Paula Azevedo, PhD
Mindfully teaching during challenging times
No matter what the fall semester is going to look like at your school we’re not returning to our classrooms like we normally would. So, how are we going to show up as mindful teachers whether that’s in a modified face-to-face class or fully online? Today, I’m going to share three ways I’m considering approaching this new school year as an educator.
Let me be upfront with you...I don’t have all the answers about how to approach this school year, but I do have suggestions, and you can take them or leave them. I totally understand that every educators’ situation is different and we’re all experiencing these challenges in different ways and we are also all coming into this challenge with our own unique knowledge, gifts and talents.
So, my first suggestion on how to mindfully teach during challenging times is to start with self-awareness. By grounding yourself in recognizing your own mindset, emotional state, and values. And this kind of self-awareness takes radical honesty. So, this isn’t about the superficial stuff. This is the deep, hard work, brutal examination of what you truly believe and why do you believe what you believe? Who told you those “truths”? This is deep inner work. And it can sometimes lead to dismantling of old beliefs that never served you or maybe it is no longer true for you. You’re an evolving human. It’s natural to shed old beliefs. So, this is difficult work and can’t be done without self-compassion. I can spend three hours unpacking the term “self-compassion”, but in essence what I mean is to do this inner work means that it needs to be done with curiosity and non-judgment.
Be Socially Aware
The second suggestion I have for you as you walk into this new school year is to be socially aware by building relationships with diverse people, especially your students, their families, and the school community. Really push yourself to engage with people who have different backgrounds, unique experiences, and have perspectives that you don’t share or are new to you. This includes building relationships with your students, which I’m not going to go into too much here. But, there are a couple of things I want to highlight about being socially aware. First, as educators we are here to bear witness to our students’ joys, but also to their pain. And when we bear witness it doesn’t mean to have an answer, to have a solution, but rather to just listen, be fully present and be a support in their healing. As mindful teachers you have to become comfortable with not knowing, not having any answer. And then the second part of being socially aware is using your power as educators to advocate for yourself, for your students, their families, and the school community. We as teachers have way more power than we tend to believe, so use your voice when you or your students are in an unsafe environment or situation especially now during the pandemic.
Finally, something that is not really talked about in the field of education is the need for radical self-care. Self-care is vital for the work we do because we can easily burn out if we don’t take care of ourselves. Those of us who go into industries that serve others can easily attend to other people’s needs, but we find it far more challenging to care for ourselves. You can’t teach, and especially teach mindfully, without self-care. What’s radical about it is that it’s not the superficial stuff that we often hear about when it comes to self-care. And there’s nothing wrong with superficial self-care stuff like getting your hair done, a massage, enjoying a nice bottle of wine or your favorite beer. These can be awesome and have their place and time, but when you’re doing the hard inner and outer work of a mindful teacher, especially during challenging times there’s a need for something a bit more radical meaning more meaningful and sustaining your life’s work. So, this includes things like sitting in stillness and silence and being present with loving awareness of whatever arises within you and outside of you. It means sometimes turning off social media. It means being in community with people that are supportive and loving. It means doing things outside of your work that brings you joy. I recently wrote and created a video about self-care. Be sure to check it out HERE.
You’re working with the heart
Look, there is no question that this school year is going to be unusual and there are going to be some challenges. But, these three suggestions I just shared with you of self-awareness, social awareness and radical self care all have something in common: they all deal with the heart. In our work we are often living in our heads, which is important, education has to deal with the mind, but we also have to remember that we are human beings and our students are also human who are so complex and multifaceted, with unique gifts and interests and just trying to figure out where they fit in in this crazy world. And as teachers our job is to support them in this part of their life’s journey, yes to educate the mind, but to also be present with ourselves and our students with an open heart.
To help you start the school year with mindfulness practices I have a free guide on ways to incorporate mindfulness during the new school year. You can find the link to that guide HERE.
And, if you’re interested in starting a mindfulness practice or you have practice but you want to deepen your practice I have an online course called 30 Days of Mindful Moments. You can enroll today. Be sure to check it out HERE.