focus. The following is a sample of the comments received:

“This made me think about how I never let myself be sad. I can convince myself I’m happy and I will be, but the problem never gets worked out.”

“I would have liked it if we could have gone a little deeper into the self focusing activity”

“Very beneficial for a ‘lost generation’ that doesn’t really know themselves.”

“I feel stupid. This is not a joke. I hate feeling stupid but I don’t know how to deal with it”

This winter; I carried out a brief pilot project with a grade eleven Religion class of about 35 students. Our agreement was that if, at any point, they did not consider this personally useful, or if they were bored, then either I would not come back, or they would not have to attend this particular class. Well, they did have me back and they all continued to come to this class. Now, I might be tempted to attribute their enthusiasm to my ‘brilliance’ as a teacher, but I know that’s not entirely true! The truth is that, while they did respond positively to my approach and use of humor; they were needing this look inside themselves. As one student wrote, “I found these sessions really helpful to feel free and get to know myself a lot better.” Another commented, “I’ve been having a lot of problems and now I am learning how to at least try to deal with them. It’s easier than wearing a mask.”

The Elementary School Classroom

At the elementary school level I do not use the term focusing. I refer to “listening to the story inside”, or “noticing how it feels on the inside”. I often weave focusing through subject areas. For example, when teaching something about animals, I will create an opportunity to very naturally look at all the tender and gentle ways we relate to various animals. Naturally, this leads into the importance of caring about me and creating a caring-feeling presence within ourselves.

When I’m reading a story that the children are clearly enjoying, I’ll be sure to stop at a critical point in the story so that the children are begging me to continue! This provides the opportunity next time we read together, to talk about something Marianne Thompson has spoken to her children about, namely, how it feels to be really engrossed in a story, the forward movement of the story, and wanting to know the ending. This, in turn, sets the stage for a further discussion on our own, personal stories and their forward movement.

Some Practical Considerations

First of all, I take a ‘common sense’ approach to bringing focusing into the classroom, mainly because I don’t want anyone - children, parents, teachers, or school officials, to become nervous! I have realized from the beginning that this is a long-term project and that I must introduce it to all parts of the education system in a credible, non-threatening manner.

Administration and System Support

In this section, I am hoping to create part of the picture of how I am gradually and deliberately seeking to promote awareness and gain credibility within our Board. It is apparent to me that there is a slowly growing support for focusing at various levels of our educational system.

There is no doubt that it is important to have the support of the school principal. In fact, the more administrative support the better. Perhaps that doesn’t have to happen immediately however. I do not think it is necessary to draw undue attention or to actively promote focusing as The Answer. When we hold something up in this manner, we often scare people off or turn people off. We don’t want this to happen with the principal! Nor do we want to inadvertently give rise to the fear that focusing is some sort of New Age nonsense.

My first principal took time to find out about my interests and, when she heard about focusing, decided to take a Level I workshop. She went on to become a Superintendent, so now I have a supporter in a ‘high place’!

With the next principal, I did not initially sit down and explain focusing. Rather I mentioned parts of it from time to time, by way of explaining what I was doing in my class. I used terms such as “learning to listen to what’s inside” and gained support for that concept. Gradually I mentioned the word focusing, and offered some reading material. I also offered to sit down and discuss it further any time he wanted, thereby putting the onus on him. I was never taken up on that offer! But I received support, particularly when I wanted to go to a Bio-Spiritual Focusing workshop that year.

A year and a half ago, I sought the support of the Teachers’ Federation through a grant which partially financed a trip to a Bio-Spiritual Focusing conference, where I presented some material on focusing in the classroom. This indicated a level of commitment on the Federation’s part. My current principal was a principal’s representative for the Federation, and so he knew of focusing when he came to my school last fall and has been most supportive. You might say he had a ‘vested’ interest.

Two and a half years ago, I was accepted as a member of our Board’s Crisis Response Team, with the understanding that I bring focusing as one of my contributions to the team. As it turned out, three other team members had experience with focusing and two of them had taken a level I workshop. As a result, others were wondering why they didn’t already know about focusing!

This year I was asked to carry out a half-day workshop for teachers during a professional development day, and I presented the pilot focusing course in one of the high schools. I have been asked to do ongoing work with teachers as well as guidance counselors next fall and, with administration, am examining ways of bringing focusing to more students.

