They can be overwhelming and uncomfortable. They can be exciting and mind racing. They can be boring and tedious. They can be a gift to yourself or a punishment from your principal. They can be a day off school or a day having to make sub plans. What do all these things have in common? They are all the ways I’ve felt about going to educational conferences. Sometimes they are great. Sometimes not so great. Sometimes I felt honored to get to go. Sometimes I felt like I was sent to one. So, I’m sure we’ve all had these experiences before but I happened to have the honor (this shows you how much I enjoyed this conference!) of attending the Mindfulness Institute in Education Conference at Bryn Mawr University in March. So a big problem with conferences is that they can often be overwhelming. There are ideas flowing, people who are doing jobs that you didn’t even know existed, professionals presenting topics that you didn’t even know were current issues or problems. Sometimes you leave these things and your head is spinning. I just experienced all of those things for the sake of each of you and am here to tell the tale of the five major takeaways from the Mindfulness in Educators Conference. The abridged version of the major takeaways in the interest of time…
1. Icebreakers are a Necessary Evil
Disclaimer: If you are an extrovert or already know this takeaway, please move on. I’m still making peace with icebreakers and those who ask me to do them, but this conference was a step in the right direction. I’m an introvert and I hate being asked to move around a room, talking to people I don’t know. I feel silly, uncomfortable and physically drained. But I realized that because the conference lasted a few days, it was actually very good to experience getting to know different people in different ways. The PassageWorks presenters provided us with an abundance of opportunities to meet different people in short segments. It wasn’t exactly fun, but it allowed me to ease into the rest of the weekend because I started to talking to people early in the experience. So the takeaway for me is that I may not love icebreakers but I do understand why they are a great way to open up lines of communication between adults and students. They help build trust and connection. Once those things are built, it is easier for learning to happen (whether you’re an adult at a conference or a student in a classroom!)
2. Mindfulness Practice Can Be Applied to Everything!
We’ve all heard about mindful walking and mindful movement. And mindful eating is definitely making its mark among the mainstream population. But at this conference, I was able to attend a mindful technology workshop! Mindful technology is simply that…being present to how you feel when you interact with your technology and focusing on your body sensations before, during and after use. The idea is that through this analysis, a technology user will be more aware of their technology use, not just use it on autopilot. From this awareness, a person can investigate if their technology use is working in their life and make adjustments based on their observations. Just as the practice of mindful eating would never advocate not eating something, being mindful of technology doesn’t mean that you’re not using technology. It simply means you are present to how you feel when you use it and are actually aware when you are using it. I am looking forward to starting to be more mindful with my own technology usage and helping my students become more aware.
3. The More on Board, the Better
This was a consistent theme within the conference. The most successful schools to create a more mindful culture did not just educate their students. They also educated their entire staff and parents. By educating the whole community, there is a common language among all members. Mindfulness is not just seen as something that is done in one person’s class, but rather is a phenomenon that we all know and experience being a part of the community. This common language is the way to change a culture.
4. The Key is Empathy
Empathy has been the buzzword lately. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I’ve been introduced to cultivating empathy when taking courses on increasing mental health and I’ve encountered it when reading about what makes a mindful leader. What all the sources are saying is that connections are key and we can build those connections through cultivating empathy with one another. This can not be more true than in our classrooms. It was reiterated that it is worth the extra time to really build connections of community which can result in feelings of empathy toward one another. This empathy will help students be more understanding of differences and help them forge connections. Our job is to show them how we are all connected, rather only celebrating our differences. When our students feel connected on some level with each other, even if they are very different from one another, there can be empathy. With that empathy we build stronger bonds as a community. And when kids feel safe in this community, real authentic learning can occur. So take the time to build empathy and it will probably result in students learning more deeply in your room.
5. It Starts with You!
If there’s a takeaway that is so important it’s this one. We can’t teach real empathy if we don’t possess it. We can’t teach others to be mindful, if we don’t practice it ourselves. We can’t give away, what we don’t have. So above everything else, the best take away is the one that it all starts with each of us. We were reminded again and again that it may be tempting to want to implement great change and try to expose everyone to all of these great ideas, this actually could be a little dangerous. It’s much better to build a house on a solid foundation. So, although it may be tempting to want to implement everything right away, it’s important to have your own mindfulness practice so that if you go to teach it to students or advocate it for the school, you have your own experiences and can field inevitable questions that you are sure to get about it. Here’s what I can guarantee. You never have to even say the words mindfulness to your students, but after some time of practice you will just be a little different and your students will notice. You leading by example is sometimes the best role model you need to be! So lighten the pressure and just start with you…then move on as it feels right!
If you liked this blog or want to be a part of our Teaching Well community, please consider signing up for the email list.