When I was a rookie teacher, I decided to take a class on Mindful teaching. The word "mindful" sparked my interest because I was under the impression that as a teacher, aren't we always mindful? I dove into this class with enthusiasm right up until our second assignment which was to write a journal entry at the end of the school day for the next 30 days . At first, I thought, ok, I can handle this. My entries were about a lesson I taught that day, or how I could encourage students to come to class prepared, or even how I could change the administration to focus more on students instead of the politics with the school board.
About ten days into my journaling, my journal was nothing but questions. Then, as the days went on another change happened in my journal entries. I was asking different questions - questions about myself and what I was actually doing with my own time. How could I model being the kind of person I wanted these kids to strive to be, especially when their awareness seemed so far out in left field most of the time? I started doing small things. I stood outside my classroom door before every class and greeted each and every student - with a hand shake or sometimes a hug. I was teaching middle school at the time in a neighborhood that mainly lived below the poverty line. I also opened my classroom up during lunch so that anyone who wanted to work on something or chat with me could come in and do so. I wanted students to always have an option B from the noise and chaos of the cafeteria.
I realize now that my introverted self was starting to create what I had in school - the safe, quiet spaces that my teachers knew I needed to recharge for the next class and the real life ways to connect with others who may not otherwise look in my direction. Life skills like shaking someone's hand when you greet them may be second nature to a lot of families; however, not all children are taught that at home. I started realizing that life skills and non-verbal communication - the way I walked into a room, stood in front of the room, and carried my self was sending powerful messages to my students. I remember how my journaling changed the way I thought about assessments. I used to have this burning desire to see just how much students remembered and would shock everyone with a pop quiz. Students were noticeably stressed and concerned about what would be on the quiz. I simply gave it to them without thinking of the internal battles that were going on in their minds. After journaling for 30 days as a "mindful teacher" I asked myself what I was noticing about my students before, during and after taking the quiz. The body language that was speaking loud and clear about their performance became quite apparent once I started paying attention. It became very obvious to me that I was setting my students up for failure and it was on purpose. This aha moment sent feelings of shame and inadequacy all through me. How could I do that to a student? How could I not have realized what I was doing?
Journaling slowly became a habit for me. I would write for months and then stop for a while. I would pick it back up and then take a break. Then I realized I did my best at guiding students when I was journaling. All that writing was somehow creating action. I was acting on my moments of clarity and questions. I began journaling WITH my students. This really blew their minds. And then I took it a step further. We left the classroom to journal. We walked outside, under the trees and sat there for a moment before we started journaling. I noticed their journal entries were longer, had more depth and were focused more on the writing prompt than ever before. I noticed students were still writing when I rang a small chime that indicated our ten minutes of journaling was over. I noticed children took a deep breath and let out a huge sigh after they wrote.
As a second year teacher, I was raising a lot of eyebrows. Veteran teachers and even the principal were a little concerned that I didn't have my classroom under control. They wanted silence, students to line up without movement and to do their work. I wanted them to read out loud with fluency, ask powerful questions, participate in socratic seminars and believe in themselves. I was already headed to a different kind of education. I see that now. I see that each and every year I taught in a system, I was trying to change it. I was trying to help individuals that wanted so much more than they were born into to move forward.
It is now the last year of my daughter's high school career. Her last first day of school will be next week. She has been one of those students that the mere mention of school sends a shock of anxiety through her. As a parent, I have always been extremely mindful of my daughter's needs and how they are different from my own - but also the same. Mindfulness takes courage. It takes the ability to step away from a struggle and look at it from all sides. As we approach September in just two days, I challenge you to journal for ten minutes a day. Don't worry, your mind will have all kinds of things to put down on paper as soon as you allow it. Giving yourself that time, just may free up some space for your mind to approach your responsibilities in life with ease and more competency throughout your day. Journaling for ten minutes gives me a chance to say what is really on my mind and then be done with it. It's such a freeing experience. If you can, keep it up. The longer you journal, the more it becomes a habit and it is a good one, I promise.
These things take time - and consistency. If you don't have it in you, that's what life coaches are for... We keep you on track, keep you doing the good work that is needed so you can follow your dreams.