Bringing Focusing into the School System

I’m including here some additional thoughts on ways to introduce focusing at a staff and student level. I am not, however, suggesting that these ideas be ‘sold’ as ways of introducing focusing. As I’ve already suggested, it may be wiser to approach this quietly and at various levels of the system, in ways that indicate its logical value and its credibility. In other words, I think we want people to want to know more about “this focusing thing that sounds like a good idea”.

• Use focusing in your own classroom and, in simple ways, in the school yard or hails when opportunities arise. Be ready to offer focusing to other teachers or situations that present themselves. It might be helpful initially to call it ‘listening inside’ or some such term that makes sense to the recipient.

• Continue introducing it, whenever possible, into the community at large, e.g. focusing workshops, presentations for volunteer community groups (support groups for parents, grief support groups), and so on. This will help the term and the concept become more commonplace. It will also slowly increase credibility as more people come to know what focusing is.

• Offer introductory presentations and workshops to teachers and other educational personnel during professional development days at either the school or the board level. (See sample agenda, etc.)

• From these presentations, determine who is interested in more exposure to focusing. Part I Focusing Workshop would be for individual growth. Part 11 Workshop would specifically address the use of focusing with children in school situations. Part I must precede Part IT.

• Look at workshop sessions of approximately three days each, not necessarily carried out on consecutive days. Consider costs - for presenters, facilities, materials and so on. NOTE: During these workshops, small groups (maximum, six per group) would meet to focus. Must have enough trained facilitators to meet this need. e.g. thirty participants need five trained focusing facilitators.

• Follow-up training for teachers is crucial since initial training will be minimal, in reality. Once teachers have tried focusing in class, follow-up is needed to address questions, concerns and the sharing of ideas. Ongoing support is also needed for their own personal focusing and additional learning regarding focusing with a companion.

• Consider similar workshops as well as retreats of 2-3 days for intermediate and high school students. These would be useful personally and in peer support.

• Pilot projects with small groups of intermediate or high school students. One hour sessions, once or twice a week. Convince the powers-that-be to consider this work as partial fulfillment of a religion or self-esteem course requirement.

• To do all this, it may be necessary to give up your day job...

A sample agenda, evaluation sheet, and a portion of the introductory notes that I used at a teacher presentation this year are included on the next page. This workshop was very well received and many of the teachers requested more extensive focusing work.


The Lakehead District

Roman Catholic Separate School Board

Professional Activity Day November 8, 1996, 1-3:30 pm



Facilitator: Andrea Conway














I was first introduced to Bio-Spiritual Focusing in the early 1970’s and kept in touch with the founders and their work from then on. I have only come to make it a part of my daily life, however, within the past six years. During this time I have become trained as a Focusing Facilitator and a Workshop presenter and, more importantly, I have found ways to make Focusing a part of my classroom life.

What I Can and Cannot Do This Afternoon

This afternoon, I can give you a ‘peek” at what Focusing is, and why and how it might be useful in your lives and in the lives of the students you interact with. Because of our limited time, I CANNOT teach you how to focus. That is, I cannot teach you the steps that are used in a one-to-one focusing situation (which has been found to be the most effective process for listening inside - focusing). I also cannot teach you how to use focusing in your classroom or counseling situations. On the other hand, if you leave today feeling that you want to learn how to use focusing in your school situation, I am prepared to put on a workshop, and I have a feeling that the Board would help us find the time and resources to do that.

How I Would Like to Approach this Workshop

While I will need to talk on a theoretical level, I would also like to introduce you to some of the concepts of focusing by utilizing a few of the exercises that I have used at the primary and at the secondary levels. In that way, I hope you will have some experience of listening with your bodies as well as your heads.




1. I found the content of the presentation


2. I found the presentation skills



3. For me, the presentation was clear and well-paced


4. Ifound the content personally helpful


5. I found the group/ pair exercises useful


6. I found the handouts


7. I am interested in attending a workshop to learn how to Focus and how to use Focusing with my students



Curriculum Exercises

During the past year and a half, I’ve been developing user-friendly materials for both primary and secondary students, and for both Catholic and public schools. I’ve found that much of the material works for any age, with minor alterations to language and approach. These exercises could fit into courses pertaining to self esteem, religious education, psychology. I have included a few sample activities on the following pages. Please note that I have added some comments that are intended as reminders for me, and may not suit someone else’s style of delivery. Also be aware that these are ‘works in progress’ and are regularly altered with use.

