Many teachers are several months into the new school year. As we move through the 2022-23 school year, what will you focus on in your classroom to decrease stress levels?
I have recently been listening to a podcast series by Rob Bell. Rob Bell is a speaker, writer, and leader in spirituality. Putting him in a box is hard because he speaks beyond a Christian perspective. He talks about being human in today’s world. The recent series focuses on hope. According to Bell, hope is a word for what you will give your attention to in the world.
I often use the video Monkey Business Illusion in my workshops. Watch the video before reading further if you haven’t seen the experiment. I love this experiment because it shows us that we can’t pay attention to everything, and what we do pay attention to is essential.
I was initially writing this post about the effects of the pandemic on educators and youth worldwide. I just returned from a two-week vacation in Germany and France. During the holiday, I stayed with a friend who is a middle-grade teacher and had conversations with his friends that are teachers. In these conversations, I noticed the similarities between what teachers in Europe report seeing in youth as a result of the pandemic to reports from teachers in the U.S. Educators shouldn’t overlook the effects of the pandemic. The results are far-reaching and worldwide on our youth, yet focusing on the outcomes is not the answer. I started to ask myself, “Is this what I want to focus on?” My response was, “No!”
Let’s first focus on how educators can develop skills and practices to alleviate their stress and increase wellness. Then focus on supporting youth in developing skills and practices that can lead to overall wellness.
I am working with high school teachers to integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and skills into the secondary classroom. Meena Srinivasan’s “SEL Everyday” book focuses on how secondary teachers can start introducing the practices and skills by infusing them into the classroom routine. She begins by having teachers focus on mindfulness. According to mindfulness teacher Jon Kabbit-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
How can you do that as a teacher when you have 15 different thoughts running through your head, 5 minutes to run to the bathroom, and still need to make copies for the next class? Srinivasan offers three suggestions that she refers to as the “Three T’s”.
- Tasting – when you are tasting your food at lunch or drinking coffee/tea at your desk, stop, smell, breathe deeply and slow down to taste. This activity doesn’t take long, and the practice can bring you into the present moment.
- Transition – are you waiting in line to use the copy machine, to talk to the administrator, or for the next group of students to walk through the door? One idea is to use the bell or tone that changes classes as your practice bell. If you are in elementary, as you walk back to the classroom from dropping your students off at music, slow down, walk and breathe with each step—great time to stop and take a couple of deep breaths.
- Toilet – This one is my personal favorites. As a kid, I often hid in the bathroom to read. It was the only quiet place I could find where my parents and brother would leave me alone. This is sometimes the case in school too. People now bring their phones into the bathrooms, me included, yet this is a prime place to practice slowing down, returning to our bodies, and being present.
Research is emerging that points to improved wellness by practicing mindfulness, as the practice can decrease stress and increase focus. An intentional practice of just a few minutes a day can change how you view the students walking through your door and into your classroom. Once you have started a mindfulness practice for yourself, invite your students to find times in their days when they can stop, slow down and breathe.
Mindfulness is not SEL; it’s a part of SEL that can strengthen the competencies of self-awareness and self-regulation; however, a mindfulness program on its own is not enough. You can integrate many different teaching practices to help students learn and reflect on their learning. I will share more practice and skill ideas in my upcoming blog posts.
Hope is what you focus your attention on in your life. As a result of the pandemic, there have been increasing reports of stress, anxiety, and depression. We need to acknowledge the stress level in our schools with teachers and staff and be sensitive to people struggling with mental health. Plus, bring a focus on wellness through practices and skills to bring hope to our school culture.
Wildewood Learning focuses on developing schools and organizations that implement the skills and practices needed to create a trauma-sensitive environment and a strength-based culture! Join me in this movement by sharing this newsletter with others.