Day 93: The Anticlimax

Our last day of classes was last Thursday, and this week is a series of testing days, advisory days, and invitation-only days for students to recoup standards. As such, there is no real pinnacle moment. 2/3 of my classes already said goodbye to our seniors, and last Thursday, I told my students I enjoyed getting to know them, asked them to do some reflection on the class, and bid my adieus, to be seen only here and there throughout this week.

It is a long slow slide into summer… as has been my commitment to this mindful teaching blog these last few weeks. I recognize my project-oriented steam has been waning as we finally have some consistently nice weather around here and I’m soaking up every ray of sunshine I can find. Summer begs me to live, less reflectively, more spontaneously, playfully, and energetically. So I consent.

Here, I will create my pinnacle moment, knowing we will return together next year to keep exploring these ideas and practices. There is no end, really. But, gratefully, we have time now to step away. To recharge. And to return anew in the fall.

Until then. Enjoy the sun. Enjoy the slide. Enjoy the ride.

Day 92: Finding Our Voice

2014 Climate March with Mum (my inspiration)

2014 Climate March with Mum (my inspiration)

One of the critiques levied against bringing mindfulness to schools is that it is meant to create unquestioning automaton students who exhibit peace and calm in the face of a broken system (a more in depth response to that critique can be found here). The same has been feared of introducing it to educators: do the self care so you are more amenable to untenable conditions.

From my experience, if shared appropriately we gain the insight needed in order to see our conditions clearly, unflinchingly. We are more closely attuned to what works for us and what doesn’t. We are more able to speak our truth and act in healthy, effective, compassionate ways.

In fact, as I shared a few days ago, one of my students wrote this about the impact of learning mindfulness:

“I've found that I can be more calm about situations, take time to think and then speak up about things. I've had a lot of troubles in the past talking to people and confronting them about unhealthy things they are doing to me/others but I've been able to do that a lot more confidently lately.”

Go get ‘em.

If mindfulness had taught me to close my eyes and turn away from the world, I would have been gone a long time ago. We can’t afford to be governed by knee-jerk reactions, overwhelmed and incapacitated by despair, or blissfully ignorant. We need to go in, eyes wide open, find our voices, and use them.

Day 91: Shifting Sands

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I find the end of the year can bring about all the feelings: anticipation, lethargy, excitement, laziness, restlessness, exhaustion, inspiration, regret. There’s nothing like a looming transition to unmoor us.

How do we manage all of our own feelings AND face the onslaught from our students who are similarly all over the place?

First, mindfulness asks us to recognize these feelings.

Gah! I’m feeling all the feels! This is hard!

This. Is. Hard.

Then, perhaps we invite in some relaxation techniques: deepening the breath, progressive relaxation of the body, gentle yoga, a walk in the park. Perhaps we move some of the more overwhelming energy through, running, dancing, or kick boxing.

And then we clarify for ourselves: Even as this is hard, how do I want to show up? What is most important to me when I am with my students on these last few days?

For me, as the sands shift under our collective feet, it is to offer some stability. Some moments of calm. Some moments of fun. And the love. Always the love.

Day 90: Mental Filter

Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water.
Photo by  Jack B  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

Day 36 was a reflection on Mind Traps, and I had the pleasure of watching “Mental Filter” play out on Thursday afternoon while reading through student reflections. Almost all of the reflections demonstrated introspection and appreciation of my students’ time in yoga. They wrote things like:

“I think my chronic pain has greatly reduced after practicing yoga and mindfulness! That's something I've been working on for a while and has slowly been getting better.”

“I've found that I can be more calm about situations, take time to think and then speak up about things. I've had a lot of troubles in the past talking to people and confronting them about unhealthy things they are doing to me/ others but I've been able to do that a lot more confidently lately.”

“I have progressed in settling my mind - I have also found more space in my mind for recognizing and letting go of difficult thoughts, and reflecting on the good (some days I find it is at its end and I feel awful, I write it off a horrid - but in reality, when I take a minute or two and run through my day objectively - I am able to see the good and I make a point to remember the good).”

But then there was this one:

“No, I didn't have any [goals] to begin with. And no, I did not notice any other benefits. I still have the same opinions and I don't feel as if anything changed.”

Guess which reflection stuck in my head. I knew the student who had written it, who had been very vocal about not liking yoga for much of the semester, and I struggled with not being able to win her over. To charm her into at least finding ways of making it meaningful for herself.

Over the course of the weekend, I watched my mind elevate this concern to represent my efficacy of a yoga teacher, to question if I was even effective, to wonder if I should even be teaching yoga to high school students.

Woah Nelly.

I made myself go back and reread all of the reflections. I soaked in the beauty of the discoveries students had made. I took note of how that one student, while part of the picture, was not the whole picture.

So the next time you darken your waters with this mental filter, I invite you to take a wider lens and reconsider: What else is true? How can I clear the waters so that a single event does not discolor an entire experience?

Day 89: Showing Up

Photo by  Merch HÜSEY  on  Unsplash

I haven’t done any explicit teaching the last two days. Yesterday, we had an awards ceremony for our graduating and upcoming seniors. Today, the whole student body presented yearlong passion projects that they had been working on for a program we have called Flex Friday. My only job was to show up.

So I showed up. And these students blew me away with their homemade ukuleles, 10 minute beautifully edited videos about bilingualism in Spain, personally coded and animated video games, an explanation of the evolution of video game reviewing as a lead in to framing personal video game reviews, expertly produced hip hop beats and lyrics, the list goes on…

It can be easy to lose sight of the whole child when we know them in the specific contexts of our classrooms. When we have the opportunities to know them as fuller humans, whether that be through advisory structures, after school programs, presentations of learning, we benefit so much from being able to stand back and be in awe of them.

What amazing human beings I get to show up for every day, who may need a wider platform, a different context area, to fully shine out.

PS: Here’s an awesome hip hop piece written and produced by one of my students.

Day 88: Boys Will Be...Loving.

Photo by  Hamza Bounaim  on  Unsplash

My students were leading us through their final mindfulness projects today. In one class, I had one young man present on compassion, because that was one of the most meaningful aspects of our class to him. He was followed by another young man who spoke on selflessness, and his desire to move past his selfishness—for us all to— in order to heal our world.

It did not strike me until this moment, 8:37pm in the evening, that it was a profound moment to have two teenage males leading discussions about matters of the heart. To have them earnestly discussing how they want to be compassionate, even towards those who wrong them, or overcome their self concern and give to the world.

How beautiful for them to be in a space where they could present and explore these ideas in front of their classmates. What if this is what we meant when we said, “boys will be boys?”

Day 87: To Be Human

Photo by  Brian Garcia  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brian Garcia on Unsplash

There’s nothing like a beautiful long weekend in late May to make the shift back into school mode feel nearly impossible. I am sitting here on this Monday night noticing waves of clinging to the beauty of the weekend, and mounting aversion to the reality that I have to set my alarm tomorrow.

This is what it is to be human.

Just that reminder helps these thoughts abate. To be human is to cling. To be human is to push away from. We don’t have to pretend it is otherwise. We don’t have to pretend we have evolved beyond this. Instead, there’s some distance in the reminder that this is what we are right now. And, magically, just noticing the phenomenon helps make it slightly less torturous.

Now, back to lesson plans.

Day 86: Appreciation Circles

Photo by  Jeremy Perkins  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

Today was the last day for seniors, and so as I do every semester, we concluded with an appreciation circle. I have each student write their name on a card, and then they pass them around a circle. Each of their classmates think of something they appreciate/admire about that person, something they brought to the class, and/or something they hope for them moving forward.

I adore this as a wrap up activity. I get to reflect on each student and consider what I appreciated about them. Students get to hear from one another that they are appreciated. And I get to hear from my students that I am appreciated. It’s a win-win-win.