General Comments

I am absolutely convinced of the tremendous need for focusing in our schools and in our classrooms, even though it is by no means a ‘miracle cure’ for children with emotional or behavioral difficulties. As well, there are many classes where focusing will never be a possibility, and this will not be determined by the subject area but rather by the teacher’s openness to growth.

On the other hand, I believe that many teachers do create that safe environment where both teacher and student alike might risk being genuine, and might came to know more about who they really are. I look forward to any further pan I may play in this exciting process of bringing focusing into our schools.

Awareness Activity

This activity can be used, any time - to start off the afternoon, if there is a spare moment in the day, just before going home. It requires only one thing: quiet. This is an activity that may need to be repeated, and can help children with the whole concept of ‘body awareness’. My grade 3/4 students thought it was fun!

Look at your hand ... keep looking at it.

Now close your eyes and notice if you can “see” your hand.

Feedback by children.

Look at their hand again ... keep looking.

This time, close your eyes and try to “feel” your hand.

Feedback. This is called your “awareness”.

Let’s take this awareness to other parts of your body.

This must be done without talking, otherwise the talking will interfere with the awareness...
Look at your hand again ... keep looking.
Close your eyes and “feel” your hand.
Now try to keep your eyes closed and take your awareness to your wrists.
Can you “feel” them?
Take your awareness up to your elbows and notice if you can feel your elbows.

Open your eyes.
At this point, you can ask for feedback - who could feel their wrists, elbows? .
Anything else they noticed.

Now we’re really going to move!

Look at your hand. Close your eyes and feel it.
Let that awareness move to your eyeballs - try to “feel” them.
Let your awareness move to the tip of your nose. Can you feel it? (just answer in your head)
Move your awareness to your shoulders. How do they feel …relaxed, or tight, or maybe sore?
Notice how they feel.
Get ready ... because now you’re going to drop your awareness right down to the bottom of your feet! Can you feel them?
Finally, move your awareness to the skin between your big toe and the toe beside it. Can you feel it? Is it starting to get itchy? very, very itchy? Don’t you just want to scratch it?!!

Develop this game in whatever way works for you. When the activity has ended, have children share their experience. “What did you notice about your awareness? Was it difficult to move your awareness to certain parts of your body?”

(adaptation from Gloria Bruinix)

God Invites Me To Be Gentle With Me

My feelings are part of my own special story. When I can become very quiet and still on the inside, and when I can stay with my feelings in a gentle way, then I can hear God telling me all about ME.

It’s not always easy to be gentle with the feelings that I don’t like, or with the ones that other people tell me are “bad”. My teacher tells me that there are no “bad” feelings but that some feelings might seem “difficult”. So, why do I feel “bad” when I feel them?

I need to remember something very important. When my best friend Mary was telling me her story about feeling really angry and jealous, I felt very caring toward her. I also thought that she was so brave to share such a difficult story with me. I felt special that she would trust me with her story. I really love my friend Mary and I know that God does, too.

Now .... can I be that gentle and caring with my very own story?

Draw yourself when you are being gentle and caring with your friend, a little baby, a special pet, or someone from your family

Getting Rid of Problems

RATIONALE: Most people utilize various strategies in order to remove or fix their problems and the accompanying pain.

INTRODUCTION: When! have a problem or some sort of difficulty that causes me inner pain or depression, I almost instinctively set out to remove the pain or to fix the problem. I’m amazed at how many different strategies I’ve perfected to deal with the pain and I frequently use more than one at a time! A few of my all-time favorite strategies for getting rid of my pain are ... (name a few!)

OBJECTIVES: To encourage self-awareness about the ways in which we avoid our pain and our problems. To encourage self-disclosure.

AGE/GRADE: Intermediate and high school GROUP SIZE: Maximum 30 students

MATERIALS: flip chart paper; markers, paper, masking tape, pencils

SETTING: Classroom or space with large floor space for sitting.

TIME REQUIRED: Approximately 30 minutes.


