Life seems to come at us from every direction sometimes. Do this, do that. Now, take care of this issue. Oh, and don’t forget to complete that task by tonight. Then, of course, emergencies and unexpected crises seem to pop up when you are so not prepared for them. It can often feel like a lot is resting on our shoulders at any given time. How can we possibly juggle every ball that is thrown our way? How will we ever accomplish every task on our list? Stress and a strong sense of overwhelmingness washes over us on an almost daily basis with the numerous things we need to do, address, or get done. Just when we think we’ve reached a calm in the ocean of life, a storm sweeps through, disrupting everything. So, how do we do it? How do we get everything done while also holding onto just a tiny fragment of our sanity?
For me, it’s about living in the present moment. I try very hard to be mindful of what is happening at any given time. I try not to dwell on my never-ending “To-Do” list or think about the future. I try to focus on what is happening at that very second. What sounds do I hear? What am I doing? How am I feeling? Sometimes, when I feel the weight of everyday life pushing down upon me as if a giant giraffe were jumping on my head, I stop moving and doing, close my eyes, and take a few deep, mindful breaths. I wipe distractions to the left and push my focus to the right. I only think about the present. Once I open my eyes and resume what I was doing, my body and soul feel a bit lighter, as if my cortisol levels decreased. I feel more prepared to tackle life once I’ve taken a moment to reset myself and mentally recalibrate. Mindfulness techniques make a difference for me in my daily life. They help me deal with the many jabs life takes at me. Being present and aware in the moment allows me to duck, dodge, and dive a little easier than I would have been able to if I allowed my distractions and the future to take hold.
As I see the power and value in being mindful, I make use of a lot of these strategies and approaches in my classroom. I have my students participate in various mindfulness practices on an almost daily basis. When we transition from one class or activity to the next, I allow the students the opportunity to stop, recalibrate, breathe, and be more mentally present in the moment. Just this past Thursday, a local Yoga instructor worked my students through our monthly mindfulness Yoga activity. The focus was on body visualization this month. The students were way into it and very engaged. They love having the chance to stop, move around, and focus on themselves during these monthly experiences. I feel as though these mindfulness techniques and strategies have helped my students feel and be more aware, present, and focused during class. Namaste, and thank you Lisa Garside for leading these monthly sessions.
A big component of being mindful is that I am able to notice when the atmosphere of calmness and serenity becomes replaced with a sense of unease or negative energy. Following lunch this past Wednesday, when I returned to the classroom, I noticed that some of the students were huddled together, talking quietly. In my experience, when a group of people are gathered together and speaking softly, it generally means that they are talking about something that they don’t want others to know about. In a school setting, this is usually not an indication that the students are planning a big party to celebrate their awesome teacher, oh no. As I approached the group, I overheard students saying things like, “She said that she has a crush on…” and “He doesn’t even like her.” I then made a blanket statement to the class that talking about people when they are not present is disrespectful and goes against our class norms. “There is no place in this classroom for rumors or gossip,” I said. Once the entire class was present and we were about to move into Language Arts class, I took a few minutes to address this issue in a more formal way. For those students who were unaware, I explained the concepts of rumors and gossip to the class. I then talked about how our brains, evolutionarily, are wired to hear and pay attention to negative pieces of information as a way for us to stay alive and survive. “We need to now retrain our brains to focus on the positive and avoid negative things like gossip and the spreading of rumors. Rumors tend to be untrue and are hurtful towards others. If you are concerned about someone or something that you feel they have done that is upsetting to you in some way, address them individually and compassionately. Don’t talk about people behind their backs,” I shared with the class. I reminded the students that gossip and the spreading of rumors has no place here at our school or in our classroom. “If you wish to continue with this behavior, which I would highly suggest you not do, you need to not do so in this classroom,” I said. I then ended the conversation by asking if students had any questions or comments they would like to share with the class. No hands went up. And that was that.
I do believe that my students heard what I had to say and understood the messaging, as I have not been witness to any further issues of these negative behaviors in the classroom. As my fifth grade students are still learning and growing, conversations like the one I had with them on Wednesday afternoon are crucial in helping them understand what behaviors are socially acceptable and compassionate. I also want them to be aware that it is human nature to want to spread rumors and gossip, and so it is vital that we work hard to counter this tendency. The students seemed to get it.
Because I was mindful and aware of what was happening in the present moment when I walked into my classroom that afternoon, I was able to address this issue with my students when it happened. Had I not been focused and mentally aware, I wonder if I would have noticed what was happening. Perhaps I would have been thinking about tomorrow’s lesson or all the things I needed to do after school, and would have completely missed the teachable moment. I wonder what would have happened later in the day or the following day had I not stopped to address the issue of gossip and rumors. Perhaps, some of my students would have had their feelings hurt. Maybe, the emotional state of my students would have been heightened because of this negative energy circulating around the classroom. I do believe that nothing good would have come about had I not talked to my students about this issue. Being mindfully aware and present in the moment allows me to seize teachable moment opportunities like this one. While addressing the social and emotional needs of my students does take time away from the “academic curriculum,” my students would not be mentally prepared to process or learn any new information if they felt unsafe or anxious and stressed in any way. Taking the time to deal with issues as they arise in the classroom allows for the students to grow in numerous ways and feel and be safe, respected, and cared for. Taking care of my students and fostering a sense of community within my classroom means that I have to earn the trust of my students. They have to feel as though they are supported and feel heard. Being mindful and living in the present moment allows me to do just these things on a daily basis. What about you? How do you take care of yourself in order to care for others?