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Mindfulness

July 31, 2012 2 comments

A friend and colleague sent me a great article by Kirsten Olson called The Mindful School Leader.  She describes the pressures and stress of life as a school leader and emphasizes the benefits of becoming more present in each moment.  In particular, she suggests a few practical strategies for becoming more mindful:

“Try this practice:  Every day, every few hours, stop and take three deep breaths through the nose, feeling the belly rise and fall.  Notice how you feel.  This builds awareness of the body and breath, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind, reducing stress.

Try this practice:  Next time you walk around the school building notice how you are walking.  Feel your shoes on the floor.  Feel your spine tall and strong, and your shoulders wide and relaxed. Allow yourself to become keenly aware of your surroundings.  This strengthens focus on the present, sharpening awareness and mental clarity.

Try this practice:  Next time you eat lunch, try just eating not reading, texting, or attending to anything else.  Notice the food.  Savor flavors. This enhances self-care and self-nurturance, and elements of self-compassion.

Try this practice:  Next conversation, practice listening.  Set aside the desire to fix, solve, correct or judge the other person.  Listen not just with your ears (to hear), but with your eyes (to see), your mind (to think), heart (to feel), and your attention (to focus).  What do you notice about yourself?  How does it feel to listen deeply?  Listening practice builds empathy and compassion, essential tools of emotionally intelligent school leaders, and promotes connectedness with others, a fundamental element of community.”

The summer months are great times to reflect on just how harried I had become in this past year – my first as a building principal.  Now is the time to begin to cultivate some practices that will help slow me down, keep me present, and stay more focused on our vision.

I would love to hear how others find calm in the midst of all that comes one’s way as a leader in education.

Taking the leap . . .

I have recently been following The Principal of Change, a great blog by George Couros, and came across a wonderful article today about the importance of tweeting.  Here is a quote from the post that really resonated with me:

“You may not have many followers and you may not be blogging or creating the next BIG IDEA, but what you share still matters.  You never know the impact you can have by sharing a link or a blog post.  Simply retweeting good information can help anyone, including someone like myself who has almost 40,000 tweets to his credit, continue to learn and grow.”

George has pushed my thinking on a number of issues related to education and leadership, but this gentle invitation/nudge to take the next step and risk putting myself out there was just what I needed.  This summer, I have reinvigorated my PLN, dusted off my twitter account after several years of inactivity, and dove back into Diigo.  I have even begun exploring some new (OK, new to me at least) curation tools such as Scoop.It.  And, I’ve launched this new blog.  Yet when push comes to shove, it has proven surprisingly difficult to hit the share button.  It seems my inner critic is alive and well and asks, “Who in God’s name wants to read THAT?”  or “I seriously do not think you have generated any new idea here, so why bother?”  George reminds me that no learning can happen without some healthy risk-taking.  And my hesitancy reminds me just how frightening it can be for my students to take risks in their learning environment.  I guess it is time to think about how I can give them the same gift George gave me and gently invite/nudge them to take the leap!

How do you create a safe risk-taking environment for your students?  What makes it safe for you to take the leap in front of you?

All Children Can Learn – A Reflection

Attend almost any conference, read almost any book related to education, sit through almost any district’s opening days, and you will likely hear reference to the statement of belief that “All Children Can Learn.”  It is the perspective from which we are all supposed to be viewing our work with students.  Yet, all too often, we don’t give our educators enough time to push back, to honestly talk about their resistance to this belief statement.  Erin Paynter reflects on this  in her blog All Children Can Learn – A Reflection and notes that her staff doesn’t yet really believe this statement to be true.  She sees it as her role to move her staff forward through reflection and purposeful incorporation of this belief in the strategic plans for future work.  I could not agree more.

However, I think it is critical that we provide a safe space for the airing out of those beliefs that go against this ideal.  It is only by creating a safe space in which to lay out our frustrations and inhibiting beliefs that we can examine them honestly and discard them so that they do not continue to subtly and not so subtly sabotage our work.  Collectively, we are smart and sensitive people.  We come to the field of education because we believe in children and their potential.  We know what we should believe.  When asked, “Do you believe all children can learn?” we know what the right answer is.  I have never heard an educator say “no” when asked that question.  Yet, examine our actions and it becomes clear that many of us don’t really believe this.  Put another way, when push comes to shove, we don’t act like we believe this.

Why?  Well, when I reflect personally, the most honest thing I can say about my response to the statement that all children can learn is that I want to believe it.  Desperately.  The statement rings absolutely consistent with my ideals.  And I am aware not only that I want to believe it but that you want me to believe it too.  But when  Johnny has failed despite my repeated attempts at differentiation and engagement, and I can’t get Johnny’s parents to return my call, and Johnny refuses to stay for help after school, and I am feeling tired and overwhelmed, it is incredibly seductive to let myself off the hook and say, “OK, every child but Johnny can learn.”

Let’s get honest about our frustrations and our fatigue.  Let’s embrace our fear, because, yes, there is fear when we really adopt this philosophy that all children can learn.  The fear is that such a philosophy allows for no excuses.  It puts the onus on each of us as educators to do whatever it takes to facilitate that learning.  And that is a daunting task indeed.  Let’s get real about the unlikeable voices in our head, the ones that want to say, “I’ve been trying to reach Johnny for seven months now, all to no avail.  I stay late, I make phone calls, I worry and prod.  And what does he do?  Nothing!  Where’s Johnny’s responsibility?  It’s his learning after all.”  Only then can we really examine what is getting in our way of truly living this ideal.

We might then be able to truly come together and say, “Yes, we believe all children can learn.  And sometimes we don’t know how to make that learning possible.  And sometimes we get tired and frustrated and need to take some time to restore our spirits.  Yet we will keep working because we believe we too can learn.”