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

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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.

Day 73: The Tree in the Forest

Photo by  Peng Chen  on  Unsplash

Photo by Peng Chen on Unsplash

Sometimes, when I consider my students en masse, they overwhelm me. I worry about the chaos that might erupt from the sheer number of them. I become wary.

This morning, I looked around the room at each individual. I teased them apart from their classmates for just a moment, recognizing their own innate goodness. And I couldn’t help but feel such love for them. Each one with their individual quirks and delightful traits. For each one of them I had interactions squirreled away that felt positive and meaningful. Even the ones that also challenged me.

Tomorrow, as you stand/sit before your class, try this: look not at the group, but at each individual. Allow any goodwill or appreciation you might have for each student wash over you. It’s not as overwhelming to notice the trees in the forest.

Day 72: Eye Roll

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“Be mindful.”

“Take a breath.”

“Be present.”

What is your reaction to these phrases? I have to say, they’ve lost their luster on me, fit only for memes and beach t-shirts. The problem with language is that it gets tired. Especially from repeated use. Especially in our highly-commercialized society.

So how do we keep mindfulness alive for ourselves? For one, a reminder that the description of mindfulness is not mindfulness. To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn says, let’s not try to eat the menu, people. The sustenance, the richness, the nutrients from mindfulness come from the actually doing of it, not the talking about it.

What would it actually mean to bring your full attention to this moment? To feel your body against the chair or ground you sit on? What would it actually be like to follow a complete breath from start to finish? You won’t find the answer in a description of mindfulness.

(To be clear, I like a good meme as much as the next lady. Also, they can remind us to do the thing. Just don’t let it replace the thing.)

Day 71: Find the Middle

Photo by  Joshua Ness  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

I had to pull out one of my favorite mindful moves the other day for when the room gets away from me and I feel like I’m going to pull my hair out:

Find the middle of the room. Walk there. Take a breath. Observe what is happening out loud. Then ask for what you need.

I hate raising my voice over kids, so I find I have to do something attention-grabbing to reign them in. Moving my body into a different place in the room weirds them out just enough to track me. Naming what is happening, without judgement, lets them tune into what is not working without me having to freak out. (Hey, your classmates are talking and when you talk over them, they can’t be heard by me or you.) Asking for what I need helps reset the room back to a state of relative normalcy. (I’d like us all to be listening to one another so everyone has a chance to share and be heard.) You know, as close as you can get in a room full of teenagers.

Day 70: What's Up?

Photo by  Olya Kuzovkina  on  Unsplash

Photo by Olya Kuzovkina on Unsplash

As my students were assembling to play a game at the field today, one student walked away and did not respond to my calls to bring him back. After the initial jolt of, “OMG HE’S NOT LISTENING TO ME!” wore off, and I watched him settle onto a nearby bench, I got my group situated and went to chat with him.

While my instincts are to immediately berate a student for defiant behavior, I am working on leading with a different approach. In Mindfulness for Teachers, Patricia Jennings writes about how we all have “scripts,” or stories about why our kids act the way to do they and how they will respond. If our script is something like, “That kid is being a pain in my butt, and he needs to do what I say!” we respond in a way that often damages the relationship and may bring about compliance, but not necessary learning. If we notice that script, and then reframe it as a question, “I wonder why that kid is acting that way?” we bring ourselves to a place where we can problem solve.

Sitting next to him on the bench, I leaned over, “So, what’s going on? Why did you walk away from the group?”

“Oh, I hate games like that.”

My knee-jerk reaction, “So what? we don’t always get to do what we like, but that doesn’t give us the right to walk away.” What came out of my mouth was, “So, you left because you didn’t want to play the game?”

He responded, “Yeah, and I’m getting really stressed about this upcoming trip to China…. and later… my family might be getting kicked out of our house soon because the stove isn’t up to code.”

We brainstormed ways he could manage his stress around things outside of his control. And then we rejoined the group to walk back to the school.

He didn’t do what he was “supposed to.” But I’m glad I led with, “What’s up?”

The next time you notice your script playing out, instead of assuming you are correct, try asking, “What’s up?” or “What do you need right now?” Then we get to teach instead of force compliance.

Day 69: Good Enough

Photo by  Alexander Andrews  on  Unsplash

It took me awhile to overcome the superhuman teacher myth. It is this idea that we all should be going 100 miles an hour every day of our lives or our students simply will not learn. They cannot not learn. They cannot be successful unless we give every ounce of our being. And we should. We HAVE TO. WE MUST. There is not a day to be off or a moment to lose.

Erin Gruwell,—the famed Freedom Writer’s teacher who wrote a book and had a movie about her and has been lauded as what all teachers should be— lasted… 4 years.

I am in no way knocking Erin Gruwell and her remarkable achievements. I’m just saying that sometimes shooting stars, going hundreds of thousands of miles an hour, burn out.

For those of us in it for the long game, and at nine years I can hardly qualify myself as one of those people, sometimes we have to accept good enough.

Today was a good enough day. As far as I can tell, I didn’t blow anyone’s mind. But I went in and I shared my lessons about public service campaigns, the lifecycle of a Hershey’s kiss, and transitions between yoga postures. My wellness class got a little too rowdy. My yoga class was very sleepy. I had a few pleasant exchanges with kids. I had a few difficult exchanges with others. And then I went home. And I’m getting ready to do it again tomorrow.

Sometimes we are just good enough. And it’s okay. And we will wake up and try again tomorrow. But for today, it’s good enough.

