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Mindful : October 2015
After some time, I said, “I know it’s difficult to focus on school when things at home are troubling you. Just let me know when you need a break, and I can find something else for you to do.” He never took me up on this offer. After a day or two, his mood began to lift and he was able to better focus on his schoolwork. Perhaps just having the opportunity to share what was going on at home and to have a caring adult listen and understand helped him to move on. When I observe a classroom mindfully, sometimes I notice subtle but significant forms of learning that I would otherwise have missed. The little girl in the corner, intently concen- trating on folding a piece of paper, could be perceived as a child “off task.” When I take the time to let my preconceptions dissolve and view the situation through a mindful lens, I realize that she is engaging in deep concentration as she tries to make an origami bird. While she may be “off task” in the traditional sense, she is learning something significant—to generate and utilize her deep powers of concentration to accomplish a challenging and intrinsically motivated task. By reg ularly practicing mindful awareness I can recognize my strong urge to interrupt and redirect her, and I can take a moment to breathe. Applying mindfulness to our teaching is about giving ourselves and our students some “space” by accepting them for who they are and recognizing the inherent value and meaning in their motives and actions rather than trying to fit them into a mold formed by institutional expectations. Mindfulness promotes a wholesome way of living. When we become deeply aware of our habitual patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion, we begin to take responsibility for these aspects of our experience and to better understand how they affect others. We no longer see ourselves as victims of circumstances. We recognize that we have an infinite number of choices for responding to any given situation. Our old self-destructive patterns fall away, and we begin to take better care of ourselves. In 1946, The New York Times reported that Albert Einstein had sent a telegram to several hundred prominent Americans requesting their support for a nationwide campaign to promote a new way of thinking. In the telegram he said, “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” Mindfulness may hold the key to transforming our modes of thinking. G G is for “Gathering your attention.” Pause and focus your attention on your body, whether the breath or the sensation of your feet on the ground. Bringing your atten- tion to the present moment, you can be more helpful to yourself and your students. You will offer a fresh presence that is stable, grounded, discerning, and caring. R R is for “Recall your inten- tion,” that is, your reason for being a teacher. This will help you align your behavior with your values and reignite your motivation. Your altruistic motivation primes you to be caring and supportive. A A is for “Attune to yourself, your body, heart, and mind, before you attune to those around you,” including your students, their parents, and your colleagues. Attuning to yourself first lets you touch in with your biases and what is arising in your body and mind at this moment. Then, sense what your student is feeling (offer empathy) and how he or she might see the world (take their perspective). Take time to tune in to what is hap- pening. Assumptions often come from scripts—cognitive biases that interfere with the ability to perceive what is needed. Your scripts bias your perception. At this step, the key is just to notice these scripts and let them go. C C is for “Consider what will ser ve your student or colleagues.” This might include institutional expecta- tions, environmental features, social constraints, conflicting needs, and consequences. E E is for “Enacting and end- ing.” The entire GRACE pro- cess results in a principled, ethical, compassion-based action: engaging or applying principled compassion in ser- vice of others. The final step is a conclusion—the point when the action is complete and it’s time to acknowledge inwardly or interpersonally what has transpired and then move on, letting go of any lingering feelings that may keep you from being fully present for the next situation. Stressful situations are part of being a teacher—whether with challenging students, demanding parents, or colleagues who have differing views. Joan Halifax teaches nurses and other caregivers a simple practice to help them act with compassion under stressful conditions. Here is her five-step model adapted for teachers: GRACE: A Practice for Dealing With Difficult Students Used with permission of Joan Halifax. 56 mindful October 2015 education