1. As a group, brainstorm all the different ways or strategies in which we ‘get rid’ of our problems. Teacher will be looking for these kinds of strategies:

· Denial- I just pretend that everything is great; nothing’s wrong. See my smile?

· Keeping busy - very, very busy with fulfilling and useful pursuits (Goes well with denial!)

· Escape- Let’s not deal with it. The Escape routes are endless... excessive watching TY, read­ing, jogging, prayer, booze, drugs, sleeping, work, relationships

· God has often been used as the Great Fixer - If I pray sincerely enough and long enough, either God will fix my problem or I’ll be too busy praying to notice it (Handy, because then if he doesn’t, I have someone to blame!)

--Emphasize importance of both God and prayer; only you can know for sure if religion is being used to get rid of your problems--.

· Logical ‘thinking it through’, looking for solutions, finding excuses that justify the situation. (My baby left me because he was totally screwed up, and obsessed with his new guitar, he’s a real loser - and so am I as a matter of fact. And now that I’ve figured out all the logical reasons, I can smile a lot and pretend everything is great, especially now that I’m jogging 10K seven days a week and I’ve taken on three more shifts in my job....)

2. With a partner (make sure no one is left out), discuss your favorite strategies for removing pain and list your two or three all-time favorites. You might come up with ones I haven’t even used!

3. Large Group Sharing - As usual, share only what you feel comfortable sharing.

VARIATIONS: Each group of students could read a short story scenario, having to do with a ‘real’ teen issue. They would then examine and discuss which of their personal strategies they would generally use to deal with that situation. This information would be shared with the larger group.

APPLICATIONS: This exercise is appropriate for any age group. Changes can be made to the level of language and the examples given in Procedure No. I.

DEBRIEFING/EVALUATIONS/FEEDBACK: Note what is happening in partner sharing and in large group sharing. Did anything emerge from this exercise that was especially helpful?

DANGER LURKING: Some students may feel that God and prayer are being ‘put down’, and may perceive a personal slight or offence. It is important to distinguish between such things as God’s power and my using God to get what I want (my power), also the power of prayer versus the use of prayer to avoid problems.


RATIONALE: We all experience many types of feelings. Some feelings have been deemed ‘unacceptable’ and so we determine to get rid of them. How we act might not match how we feel on the inside.

INTRODUCTION: All the different ways I act; all the different ways I feel: Do they match? Am I congruent? How often is how I act totally different from how I’m feeling inside? Am I being real and genuine? Am I being ME?

OBJECTIVES: - To review the many different types of feelings that we may experience. To become aware that the messages we receive through our heads are not always the same as the ones we receive through our bodies.

-To examine the notion of ‘acceptable’ versus ‘unacceptable’ feelings. -

To introduce students to the notion of congruence

AGE/GRADE: Intermediate or high school

GROUP SIZE: Maximum 30 students, divided into groups of 4 students

SETTING: Classroom or space with large floor space for sitting


Exercise No. 1: ‘NO NO’ FEELINGS

MATERIALS: writing paper, pen or pencil, masking tape, flip chart paper, marker


1. Teacher offers example of which feelings were ‘not allowed’ in his/her home when growing up

(the NO-NO feelings). NO one had actually said they were not allowed - teacher just ‘knew’

2. Students are invited to think about which feelings were or are ‘not allowed’ at their house.

3. Students may share their thoughts with the person next to them. Make sure no one is left out.

4. On a sheet of paper, list:

a. Those feelings that were not allowed.

b. The feelings that I usually push away.

5. Large group sharing and discussion. Student comments are recorded on chart paper.

NB. Notice if the ‘not allowed’ feelings are similar to the ‘pushed away’ feelings.

6. Question to ponder: If feelings are neither good nor bad, then how is it that some are deemed ‘more acceptable’ than others? If I don’t accept all my feelings, then am I not accepting ME?

VARIATIONS: This exercise could include, What Feelings Are Not Allowed At School? or. With My Peers?

Exercise No. 2 Do My Outside Match My Insides?

MATERIALS: flip chart paper, marker for each small group, masking tape,



1. Teacher briefly discloses an example or two of times or situations when how s/he felt on the inside was very different from how s/he was acting on the outside.

