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  • Writer's pictureZoe Branigan-Pipe

The Transformative Power of Tea in Education: Cultivating Mindfulness and Connection

By Zoe Branigan-Pipe

Why do I Serve Tea as Part of the Educational Program?

Yes, serving tea is unconventional in a school setting, but it's a practice that has profoundly impacted my educational approach. I believe this post will offer new insights into our food and drink choices in schools and how we can incorporate these into an experiential learning program. Since 2011- At the Innovation and Enrichment Center, where students participate in full-day workshops about once a month, tea has played a pivotal role in these gatherings. (Updated 2023.. at this time, this practice is paused)

A Ritual of Calmness and Connection

As a public teacher, adhering to all health and safety rules (like no kettles in the classroom), my team and I introduced the ritual of tea to my students uniquely. We looked into the historical culture of tea, a beverage with rich traditions across the globe. It's more than just consuming tea; it's about embracing a tradition that bridges cultures and continents, providing students with a peaceful, connecting experience.

The Role of Mental Health and Well-Being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2023)
Mental health and well-being touch all components of development. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. Well-being depends not only on the absence of problems and risks but also on the presence of factors that contribute to healthy growth and development. By nurturing and supporting students’ strengths and assets, educators help promote positive mental health and well-being in the classroom. At the same time, they can identify students who need additional support and connect them with the appropriate supports and services. What happens at school can have a significant influence on a student’s overall well-being. With a broader awareness of mental health, educators can plan instructional strategies that contribute to a supportive classroom climate for learning in all subject areas, build awareness of mental health, and reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Taking students’ well-being, including their mental health, into account when planning instructional approaches helps establish a strong foundation for learning and sets students up for success.

The Power of Tea in Building Relationships

Introducing tea or flavoured water into our classroom has led to remarkable experiences. The students eagerly anticipate discovering the day's selection. Our tea circles, where we sit and share stories, serve as an effective ice-breaker. However, the most touching moments are when I serve tea/water in a special porcelain cup (inspired by Reggio Emilia Pedagogies) and ask, "How are you today?" This simple question, combined with the act of sharing tea/water, fosters a genuine, stress-free space for open conversation.

Looking back...

During my tenure teaching a Grade 7 class (several years ago), we ended each week with a circle and tea. This was our time to reflect on the week's learning, discuss any issues, and engage in problem-solving. Tea became more than a beverage; it was a connection, reflection, and community-building tool.

The Cultural and Indigenous Significance of Tea

In my program,

we honour and acknowledge Indigenous Peoples. Tea is significant in many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) cultures. It's a connector of people, a vessel for storytelling, and a community symbol. We explore tea ceremonies and the use of local tea, highlighting the deep connection to the land and ancestors. This enriches our discussions, offering a broader perspective on its role in different cultures.

Linking Tea to Land-Based Learning and Environmental Education

We connect tea drinking to land-based learning and environmental education. This approach has opened new avenues for learning and discussion, fostering a sense of calm and focus. We even grow our mint, making the experience more tangible and connected to the earth. This resonates with our students, especially those who are gifted and twice-exceptional (2e), many of whom struggle with anxiety. The ritual of tea helps them feel calm and provides an opportunity for individual connection.

“Our connections to the land also give us a sense of belonging.” Facing History and Ourselves, 2020.

There are variations of what land-based learning means, but the one common element is the Land and the connectivity each has with the Land. Each human has learned from many teachers in their lifetime. Note that teachers in this sense does not necessarily mean a certified educator, a teacher could be a family or community member, or something they learn from, including the natural environment. How we learn is not an isolated experience. We learn about ourselves through our interaction with others and everything in the world. There are many different ways that we have been taught; ways of seeing, ways of knowing, ways of connecting and the ways of learning. Our perspectives on certain things may also change due to our interaction with new information or experiences.

Tea: A Cultural Exploration Across the Globe

Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2023)
In an inclusive education system, students must see themselves reflected in the curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, so that they can feel engaged in and empowered by their learning experiences. Students need to experience teaching and learning that reflect their needs and who they are. To ensure that this happens, educators in Ontario schools embrace culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP), which recognizes that all students learn in ways that are connected to background, language, family structure, and social or cultural identity.

