Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: If we want to create classroom environments that foster real learning, calm behavior and relaxed awareness, then we as teachers need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “what state of mind are we in when our students walk in the door?” What’s your state of mind right now? What does state of mind even mean?
In MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) class I learned to observe 3 things which I consider to be the elements that define my state of mind at any given time; thoughts, sensations, and emotions. The focus of this blog is the element of thought.
What were you just thinking? Were you focused entirely on reading this blog or was your grocery list, dream vacation, and the plot of last night’s show coursing through your mind? Along with international conflicts, scientific breakthroughs, the latest trends in healthy eating and the constant stream of digital and audio stimulus, our minds have a lot of things to occupy us with. Often times, for a teacher, it is the next day’s lesson. The problem is when we are juggling all these thoughts we are not focused on the task at hand. If you want your students to focus “you have to be present for them,” even if tomorrow’s lesson isn’t rock solid.
Wait a second. Does this sound critical, demanding, even judgmental? Passing judgment is not my intention, in fact, judgment is what we all have to let go of in order to observe our own states of mind effectively. Why am I thinking about “Game of Thrones” when my student just asked me to explain semi-colons? You might be saying to yourself, “aghh… I’m such a lousy teacher,” but how does this paradigm really help anyone? Instead, let’s try – I’m thinking about “Game of Thrones” right now and Johnny wants to learn about semi-colons, hmmm… interesting.
When I begin to observe the thoughts going through my head, without kicking myself for having them, they actually seem to gently dissipate.
Self-judgment is the anchor that attaches to thoughts and weighs us down. I have discovered found that non-judgmental observation takes practice. It might start with sitting with a straight back and closed eyes, but it really doesn’t matter. Just get yourself in a position that promotes self-observation. Your position may be lying down, standing up, or even walking. Close your eyes (be careful if you are walking) and let your thoughts move through, what my instructor Janet Curry, calls “the spaciousness of your mind.” Your thoughts might actually appear as images, like in a movie. Just look at them and let them pass, as clouds pass in the sky, or as children that pass in and out of your classroom every day and every new school year.
The more I practice, the less thoughts weigh me down. Often times they become laughable. Sometimes however, thoughts can be upsetting, and even painful. The practice of mindfulness has to do with dealing with whatever is going on at the time. Of course, if negative thoughts are too much to handle during a meditation session, simply back off and stop. The other side of non-judgment is to cultivate an attitude of self-care and nurturing for yourself. Don’t give up! Would you turn a student away who was in pain? You are your own student. Observe your thoughts and know that if you can sincerely ask yourself, “what’s on your mind?” it will be all that much easier to sincerely pose that question to your wonderful students. This will help you create a classroom environment where relaxed awareness and calm behavior lead to higher learning and student success.
Thank you for reading and sharing. Check back with us soon for more thoughts on mindfulness both in and out of the classroom.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado