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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Teachers: Are you Conscious?

Mindfulness-or training one’s attention to focus on the present moment-has become all the rage, filtering into schools and classrooms. Books and articles suggest that teachers and students can benefit from mindfulness practices such as mindful breathing, meditation, and mindful walking.

While I subscribe to the concept of mindfulness, the term might put off some educators, who don’t want to get up in cultural nuances or esoteric practices. Therefore, let’s use the phrase, conscious teaching, for this the purpose of this blog.

How conscious are you of your teaching? Are you aware of the instructional strategies you use, how you interact with students, where you stand in the classroom when teaching? Do you know whether you call more on boys or girls? Quick story-I recall my first years of teaching, when a mentor teacher observed me and informed me that I called on females more than males and gave quicker consequences to males. I didn’t even realize I was doing this.

But that’s what I’m referring to—becoming conscious of all facets of your practice. Why does it matter? Becoming aware of one’s practices could be considered the first step to improvement and professional development. We cannot improve an area of teaching until we first identify there is a problem, or at least room to grow. Second, becoming a conscious educator can help you pinpoint areas of teaching that are holding students back from optimal learning and more positive learning outcomes. Finally, conscious teaching can help minimize the stress and frustrations that come with the profession.

The following strategies can assist in becoming more conscious of your pedagogy.

Journaling

Just the mere act of writing about your teaching can grow your pedagogical consciousness. Writing is a form of thinking, therefore, writing about your teaching helps you focus your awareness on that activity. You don’t have to spend hours journaling; even five-to-ten minutes a day, after you have taught or in the morning before class, can help you establish a regular writing routine. Blogging (like I’m doing now) is another great way to write about your practice and discourse with the larger teaching community.

Stream of Consciousness Writing

This technique comes from professor and poet, Robert Tremmel. He recommends trying a free-writing exercise, where you write down whatever comes to mind without stopping yourself with editorial comments. For example, you could write about teaching a particular lesson or how you handled a disruptive student, reliving and describing the scene unfolding. You also want to write about the thoughts and feelings you experienced as this event occurred. This will make you more conscious of the thought patterns you experience when teaching.

Paying Attention

Another technique that Tremmel created involves simply paying attention when responding to students’ coursework.  Tremmel discusses a scenario when a teacher candidate struggled with planning instruction and how he advised this candidate to also be mindful of the students’ responses as well as his own thoughts and feelings during the lesson—as the real problem was the candidate’s inability to perceive what occurred and make adjustments.

You might discover that you act impatient with certain students or respond positively or negatively to specific types of student work.

Video Lessons

Initially, teachers might resist the idea of video-recording themselves using laptops or cell phones. With today’s technology, however, it’s very easy to video your lessons and go back and review them. While you may feel uncomfortable at first, this practice is a very practical way to become more aware of your teaching practices, including mannerisms, tone of voice, movement, student interactions, etc.

Just Breathe

A final method to become a more conscious teacher is to simply observe your breath periodically. You can do this by becoming aware of your in-breath and out-breath. Doing this every so often, maybe once per hour of teaching, will help you slow down and become more aware of your teaching as well as your thoughts and emotions. You may even find that it calms you and reduces stress.

Try these simple techniques to become more conscious of what you are doing in the classroom. Create an awareness of your “teaching mind” as well as your instructional strategies and practices. From that space, you can then create dynamic, positive change.