Teaching and Mindfulness:
While we often think about mindfulness in the context of meditation, it is a strategy that is also useful in teaching practice.
Towards the end of the year both students and teachers start to get a little… done. Like an overcooked steak, the juices aren’t flowing and you’re starting to feel like tough leather. The end of the school year also coincidentally coincides with barbecue season. How to cope with this burnout?
Mindfulness is focusing on the present – present state of mind, present feelings, and present experiences – then observing yourself without judgement. This helps to put day to day anxieties and troubles in perspective and focus on what can be done in the present time, reducing anxiety and worry about the past and the future.
This is easier said than done, especially in teaching, because a teacher needs to pay attention to a lot more than their personal present experience, they need to worry about the actions of the students around them.
How can being mindful help teachers?
Taking that extra 5 seconds to notice your blood pressure rising, a clenching of teeth, a feeling of anger and then an extra 5 seconds to realise you are stressing out, to take those deep breaths and to calm down with a “this too shall pass”, can save yourself from an angry snap that does no favours to yourself or your students.
A study by Lisa Flook, a scientist at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds suggested that teacher burnout is less in teachers that are practicing mindfulness – possibly by “buffering them” from the daily stressful situations that take place in the classroom.
Being Compassionate (to ourselves)
Teachers spend a lot of their day being compassionate and trying to model compassionate behaviour. We are often not compassionate to ourselves, instead beating ourselves up over mistakes, interactions that could have gone better, lessons that maybe needed a bit more work.
A solid mindfulness practice involves engaging the present for what it is, not adding expectations. At face value – the lesson may have gone better, but it’s over now, and there will be another opportunity to do things differently. With practice we can be kinder to ourselves and more open to experience.
Lisa Flook also writes about creating this Oasis Within, essentially a different lens through which to experience all the good and all the bad that teachers deal with on a day to day basis.
Understand the Difficult Students
Your worst student will have the best attendance. I don’t know where I first read this, but it has always been true for me.
We can’t control the behaviour of the kids in the classroom, we can really only control ourselves and our responses. By becoming more aware of our own emotional responses we can better understand why students react to us they way that they do, even to the little things that we don’t know we are doing.
If we feel threatened, the behaviour is likely a bid for power. If we feel hurt, the behavior is likely an attempt at revenge, and if we feel discouraged, the student is likely giving up. These feelings can help us respond more appropriately to the underlying issues of our students, and help us shift from a negative appraisal to a state of compassion. – Seven Ways Mindfulness can Help Teachers
I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface on a new teaching practice, so here is a list of what I am reading next:
“Teach, Breathe, Learn provides accessible, practical application of mindfulness to overcome challenges faced during the school day.”
“The intricate definitions, impactful activities, and clear process for practicing mindfulness are both practical and accessible for any teacher. In fact, it is difficult to read her book without wanting to practice mindfulness. — Teachers College Record”
A selection of articles written by researchers and teachers on mindfulness classroom activities and practice for teachers.
The kids that need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways …