Teaching Mindfully and Teaching Mindfulness

 "Neurons" connect through the synapses as new patterns of thought are formed!

"Neurons" connect through the synapses as new patterns of thought are formed!

When I told my teachers from Newburyport that it was not a requirement to start teaching mindfulness during the course, and that it was more important to me that they learn to teach mindfully than teach mindfulness, there was a palpable shift in the room. For some, this course is adding to their already deep understanding of mindfulness. But for others, it is beginning an investigation into something totally new.  

It's true that you can teach mindfulness activities with no personal experience in mindfulness. You can buy curriculum online and faithfully implement each lesson. It's likely that students will benefit from this level of instruction. But what happens when the adults in the room start to look at themselves? When they start to recognize their own triggers and moments of reaction? When they connect with their deep joy and gratitude? This is when the work goes from being impactful to transformational. 

Our first two days together were a blend of setting our own intentions, practicing mindful moments, learning about the field of mindfulness as it exists now, and engaging in activities that can hook students so they understand why we are paying attention to our breath or listening for the end of the bell. We reconnected with why we chose this profession and read from Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach. We explained mindfulness in our own words and put it into words that our kids could understand. And we practiced. What does a day feel like when we start first thing with a short meditation, transition with meditations, and end with meditation? How does creating that space around each activity give us permission to breathe? To reset? To adjust? To notice? When we can answer these questions for ourselves, as educators, we don't just intellectually get, but embody, the practice.

 Educators thinking about the "predator" stressors in our lives to match with the actual predators that triggered the "fight, flight, freeze" response in our ancient ancestors.

Educators thinking about the "predator" stressors in our lives to match with the actual predators that triggered the "fight, flight, freeze" response in our ancient ancestors.

Of course, real delight can come from learning about why our brains function as they do and how we can support healthy brain development. There is great benefit in giving students language around the structure and function of their brains, sharing with them about their ancient nervous systems, and teaching them about each of their senses. Some students buy in when they learn that athletes like Russell Wilson practice meditation, while others are interested in the research in the field. These are the "hooks" that can compel students (and adults) to commit to trying mindfulness. 

For the next nine weeks, we will figure out which of these hooks we connect most with ourselves and believe will most impact our students. We will use them to introduce these ideas to our students and ask them to practice themselves. At the end of the day, as Jon Kabat-Zinn humorously shares, you don't eat the menu, you eat the food, to get the nutritional benefit. Likewise, it is not reading and learning about mindfulness that helps us understand, but practicing it, that will reap the rewards.

So most importantly, for the next nine weeks, we as educators will practice. Each day, we will look at ourselves to see what's there, in hopes that we can make peace with it and teach from our truest selves. It is only through this practice that we can mindfully teach mindfulness.