Day 85: Play the Long Game

Photo by  Denise Jans  on  Unsplash

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but there is something about teaching that keeps me conscious of my younger self, and how much I’ve grown and changed since those grade school years. Large seemingly intractable problems have shifted away…no longer am I concerned about the size of my nose, attention from random I am deeply embedded in experiences that seemed so foreign and impossible…marriage, motherhood, home ownership. Or sometimes I remember back to my first year of teaching, when I would lie across a line of desks at 7pm and cry, overworked, overwhelmed and insecure. Now, whenever I get stuck or confused or struggle, I remember that time and think, “Well, at least it’s not like that.”

Taking time for this reflection, a moment to pause and consider the changing nature of our experience, can help us get unstuck. It can help us value the moment that we are in now, replete with the obstacles we have overcome and the lessons we have learned.

Our mindfulness practice, too, requires a longer view to see clearly the subtle ways it may be serving us. Sometimes I sit and my mind seems a flood of thoughts, other times it seems more placid, but these are not the markers of change. They show up in subtle ways, in the way I can watch the flood of thoughts and not become obsessed with removing them. The way I can notice when I am being judgmental and let it go. The way I can sink into moments of awareness throughout the day without effort that once would have been lost on me.

We’re playing a long game, my friends. Play on.

Day 84: Let Them Be Heard

As a follow up to the dreaded parent email (day 82), both issues have now been resolved. They were resolved by meeting with each student and asking them to share their perspective. In both cases, I set up the container to be one of genuine curiosity about their concerns. It was not a time for me to convince them otherwise or prove them wrong. I just listened. One student quickly owned that he had been stressed out about other things and his mother misconstrued his blowing off steam for a larger issue. The second told me specifically what he took fault with. (His mother related that he was satisfied with our conversation.) I thanked them both for their perspective and left it at that. I didn’t have to fix anything, it turned out. Of course, it doesn’t always work out so simply, but in these cases, just creating space for feedback removed the push back because there was nothing to push back against. I wasn’t trying to defend my teaching or our content. I was able to just be curious.

In a system that often tells students they are always wrong, teachers are always right, they shouldn’t question us, it can be a game changer just to allow them to speak what is on their mind. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can listen. Sometimes, it is enough to feel heard.

Day 83: The Back Porch

Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

After a weekend away, I had some work to do upon my return. Usually this means I find my way to my couch, sink back, and go until I can’t anymore. However, after a full 48 hours in the mountains, still feeling the effects of being out in the woods, I couldn’t content myself with that fate. Instead, I took my laptop to the back porch and, against the backdrop of a darkening sky, composed a few emails and reflected on some lesson plans.

Shifting my environment to be on the back porch, still in my puffy coat in this interminably chilly Maine spring, I was happy. It helped me keep a sense of expansiveness, a sense of rootedness, in the present. The rabbit hole of the computer screen did not suck my down. I didn’t check Facebook even once.

If you’ve gotta do the weekend work, see if you can find a way to do so outside.

Day 82: The Dreaded Parent Email

Photo by  Kal Visuals  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kal Visuals on Unsplash

In the course of 45 minutes, I received not one, but two, parent emails, concerned about what we were covering in class. Teaching a wellness class inevitably means we cover some controversial topics— gender, sexuality, sex— and so it did not come as surprise, but the one-two punch caught me off guard.

It’s always scary seeing a parent email in your inbox. Rarely do they contact you to tell you how pleased they are with the work you’re doing. Admittedly, 10 minutes before my first class was not the time to read them, but I did.

What I really surprised myself with this round of emails was that I didn’t immediately well up with tears. I didn’t immediately start the narrative, “Ugh. I hate this. I shouldn’t do this anymore. I’m just going to go and take a desk job and forget it.” I didn’t even get rip roaring defensive (the claws only came halfway out).

I found myself legitimately curious. What were these students experiencing in my class? How did I present that lesson on gender and how did it land? Were there any ways I could make sure to be more inclusive?

