‘Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it’
It’s been a long time coming, but now the glimpse of a summer holiday begins to gently push itself higher on the work horizon. SATs results are in, year eleven have moved on and year seven have dipped their toes in the world of secondary education. A post sedentary scene as our focus begins to turn to family time, down time and a new album of captured summer holiday memories.
Compare these slowed down thoughts to the scenes of the previous school terms this year. How many lists have been written attached to just one goal? How many frustrations have been encountered due to obstacles that were seen as immovable? How much commotion and noise has passed through our space as classrooms are entered and left and break time duties are fulfilled. What about overscheduling ourselves? Squeezing detentions in between a bite of a sandwich and a gulp of coffee. How many teachers feel that a trip to the bathroom offers five minutes of respite? Then the Sunday blues . . . Stop. Stop. Stop!
It may not be the picture for all, but for some teachers in some schools it could well be – and with remembered mindfulness the waters can calm and seem more controllable as in the story of Moses and the Red Sea. At the heart of this I believe is self-care. As the poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self- indulgence, it is self-preservation. . .” If I don’t take care of myself, my mind becomes a roundabout and any me time becomes a tiny spec in my work life balance. This year, one of my goals was to carve out time to reflect more and take care of myself. It was like pulling on a rope in a game of tug and war. At one end was me wearing my ‘work hat’; at the other end was me wearing my ‘me time’ hat. I can’t say it was easy, and no one said it was going to be – but I did it. I learned which side to pull and when, and it strengthened my own connections with me.
Jamie Thom in his book ‘Slow Teaching’ is an advocate of putting on the brakes and allowing time to breathe. He has a valid point with valid reasons. Slowing down allows more time for reflection and a heightened awareness of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it. You have to make it happen – wall clocks and watch faces don’t freeze, but time can be given a reflective purpose and moments for reflection, to take those extra breaths, can be made.
Mindfulness Behaviour Change Basics
Strongly held beliefs are attached to our behaviours. Sometimes we know they are there and sometimes we don’t. What if we never challenged these beliefs? I suspect that behaviour shifts wouldn’t be reflected on and behaviour change wouldn’t happen. Schools are busy places – absolutely, but they are also a hub for reflection – strategic, pedagogical and student self-regulation. What’s the word commonality? Reflection.
Think of a goal – educational or not. I’ll join you in this with my work life balance. Outside of work I slow down time with photography. I can’t rush, I can’t make animals appear. My goal was to photograph a little owl and a fox. I also have a goal to go back to the Serengeti and photograph the stunning yet elusive leopard. This goal is huge and is reliant upon many other factors other than being in the right place at the right time. Starting my goal as something small and achievable, with the reward being the photograph, was self-fulfilling, gratifying and a step further in the vision of my larger goal.
Most people will aim to make a behaviour change that is too big. Smaller is better. Set a reachable goal and then add a goal or increase the goal when it is reached. Next on my list? Boxing hares. In my classroom? Pulling up an extra blind on a sunny day and noticing the positive mood the light radiates. I can do that whilst I take the register – without rushing through the list of names.
This isn’t a checklist for an agenda, but for an approach before a meeting begins. Taking ten minutes at the start of a meeting for colleagues to transition from one activity to another, to preview the agenda and connect with others. Physically, mentally and emotionally arriving at meetings as a ‘whole person’ means the person is fully present and ready for effective participation. Can you think of a time when you have rushed straight to a meeting after teaching the last period of a school day? A simple opening to a meeting can help to slow things down. Closing meetings with a sense of reflection, next steps and things learned can be a critical moment too.
Asking thoughtful questions to a colleague helps to slow things down. In my senior lead practitioner role, I’m often asked about pedagogy and ‘what do you think that looks like whole school?’ It slows down my thinking, makes me explore my thoughts and requires a thoughtful response. What if we were to ask colleagues in and outside of our subject faculty, questions such as ‘What’s made the biggest difference in your teaching this year?’ or ‘What are you feeling really good about this year?’ or student focused ‘Tell me about a student you have made the biggest difference to this year.’ It slows down thinking, encourages reflection and creates closer teaching connections too.
This one is simple. Eat lunch. Chocolate, crisps and a vat of coffee do not count. It’s too easy to get into the routine of eating lunch on the go. Nod if you have eaten your lunch whilst marking a book or completing an email admin task. Eat lunch with a colleague – but no complaining talk. You want to be draining – get complaining!
Mindfulness and Me
This summer I am going to be aware of me. I’m going to be intentional about what I am doing. My goal is to run more often again – but I can’t start at the twenty five mile mark which I waved goodbye to in January. I’ll start slowly and build up – remember small goals are better in reaching those bigger goals. My boxing hares? I’ll have to wait till March time 2020 – but any wildlife captured in between is an added bonus.
They say there is no tiredness like teacher tiredness, and when there is a light at ‘the end of term tunnel’ that tiredness becomes more apparent. This holiday I’m going to slow down, enjoy every day and recharge my batteries. Let’s face it, unlike the advert suggests – even the Duracell bunny’s batteries don’t last forever.
Photograph copyright fotoad photography