2. Students are invited to think of a time when their inside feeling did not match their outside behavior. Share with large group.

3. Students complete sheet, DO MY OUTSIDES MATCH MY INSIDES?

4. Large group sharing and discussion. Student comments are recorded on chart paper.

VARIATIONS: Students could list actions I do (e.g. smoked a Joint) versus how I felt inside

(e.g. pressured and scared)

APPLICATIONS: These exercises can be use just as effectively with adults and younger students. Minor changes in language or situation examples may have to be made.

DANGER LURKING: Exercise NO. 2 could feel like a threat to someone who feels s/he needs to have that outer protective mask i.e.. “How I act on the outside”.

BEAR IN MIND: Once again, bear in mind that all students are at their own stage of development and personal readiness for exercises such as these. Not all students will consider these exercises to be of value to them. While that is to be respected, at the same time, they must be respectful of the rights of the other students to partake in the exercises in a safe and ‘put-down free’ environment.

EVALUATIONS: Ongoing student feedback should be evaluated by the teacher, as an indicator of effectiveness. As well, students should be encouraged to offer ongoing feedback regarding such things as effectiveness, appropriateness and personal value.


All the different ways I act, all the different ways I feel: Do they match? Am I congruent? How often is how I act totally different from how I’m feeling? Am I being real or genuine? AM I BEING ME?

How I Act on the Outside How I Feel On the Inside





arrogant/ snobby




Before I begin this exercise of listening inside, I would like to say that it is a very gentle exercise that will take about 10 minutes. Feel free to participate or not - whatever feels right for you. All I would ask/insist, is that if you are NOT participating, you keep your eyes closed throughout the exercise out of respect for others. I really don’t have any expectations of you and I want to assure you that there is no right or wrong way to do this. Whatever you experience will be just right for you -even if you seem to experience nothing.

Each of you should have a sheet to quietly complete at the end of the exercise. I would appreciate it if you could respond to the questions in some way. There is NO ‘right answer’ It may even be that you didn’t experience anything, and that’s perfectly OK. I’m not going to be disappointed!

The questions should only take a minute and then we will briefly share our findings if we wish with the person sitting beside us.

Following that, we will come back to the whole group. As usual, we will share only what we feel comfortable sharing.


“If anyone is feeling like they need to spend more time with an issue right now, I’m hoping you will honor that need. If you are comfortable letting me know, we can find a quiet place to talk...”



I’m inviting you to close your eyes and to take a moment to grow quiet on the inside..

See if you can start to let your awareness move down into your body perhaps like water seeping into the earth. Just notice, “How am I feeling on the inside, right now ? Maybe I’m feeling really tired this morning. Maybe something happened at home this morning, or on my way to school (work). Or perhaps I have some feelings about being here right now... Maybe it has been a great weekend and I feel good about it. Maybe I’m feeling tense or tight or sore.” Just take some time to notice how it feels on the inside right now.

Now, see if you can notice where in your body you can feel this. Ask, “Is it in my heart, or my eyes, or chest, or stomach, or my head, or just all over? Where is it?”

Ask yourself, “Is it OK to spend a bit of time with how I’m feeling inside? (pause...) If it’s not OK, then that’s the important part of my story right now, so...can I just gently be with that feeling of, “It’s not OK.”

Can I be gentle with myself and my story, and just as accepting as I would be with my friend who was telling me a difficult story?

Ask yourself, “Does that place inside need to tell me part of its story right now?” If it does, then take some time to listen. See if you can just be with it in an accepting way, rather than trying to fix it or push it away. Notice if something comes - a word or a picture, a symbol or a memory - something that seems to fit exactly how it feels inside right now...

Finally, let this place know that you may come back to it later tonight and spend more time with it... In whatever way feels right for you, give yourself a few moments to be grateful and respectful in this place of gift within yourself- perhaps in a way that says, “Thank you” to yourself.

When you are ready, you may gently open your eyes (and silently complete the questions on your sheet.)



When you finish the focusing exercise, quietly complete the following statements:

1. When I grew quiet on the inside, I noticed that I was feeling

2. I could feel ________________ in my ________________my feeling) (part of the body)

3. It felt okay to be with that feeling.   YES NO (circle)

4. I needed to spend some time with the story behind my feeling.  YES NO (circle)