You all… I am making a big deal out of this because THIS IS HUGE FOR ME. I can’t tell you what this kind of questioning would have done to me even a few years ago. The wheel of self-flagellation, defensiveness, outrage, and shame would be whirring at full tilt. But not this time! Don’t get me wrong, there were momentary spikes of confusion and worry. But they were not all-consuming.

If we are able to access our most clear-headed self, we can bring the gift of curiosity to The Dreaded Parent Email. We can let go of protecting our ego and hear a concern. And we can see more clearly the pathway forward. The next Dreaded Parent Email that finds its way to your inbox, what if you ask yourself, “What can I learn here? How does my best self come to this situation? What would it look like to be compassionate in this situation?”

Day 81: Take a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes

I had a student speaker in class a few days ago, and for half of the class, my students were attentive and participated. But for the other half, they started to unravel, having side conversations, giggling amongst themselves, and passing a drawing back and forth.

Today, when we reflected on the incident, I not only reflected the behavior back to them, but I also asked them to imagine what it would be like to present in front of people who were doing that. I asked them to reflect on what that person might be experiencing.

“They might feel ignored.”

“They might feel like we aren’t interested in what they have to say.”

“They might think we are laughing at them.”

For that moment in time, they seemed chastened. Again, I didn’t have to shame them or tell them I was disappointed. In fact, I believe when we do that, a lot of times we get pushback and defensiveness. But if we just observe the behavior, and ask for some perspective taking, that can be enough to help our students awaken to their impact. That can be enough to help the put on someone else’s shoes, even if just for a moment, and cultivate empathy.

Dy 80: Notice Aloud

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

We were discussing gender stereotypes in my wellness class today, and one of my female students said, “Women are taught to only speak when spoken to. We are basically taught to not exist unless invited in,” and a chorus of male students responded, “That’s not true.”

Sometimes the teachable moments just fall into your lap.

One way we can bring mindfulness into our teaching is simply to make observations out loud, without judgement.

I offered, “I’d like to just take a moment to notice that a female-identifying student is sharing her experience (here, a number of students knowingly started to chuckle), and a number of male voices just interrupted and shut her down.”

We were able to laugh about the irony together, but more importantly, we were able to look at a problematic tendency, that often happens without consciousness. I didn’t have to preach. I didn’t have to yell. I just noticed aloud so we could see it together.

Day 79: The Body Doesn't Lie

Photo by  Kira auf der Heide  on  Unsplash

I went for my second visit with a chiropractor today to try and work out some intense neck tightness and pain I’ve been experiencing ever since spring break. As a yoga teacher, I want to be able to fix these things myself, with gentle stretching and movement, but there are times when expert help is needed. After doing some work back there, he offered, “Well, this is likely postural and stress related.”

This was initially confusing feedback. I really haven’t found my life especially stressful lately. Until I remembered when the pain started: it was just after my return from our New Orleans spring break trip. Traveling with a toddler is never easy, but this trip was especially havoc ridden with multiple flights cancelled and endless hours in the Charlotte airport. On top of that, I am afraid of flying, and any turbulence (of which there was plenty) immediately sends me into a panicked state, and I have to continuously use deep breathing and repetitive reassuring mantra (“Turbulence doesn’t mean dangerous. Turbulence doesn’t mean dangerous.”) to get myself out of fight or flight.

The body doesn’t lie. What is your body asking you to pay attention to?

We can mitigate some of the effects of daily stress, of which teaching offers plenty, through yoga and deep breathing. We may need more expert help with acute moments that send our bodies over the edge.

Day 78: In the Trenches

Photo by  Shane Rounce  on  Unsplash

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

This past weekend, I was at the wedding of a colleague from my days of teaching English at a middle school in Washington, D.C. Two of our other coworkers were there, and it was so profoundly wonderful to see them again. Something magical can happen when you are working intensively alongside others doing meaningful work in the high stress environment of a middle school. There is a kinship that can form, a deep understanding, from being in the trenches together, if we turn towards each other.

Labors of love are more than work, and teaching colleagues are more than coworkers.

I invite you to intentionally lean in to those relationships. On the heels of teacher appreciation week, can we value one another, not just for our role in the school, but our place in one another’s lives? The more staff can come together in community and understanding, the more we nourish ourselves and our students.

