Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

by Stacey Ebert / Sep 04, 2019 /
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Another school year has begun, and children, teachers, and families across the US are dealing with locker combinations, teacher meetings, books, backpacks, and the back to school jitters. 

While most of the time we look at the hard cold facts of the back to school journey, how often do we stop and look at the bigger picture, the deeper picture, or the other parts of the educational curriculum that are often left out of the official syllabus? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

Most educators agree that their students deal with heaps of issues that go far beyond test scores, rigorous lesson planning, and selecting an after high school journey.

As educators, what can we do to combat those issues, to help our students develop those skills, and to provide them with the tools to use as they grow?

I recently asked a friend how her son’s first days of school went. She told me about the two advanced placement classes in his 10th grade schedule, and how that was going to be a new experience. And then another nearby listener piped in and asked, of her son, “how’s his meditation practice?” What an awesome question and what an amazing piece of awareness to add to a high school experience. Two of my best friends’ children are in the midst of their secondary school journeys, as well. One’s just set off on a one-year boarding school adventure in Asia, and another is about to begin her junior year–potentially her toughest yet. 

What if there were more skills we could provide, greater questions we could discuss, and deeper topics of conversations to develop? 

What if we, as an educational village, understood that the reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic is important, but that there’s more, there’s something even bigger, and something that these students can continue to return to throughout their lives and use as a constant, an inner force, and a greater knowledge of who they are? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

How different would our students’ experiences be if intention, mindfulness, and self-care were given the same weight as finals and college entrance exams?

Every child in every type of learning environment is different. Each comes with their own set of worldviews, obstacles, privileges, issues, and baggage and many have multiple things going on at once. There are stories of food insecurity and homelessness, abuse and bullying, safety struggles, emotional and learning disabilities, work, family care and family problems, financial instability, fears, anxiety, loss, disease, and more–and then, these same children manage to make their way into our classrooms. For some, going to that place of learning is a safety net where there are warm, kind people who want to help, and, for others, the added stressors of having to possibly sit still, get homework done, handle personalities, peer pressure, and learning in a particular way is enough to push the overload button. School is tough and life can be even tougher for some students–how can we make it a little bit calmer, a little bit easier, and give students the tools to know when they need to take a moment for themselves and center themselves? What if classrooms and curriculums included things like meditation, intention setting, and ideas of self-care throughout the educational journey? 

How would students’ pressure, focus, irritability, coping abilities, lessons, behavior, kindness, bullying, and health change? 

If jailhouses and juvenile detention centers have seen huge success with trauma-related yoga and mindfulness classes, imagine what would happen if we offered these before things got out of hand–how would the world be different?

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

There are schools beginning to integrate mindfulness practices into their learning development. Some have added these techniques to elementary classrooms, while others have added them into their remedial behavior programs. Today, some schools offer yoga in primary classrooms or in high school as an option for a physical education course, while others bring in speakers to discuss how mindfulness techniques can help focus your attention, let go of attachment, and strengthen the abilities to remove the chaos and find the calm. 

And yes, we ask students to set goals for themselves, but how do goals and intentions differ? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

While goals are often future-focused, intentions are about the present moment. We can set daily intentions, or perhaps more frequent ones. Just like the adults in the room, our students show up each day with their own issues, their own set of circumstances, and their own stuff. Setting intentions and adding moments of mindfulness to their morning rituals can set the stage for success that transfers far longer than their forty-minute class. Perhaps, like organization and study techniques that get taught throughout their educational career, these are things that students will take with them far beyond their date of graduation. These are skills that will work throughout their lives to help to calm the storms, remain in the present moment, temper anxiety, and focus on their personal journey. 

In a recent Instagram post, former First Lady Michelle Obama discussed #WellnessWednesdays and self-care ideas. She talked about taking that hour, finding those moments, and making time in the day for personal wellness. So often we find these ideas later in life when perhaps we follow a spiritual guru, join a yoga class, find a hiking group, set a morning routine, hire a life coach, journal, or make that time to take ourselves on that retreat that opens our soul and reminds us of what’s truly important in the world. 

Why wait? 

Why do we wait until later in life to focus on our personal and mental wellbeing, when we can share the importance of this guidance with our next generation of learners? Yes, we might have to find different terms, figure out ways to make the information relatable, and pertain to the lifestyle moments and mayhem of our young learners’ lives, but it’s doable. Meditation and yoga have been around the globe for centuries, even millennia, and it’s beginning to move in the westward direction. When we find these self-care routines later in life, they feel like a gift, a miracle, and a lifeline. 

As teachers, we do our level best to provide those lifelines to our students on a daily basis. We buy snacks for classrooms so no kid goes hungry, we spend our own money on school supplies, spend extra time providing whatever extra help necessary, spread kindness, listen, give hugs, employ the help of other experts, and want to give ‘our kids’ the world. 

Adding the model of self-care into our educational sphere can help. 

Sharing ideas that it’s not only okay, but helpful (and often necessary) to ask for help, take time for yourself, journal, set boundaries, and say ‘no’ to things that make you feel pulled or triggered, read books that lift you up, go for a walk, take a yoga class, spend an afternoon with a friend, or do whatever it is that makes you feel centered, focused, and at ease in your own mind and body, matters more than ever. 

When young learners and adult learners feel calmer, they can focus better, respond better, listen more intently, and remove the chaotic clutter that too often finds its way into our minds and knocks us off our game. We want our students to be kind, successful, happy, healthy, safe, and helpful humans. We want them to experience arts and music, community service, and sports. We want them to know science and language, math and , and read books like they’re going out of style. We want them to have perspective-shifting experiences, be interested in life-long learning, gain practical skills, and have open minds and kind hearts. We want them to be active participants in their lives, their education, their communities, and the global world. 

Life coaches prompt us to do what we love, therapists tell us to set boundaries for ourselves, personal trainers instruct us to foam roll, mindfulness coaches remind us to sit in stillness, and yoga instructors ask us to set intentions and remember that it’s yoga practice–and NOT yoga perfect. Later in life, we invest in experts for our self-care. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Mindfulness, Intention, and Self-Care

As the education experts guiding the next generation on their learning journey, let’s include that self-care teaching in our curriculum. 

Infusing those mindfulness moments and intention setting lessons into our teaching will help our students in the next phase of life. Perhaps it’s elementary to secondary, or secondary to university, or life after school–no matter where they roam, those lessons come in handy. Maybe it’s active listening or taking time out of their hectic schedule to journal their thoughts. Maybe it’s being in a difficult situation and remembering to pause and settle themselves before responding instead of reacting. Maybe it’s setting aside ten minutes every morning during the busy finals season or their upcoming business meeting to meditate and set an intention for the day. Or maybe it’s as simple as knowing when they need to stop, remove themselves from a situation, rest, or take time for themselves to process, remain present, or get back to themselves.

As educators, we do our best to give our students the tools they need to make their way in the world; mindfulness, intention setting, and self-care are a few more of those tools for their life-learning toolbox. 

Many of us are headed back to school in these upcoming weeks. There will be excitement and trepidation, worries and wonders, new experiences and old friends, change, tears, and smiles. Whether it’s at an old stomping ground or a new spot, a place full of strangers or one of familiar faces, you can do this. We believe in you and we’ve got your back–you’re not alone. There will be twists and turns, stumbles and successes–you’ve got this. There’s learning in each new experience: find it. Take a few deep breaths, let your mind settle, set your intention, and rest when you need (this goes for the students and the educators alike). 

And if you get stuck, remember the words of Glinda, the sparkly good witch in The Wizard of Oz: ”You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” 

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.

 

 

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