Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: Developing a classroom culture that promotes a relaxed awareness through mindfulness meditation is no easy task. It’s helpful for our state of mind to acknowledge that this won’t happen over night. Mastery of any new skill takes time and practice. I believe that in any educational endeavor, especially one where a paradigm shift is part of the goal, building a solid foundation is essential.
When I teach humanities, judo, and yoga I often will repeat the key points that are necessary for achieving optimal performance in each discipline. I worry about the details later. This blog is a guide for any classroom teacher who has the goal of creating a more mindful classroom and an optimal environment for learning. This is part one of seven and its focus is on the theme of leading by example.
Lead By Example
We know that human beings learn first through observation and imitation. We also know, but sometimes forget that children and adolescents in particular, have internal radar systems which detect contradiction. Their behavior will often mirror not what you say, but what you do. If I walk into my classroom thinking about the end of the day, so will my students. If you think that it is more productive for your students to be present and focused, then you better do your own work before putting that expectation upon them. You might be wondering where to begin this process of becoming present, focused and more mindful.
Step number one is to mediate, to “drop in” every day, even it’s for ninety-seconds. (For more on “dropping in” read my last blog) Simply set the timer on your phone, sit comfortably, close your eyes, straighten your back, and observe your breath. If you can develop this daily habit, then so can your students. Once you establish this new habit you might find yourself wanting to learn more about mindfulness and ways for deepening your practice. This brings us to our next step.
Step number two. Look into taking the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) eight-week course. This will help anchor meditation practice into your everyday life. Click here to watch a video of the founder of MBSR, Jon Kabat Zinn, speaking at Google. The Google talk is a bit lengthy. If you’re pressed for time, you might want to watch his shorter talk by clicking here. Search for a course near your home. When I typed in “Mindfulness in Durango CO” I found a site right away, stillpointmindfulness.com. To get a head start on training, or to just become more familiar with MBSR, I suggest reading John Kabat Zinn’s book, Full-Catastrophe-Living. (If you take the 8 week course it will be part of your curriculum.) Completing the course and reading the book will not make you immune to challenges and hardships.
In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” he refers to April as “the cruelest month of all.” For teachers, this is typically not the case. September and October have always been the doozies for me. Already, I have been overly critical of myself for at least one bombed lesson and more than one weekend has passed by in a blur of grading and curriculum planning. It is easy to let go of personal wellness practices because there is just so much to do. How can I meditate for forty to forty-five minutes a day when I have to run or hike my dogs daily, teach judo after school on Fridays, shop for food and cook it, do laundry, write a blog, and plan and grade almost every weekend?
The answer so far is, I don’t. However I have noticed that when I sit for forty to forty-five minutes twice a week, I sleep much better, worries do not weigh me down, and shorter meditations throughout the work week seem to happen more easily and yield a greater effect. This brings me to step 3. I use a series of compact disks (CD’s) that my teacher Janet Curry developed and taught us how to use in the eight-week course. There are other great resources out there to help you on your mindful journey. Click here to explore a website I have been looking into.
I love meditation CDs! Even if the meditation is not optimal, even if my mind wanders excessively, it is easier to be less critical of myself because the end of the CD comes with a sense of completion. It is rewarding to know that I set aside time for myself to do nothing. It is almost enigmatic to feel accomplished after simply sitting still, but this is part of the greater paradigm shift, in education, and in the world.
Every day in class, as I hold my singing bowl or chimes up, and wait for backs to straighten and thirty pairs of hands to relax their grips on pencils, I encourage everyone in the room to drop in. I let them know that, “This may be the only time all day someone asks you to do nothing,” and “this ninety-seconds of stillness may just make your next twenty-four hours much better.” Make your life better, and your classroom will be more productive. Do the work, drop in and meditate daily and for longer periods when you can. Lead by example and feel your classroom transform.
Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado