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Mindfulness for Educators

There’s no denying that being a teacher in our modern age can be difficult. The role of any public servant can be trying at times, as we work long hours with very little direct appreciation. It is certainly a labor of love; a badge we wear proudly. Yet we must not forget, too, that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t possibly take care of our students. We educators must find ways to keep balance.

“Mindfulness” is a buzz word you’re hearing a lot about in the world of public health and self-care. At the same time, it is something that might sound somewhat complicated or mystical to the everyday person. It’s not. When people are talking about “mindfulness”, they are simply talking about taking a moment to check your mind:  Are you in the present moment?  Are you obsessing about the future?  Are you buried in the junk heap of the past?  Practicing mindfulness and taking time for meditation during the day is an oft-overlooked survival tool that should be in every teacher’s toolbox. It’ll help you to stay present with your life, and therefore your teaching … making sure you are fully aware and invested in your students, paying close attention to their needs and responding with the utmost compassion and care

Education World has some tips for the hard-working, dedicated modern educator to take pause to nurture the self and recharge for the day’s great work.

Mindfulness Meditations During the Work Day

Meditation is by no means just for yogis and zen masters. Meditation is about taking pause to reconnect to yourself and reconnect to the present moment, re-centering yourself and checking your mind to assure that you are dealing with what is directly in front of you and not ruminating about the mistakes of yesterday or tomorrow’s upcoming challenges. In this mindfulness meditative practice video by Dr. Jaak Rakfeldt, PH.D., LSW, he asks us to acknowledge the willful busy mind, access the willing mind open to possibilities, and ultimately accept them both as realities of the present moment. This allows us to name the stormy weather of our thoughts, witness and validate them, and take a moment to simply “be”. Taking a moment or two out of your day to re-center like this (in a teacher’s lounge or even your car) allows us to stop obsessing about the mountain of work and all of the emotions attached to it, grab a shovel, and start digging somewhere. The truth is, when we are better connected to the present moment, we make better choices working with our students.

Finding “Flow” Daily

For many of us, the day never ends: Up early, prepping for lessons, classroom, meetings, grading, reflection, after school support, chores, food, and pass out for the night. Whoof! We know it all too well.However, you might find it useful to take 10 to 15 minutes every once in a while to really lose yourself in a moment of complete engagement.  In this video, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PH.D. speaks very explicitly about the benefits of taking time in life to immerse in a phenomenon he refers to as “flow”. This could manifest itself as time spent with an instrument, gardening, physical exercise, adult coloring books – anything you could identify as an activity you feel you could “lose yourself” in. The benefits to an educator, however, can be priceless. A feeling of flow even once or twice in a week can help teachers to avoid burn out and emotional fatigue, and encourage balance and greater life satisfaction.

Pace Your Work: Pomodoro

The never-ending pile of paperwork. When it hits you hard, you sometimes start to resent how much of your time and energy goes into your profession. About 40 essays or 50 lab reports in, your mind starts to numb and you dream of sunshine and the small tiki bar you could maybe open down on the coast. Time management expert Francesco Cirillo developed a way to help workers stay fresh and feel balanced in the midst of these long work sessions, called the “pomodoro technique”. Named after his tomato-shaped kitchen timer, Cirillo suggests we set a timer that infuses our focused work time with periodic “mind breaks” where we can embrace a new task or goal in the intercessions. Twenty-five minutes of work for every 5-10 minutes of enjoyable recreation can really change how we perceive how our time is spent – not to mention the value of pursuing leisure. Choosing an activity that helps you to achieve “flow” (see above), too, absolutely optimizes its benefits. You might also find this pomodoro timer useful to your daily practice.

Pamper Nights

For some, this might seem silly. But you’d be impressed by how quickly scheduled “me time” can increase workplace satisfaction. Think about what a night devoted to pampering looks like for you. A hot bath, wine, dark chocolate, and a massage might be your bag. Or perhaps a "Doctor Who" marathon with the cats, your favorite snacks, a big blanket, and a nice long nap. These things remind us that we deserve tender self-care and attention. We owe it to ourselves. As educators, we’re doing our very best in the chaos of public education, and need a reward from time to time. Our biggest recommendation is that you must schedule it: add it to the Google calendar, and prioritize it to your monthly or weekly routine. This is non-negotiable.

Hang Out with Students

We’ll admit, at first glance, this might seem counterintuitive. Aren’t students indirectly linked to our daily stress? However, we must accept that we as educators can sometimes get lost in the power dynamic between teacher and student. Surely, this is a sacred relationship, and it is this professional bond that allows us to encourage budding minds to grow. Still, we sometimes forget that our students are not just academics, starving for knowledge. They are complex human beings, with passions unrelated to our content, skills we might not get to explore in the classroom, and very real struggles at home and in the community. Intuitively, we know this. But actively spending that time at a student basketball game brings the idea into the present moment. Going out on a field trip into the community can bring out sides of students you didn’t even know existed. Finding time to sit back and wax poetic about the complexities of life with a student, either at the bus stop or in those few moments in the morning before your first lesson, can do wonders for improving in-class management and maintaining healthy and positive academic relationships.

Physical Exercise

Easier said than done. For some of us, the last thing we want to do after a day of running around in the classroom is to run around in a gym. Completely justified. Unfortunately for this mindset, the science tells us that even a small amount of exercise can do wonders in helping us manage our daily stresses.  According to the American Psychological Association, “Sixty-two percent of adults who say they exercise or walk to help manage stress say the technique is very or extremely effective.” When our minds are less filled with the static of catastrophizing and unhealthy ruminations, we are more present with the students and their needs. This is all well and good, but how can a teacher find the time? Simply take a short walk around the school during a prep period.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout” as it relates to decreases feelings of stress and anxiety. Ten minutes away from your work will make you instantly more efficient when you return. You might even get a gym membership, but remember you don’t have to spend an afternoon there. Twenty minutes on a treadmill or on an elliptical can get that heart rate up and get your mind back in the moment. Whatever you choose, build it into your day. Don’t consider the “work day” done until you’ve made some movement. The American Psychological Association says that although “Half of adults (50 percent) say that being physically active or fit is extremely or very important to them … only 27 percent report doing an excellent or very good job of achieving this.”

Try an App

There are a number of phenomenal mindfulness apps out there that support both self-reflection and meditative moments you can use in the course of the school day. Below, find links to a collection of mindfulness apps for both iPhone and Android. Many provide extremely quick, mid-day meditations to help teachers to recenter and arrive to the present moment. All apps are free.

Stop, Breathe, and Think is a guided meditation app that not only allows you to choose your own meditation experience, but also suggests useful meditations, based on how you are feeling on that particular day.

Calm is set up for both online browsing and app use, which makes it incredibly accessible during the work day.Includes an array of meditative visuals and soundscapes with quick meditative moments, full guided meditations, and the ability to track your progress.

Smiling Mind is a user-friendly introductory meditative app that provides specific meditation programs for different age groups, ranging from age 7 to adult, including short as well as extended mindfulness exercises.

Insight Timer is a great app that provides a number of guided meditations, but also includes a simple meditation timer you can use anywhere.

Omvana is more of a personal library of meditation and mindfulness talks by the top professionals in the field.From guided meditations to thoughtful lessons, this app allows users easy access to superb training and reflections.

Written and compiled by Keith Lambert, Education World Contributor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.