I have such gratitude for you, my Two Rivers Family for nourishing me so completely…Jill, Steve, Sasha, Mo, Sarah, Elaine, Carolina, Alicia, Erika, Keisha, Ama, Ben, Bill, Leah, Rebecca…and on, and on, and on…..

Day 77: Voiceless

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I woke up this morning with no voice. Not even a grovel. Just a whisper, which my toddler starting mimicking, much my and my husband’s amusement.

Still, I wondered, could I go in? It wasn’t a heavy day. I could just have a kid come close and have them project what I wanted to say outward to the class. Or mime what I wanted them to do. Or…

Oh. My. Gosh. Take a dang sick day.

But I can’t! I was out last Monday for a PD. There’s no one there to cover me. I can be an adult supervising body. I don’t feel that bad. I can make it.

I know you know these debates, teachers.

Ultimately, sanity prevailed and I am at home, on the couch, sipping on hot tea, honey, and lemon. And I am still noticing and letting go of feelings of guilt that wash over me as I care for myself and am on the receiving end of an email about my class being unsupervised, am I there today? (No! I did tell you this!)

Our bodies speak to us. If your voice literally gives out, that means you need to take a break from talking. If you wake up and you cannot open your eyes, you need more sleep. If you crying and stretched to the breaking point, don’t go in that morning. Make yourself some tea. Get under your blanket. Rest deeply.

Your class can last a day without you. Your school will figure it out. We must take care.

Day 76: Savoring Appreciation

Photo by  Célina Rohrbach  on  Unsplash

Photo by Célina Rohrbach on Unsplash

  • One plastic baggie of homemade, slightly melted, marshmallows

  • 2 brightly patterned pencils

  • A request as to how my stiff neck was feeling

  • A set of seed pod necklace and earrings

I love Teacher Appreciation Week, which gives students a gentle nudge to tell us they care about us. They find all kinds of magical ways to express their appreciation. In what can, at times, feel like a brutal and thankless profession, these moments of intentional giving and receiving of gratitude feel deeply meaningful. It doesn’t matter to me that they are doing it because someone told them it might be a nice thing to do. It is simply delightful to feel that care reciprocated, even for a moment.

May we all soak in the appreciation, however small or poorly suited to our personal tastes. In this case, it is truly the thought that counts.

Day 75: Behavior Charts

IMG_82850227182F-1.jpeg

As all you teacher-friends know, a common strategy for Tier 2/3 behaviors in a PBIS system is behavior charts. Do the right thing, get a star. Do the right thing again, get another star.

As someone who struggles with routine and consistency, let me tell you: I find this incredibly helpful. It can be hard to come to our practice every day. We can find a million excuses not to. But finding ways of tracking and acknowledging our progress is a way of supporting us with continuing.

Most meditation apps track and give you feedback. Insight Timer, an app you can download on your phone, actually gives out stars for days of practice.

It turns out that sheer force of will is not always there for me, but the promise of another star on the horizon might be enough for me to sit myself down, even more a minute. I do so love my behavior chart.

Day 74: Chapter 3

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters

Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

pothole.jpg

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street


This is one of my favorite readings. It’s such a beautiful commentary on human nature. About even when we have an understanding and desire for change, it does not happen instantly. About how we may, with time and experience, stop making the same mistake repeatedly.

I am currently on chapter 3 around classroom management. I haven’t quite figured out how to have the right balance between ease/playfulness and seriousness of purpose around wellness with high school students. How to hold the line around excessively silly behavior while still allowing for humanity and levity. I think sometimes I have this idea that because I practice mindfulness, I should be able to respond well in all situations. I’ll just know the answer because I’m paying attention and trying.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t true. So I can see where I am. And I’ve fallen down again. And I am hopeful that with time, consultation with others, and perhaps an observation or two, I can get better.

Can we all have a little lightness around our own humanity as teachers? Even when we practice mindfulness, gasp, we are still human.