My Year of Mindfulness in Education

My teachers know me as a geek about how the brain works and helping our students better understand their own minds. This has become my passion.

For example, I met with our students before state assessments this year and took them through the steps of mindful breathing, explaining their brains’ need for oxygen when they get stressed. Together we practiced relaxation strategies and breathing. Some of them really took to it. We must have looked like a giant prayer group or yoga class, splayed all over the cafeteria, discussing other possible times in their lives that this practice might come in handy and marvelling how fast hey felt “chillaxed.” Thank goodness that particular moment wasn’t chosen for some type of state or district audit, eh?

And all too often, an agitated kiddo or two will find themselves in my office after a melt down of some sort and eventually wind up in discussion with me about the brain’s frontal lobe and the need to “cool it off” before acting on their anger, perhaps with one of the intentional strategies we practice together:

But they need more.

These examples of brief interactions with me or similar experiences with our campus counselor cannot hope to combat the chronic stress that our students from poverty experience on a daily basis.

This kind of stress exerts a devastating, insidious influence on children’s physical, psychological, emotional, and cognitive functioning-areas that affect brain development, academic success, and social competence.
-Eric Jensen, Teaching with Poverty in Mind

So, I should ask all of my teachers to bring mindful practices into their classrooms to foster brain health? Bring in the consultants? Start the training? Check to make sure that the language and practices are being used across the campus? I mean, this would give the students more practice with a discipline that could improve retention, decrease stress, and facilitate self-awareness, among other things. Let’s get started. Right?

But how can I ask my teachers to commit to one more thing, learn one more skill that is the “sure bet” to cultivate a healthy learning environment, especially when I have never been successful in committing to this practice with any real discipline for myself.

I mean, I am a busy woman. Who has time for daily stillness? Have you seen my schedule during the school year? I simply do not have time to take care of myself and/or model good choices for others. We have a school to run.

I’m being silly, but isn’t that really what my lack of discipline really communicates? If I think a daily routine of mindfulness as a way to begin my morning with a healthy mindset is that beneficial… that crucial to our campus climate… then why have I not prioritized my own practice?

Don’t get me wrong, I have attempted the personal discipline of mindfulness/meditation/journaling over the years but, due to busyness, laziness, or lack of accountability, my practice fell by the wayside. My lack of consistency did not, however, deter me from coaching others on its benefits and perpetually espousing the importance of brain health in the stressful environment of public education, especially at low-income campuses like the ones I have served.

Hypocrite much?

Well, no more.

Official decree (insert trumpet flourish)-Starting on June 22, 2016, the next 12 months will constitute My Year of Mindfulness in Education.

Lord help me.

I know what you’re saying-starting this in the summer is cheating because, as an educator, I don’t have to going to work every single day and so I can sleep in, sit down, relax, and take my time to meditate. I prefer to look at it as intentional planning for success. Hopefully this way, by the time I am back on contract, I will have developed a strong habit.

So, here goes… I may have just gotten really nauseous that I am actually going to put my plan “out there” like this.

Day One

After setting the timer and taking about 3 full minutes to get situated on my Zafu and Zabuton… I know… fancy… My brain would not shut up.

Should I have showered first? I actually, literally stink.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I wish I had made my coffee first. No, then I really wouldn’t be able to still my mind.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I should really have music playing. Is that the garbage truck already?

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I am not throwing away my shot. I am not throwing away my shot. You know, just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry… Not now, Hamilton.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Maybe I could just meditate from my bed; that way my feet would not be going to sleep right now.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

And then. Miracle of all miracles. For a brief, but sustained few minutes, I got still. All the way. Inside my head.

In these moments, I saw washes of color. My heartbeat seemed to gently sway my entire body. No manic questioning, flurry of thoughts, pressures of ambition, or concern about acceptance. I was present in my body.

When it was time to open my eyes, I was feeling the same calm that comes about 20 minutes after I take my daily dose of Lexapro. Probably too much information. I stood up with a desire to read, to clean, to move. Not being a morning person, these desires are legitimately beneficial. And they weren’t just desires. They turned into action. I swept, read, visited with my daughter in Iceland, made lunch, moving from moment to moment with purpose, not judgement.

And the actual process? It wasn’t so bad. I made it through 20 minutes, even though my brain was everywhere, and then I decided that it would actually be better to get some help. I chose the Calm app, which led me through a 10 minute session of “Paying Attention.” So far, I am doing a pretty good job of not judging myself too harshly for just how short of an attention span I actually have at the moment.

I don’t know what Day Two will bring, but I’m super proud of myself for this commitment I have made.

Today’s success is rich. Yesterday’s events no longer exist. Tomorrow does not yet exist either. Only right now, and right now is good. -Me

Here’s another educator’s thoughts on the benefits of mindfulness on her own practice: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2i2B44sLVCM.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.