Day 68: Interconnectedness

Photo by  Holger Link  on  Unsplash

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

The depth at which we are interconnected is astounding. We are not isolated beings, though we so often feel that way, but are intricately and inextricably linked into a wider system. The very foundation of our being, of all of life, is “star stuff,” as stated by Kepler Research Scientist Dr. Natalie Batalha in We’re All Made of Stardust. Here’s How . My yoga and mindfulness students watched this video, along with What percent of your DNA is banana?, to explore the scientific grounding of this idea that we are foundationally connected.

After class, one of my students shared, “I heard once that we are just ‘borrowed atoms,’ in this form until we become the next thing.” Love it.

So we can know that, but what does it mean to actually experience that viscerally? That deep sense of being of the earth?

Lay down. Relax the body into the ground. Have a sense of the body at the cellular level….at the molecular level…at the atomic level, subtly vibrating. Allow yourself to connect with the even subtler vibrations of the ground beneath you, moving even in it’s solidity. Feel the air around the body, and note the exchange through the exhale and inhale. The taking in of the world. The releasing of parts of self. It is all much more fluid than we think.

Notice how that awareness of that fluidity, of that connection, shifts how you experience your moment.

Day 67: Relationship Repair

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I recorded an interview for National Women’s Health Week (coming up after Mother’s Day), and we were discussing mindfulness and parenting. “How does mindfulness support our parenting?” my interviewer asked me. Many ways, of course, but one of the things we discussed is how it allows us to observe, with humility, when we have made a mistake. Because we are not as defensive or ego-constrained, and are open to the possibility that our mistakes are not reflective of our innate worth, we can own them in the spirit of relationship repair.

This, of course, is true in the context of our teaching, where we are bound to make mistakes. I make them all the time. But I remember reading a long time ago that it is far more valuable to a relationship with our children and students (or anyone, for that matter) to make mistakes and repair them than to never have a conflict. When we repair those relationships, we assure the young people in our lives that we can withstand conflict and difficulty, and that the bond is stronger than a disagreement. We model humility, how to apologize, and repairing mistakes. We show them how to be confident in who we are by owning our mistakes.

Day 66: Re-establish perspective

Photo by  Joel Fulgencio  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joel Fulgencio on Unsplash

And we are back.

As I have shared before, I find coming back after a long break disorienting. The switching gears back into school mode requires me to find where I was with my lesson plans, remember the few students whose work I haven’t graded yet and who will need special attention, and reconnect with my routines that have fallen to the wayside during my sweet disconnect.

When I was sorting through some of the backlog of grading on Sunday, I came across this reflection from one of my students:

Consistent yoga practice has allowed me space to re-establish perspective. Some days I'm so caught up in all the things I know I need to be doing I feel I don't have time to breath... lately when I set up my mat and begin moving I'm able to focus on what is at hand and often re-evaluate what honestly should be my top priority - calming down in order to focus and plan those tasks that seem to be out of control. Guided physical movement that forces me to focus my attention - working my brain and body in such a different way than I normally do - has allowed me to be more aware, calm, and ultimately more happy.

These sweet words have served as a reminder to prioritize the things that are most important to me, even as I struggle to begin again. In what way do I want to show up for my students? What perspective and I attempting to re-establish as I reenter the classroom? What can I do to embody the presence, calm, and strength that will help my students continue to grow?

Just asking the question helps me re-establish perspective and feel more ready to dive back in.

Day 65: The Last Day Before Break

For those of you teaching in New England, you are likely in the precipice of spring break. Despite the stretch from February to April not being that many weeks, it is notorious for being one of the toughest times of the school year. That makes spring break all the much sweeter when it finally arrives. You can almost hear the collective exhale across the country as teachers shepherd their children out the door at the final bell and collapse on the ground in a puddle of exhausted elation, or elated exhaustion, or some combination thereof.

There can be such a sense of ease and expansiveness to be found at the end of a tough period of time. Don’t hurry from one thing to the next, but pause to really notice and savor that moment when your responsibilities have been, even momentarily, eased. Then put on your vacation message and your jammies and get your relaxation on. We did it!

(A note for my non-teacher/non-spring breaking friends- this same idea can be applied to mini moments of ease… when you wrap up the work day, or put the kids to bed, or simply have a moment to pause. Enjoy the invitation of natural pauses already built in.)

Day 64: Be A Student

Photo by  Rima Kruciene  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rima Kruciene on Unsplash

Today, i went to the first yoga class I had been to in awhile, and my mind immediately started analyzing the experiences I was having to bring back to my yoga class. Oh, I liked that move! I haven’t done that with them before. Could they do that one? Rather than having the experience for myself, I was making meaning of the experience to bring it back to my students. I had to continually redirect myself back into my body, and my experience. One of the dangers of teaching yoga and mindfulness is the temptation to process every experience we have as teaching material.

I had a mindfulness teacher once share that when he was in meditation, he was always tempted to scribble down insights he had while practicing. He wanted to keep a notebook at his side so he could remember all of his brilliant ideas. With time, he told us, he learned to just be with the experience and trust that anything important would stay with him.

If we start turning all of our experiences with mindfulness and yoga into fodder for our classes (or blogs), we endanger our ability to be fully present for those moments. We skip right to the analytical mind, rather than an embodied presence (I am all too familiar with this tendency.) I invite you to engage in your contemplative practice without needing it to be anything more than what it is. It does not have to be profound of insightful. And it can be just for you.