Tea is a global phenomenon, and we explore its diverse cultural practices:

  • Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu): A ritualistic practice embodying harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity.

  • Moroccan Tea Culture: Known for its sweet mint tea and the art of pouring from a height, symbolizing hospitality.

  • Chinese Tea Traditions, from the Gongfu tea ceremony to the casual enjoyment of tea, reflect harmony and balance.

  • British Tea Culture: The afternoon tea tradition, a social event for interaction and bridging meal gaps.

  • Indian Chai Culture: Chai, a blend of spices, symbolizes warmth and hospitality in Indian households.

  • Ethiopian Tea Tradition: Ethiopian tea, or 'shai', often includes spices like cinnamon and cardamom, reflecting the country's rich agricultural heritage.

Exploring tea culture allows students to appreciate tea's diversity and cultural significance, similar to food heritage days. It promotes a broader understanding of global traditions and the universal aspects of tea as a shared human experience.

Integrating tea into our educational framework opens doors to a world of cultural exploration and learning, enriching our students' educational journey through the simple yet profound act of sharing tea.

Recommended Resource: For a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind our practice, listen to the Rich Roll Podcast episode 'The Zen of WuDe.' It offers insights into tea's role in health, healing, community, and environmental consciousness.

Other resources:

  1. UBC Learning Circle - Making Traditional Teas With The Indigenous Plant Diva: This session features Cease Wyss, who introduces the making of teas from various mixes of special dried and fresh medicines. Cease Wyss owns and operates the Raven and Hummingbird Tea Co., which focuses on indigenous plant use and medicinal herbs​.

  2. Raven and Hummingbird Tea Co.: This indigenous-owned herbal tea company is operated by Cease Wyss and Senaqwila Wyss on traditional Coast Salish land in Vancouver.

  3. Cultural Survival - Indigenous Peoples to Share in Tea Industry Profits: This article discusses a historic benefit-sharing agreement that was reached in South Africa in 2019. The agreement allows the Indigenous Peoples of South Africa, specifically the Khoi and San people, to benefit from the multimillion-rand rooibos tea and honeybush industries. This initiative exemplifies how indigenous communities are recognized and compensated for contributing to the global tea industry​.

  4. SBS Food—Gulbarn Tea: Gulbarn Tea is an indigenous-owned, wild-harvested native tea company that incorporates ancient wisdom in its tea brewing. It's an example of how indigenous knowledge and practices are being preserved and promoted in the modern tea industry.

  5. "A History of Tea: The Life and Times of the World's Favorite Beverage": This book details the rise of tea in Asia and its spread to the West and beyond, covering the history from the Chinese tea houses of the Tang Dynasty to Japanese tea ceremonies developed by Zen Buddhist monks​​.

  6. "The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide" by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss: This book was nominated for an IACP and James Beard Cookbook Award and received a Gourmand Award for Best Tea Book in the USA in 2008. It covers tea and tea culture in a comprehensive manner​.

  7. "Chai: The Experience of Indian Tea" by Rekha Sarin and Rajan Kapoor explores tea's history in India, tracing the story of tea from leaf to cup and delving into the culture and ceremony surrounding it across the country​.

  8. "A Social History of Tea: Tea's Influence on Commerce, Culture, and Civility" by Bruce Richardson and Jane Pettigrew offers an expanded view of the social history of tea and its influence on various aspects of society, including commerce and culture.

  9. "The Book of Tea" by Okakura Kakuzo: A classic in tea literature, this book discusses the spirit, philosophy, and art of tea as part of life, introducing the concept of ‘teaism’ as a cult founded on the adoration of beauty​.

  10. "Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties": An updated edition of this book, acclaimed by the 2014 World Tea Awards, provides a detailed guide on the history and culture of tea, including regional varieties, cultivation techniques, and flavour profiles. It also includes interviews with tea experts throughout the world​.


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