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Desperately Seeking Mindful Educators

By Kevin Hawkins

02/14/2018

I have been meaning to write this article for a long time. About eight years in fact. In 2009, I was contemplating submitting a kind of "Wanted Ad" to TIE because I was looking for someone else-Anyone?-who was teaching mindfulness in international schools. Though I didn't manage to write the article, I did search as much as I could and eventually came across just one other international school teacher, Meena Srinivason, who later wrote the beautiful book, Teach, Breathe, Learn, and who was at that time working in the U.S. Embassy School in Delhi. These days, when I go to an education conference, it seems almost every teacher I meet has a story about mindfulness being used in some way in their school. But in 2008, the practice was not very common at all.

While working as middle school principal at the International School of Prague, I started to teach basic meditation techniques to middle school students who had signed up to take an exploratory class in philosophy and psychology. It was a sort of, "What do we know, and how do we know it?" course. I was co-teaching with a colleague who delivered the philosophy, while I focused on designing experiential activities to give students an opportunity to focus on their inner, present-moment experiences. It was our attempt at a version of a middle school Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course.

Our motivation in offering this course was born out of a realization that psychology is one of the few IB subjects that is not taught explicitly in middle school (and partly because I always thought TOK was a cool subject and I wanted to teach it myself!). But I also felt a deeper drive to try to open the door in schools to exploring mindfulness as a way of developing social and emotional skills. This, in turn, had arisen from recent personal experiences. I was going through a very difficult phase of my life that left me struggling to cope on a daily basis with being a father of three and principal of a busy middle school. With hindsight, I can see that I was close to burn out.

In the midst of all this, someone gave me a copy of a book about present-moment awareness. One Saturday morning, sitting at the kitchen table after my breakfast, I started to read. I was only a few pages in when I was filled with an extraordinary sensation; it is difficult to describe, but my senses seemed to readjust themselves and sharpen into an expansive awareness of just sitting there, at the kitchen table, fully alive in body, mind, and heart. The experience brought with it an echo of similar sensations from the first time I had explored meditation in my early 20s when on a trip to India. I realized how much I was now in need of that elusive sense of calm and space.

After that transformational moment, I dusted myself off and began to actively pursue training in meditation and mindfulness in various places with different teachers and approaches. Over the next two to three years, I developed my capacity to focus, to de-stress, and to cope better with difficulty-to process grief and anger, for example, and basically to come alive again. It wasn't too long before I began to realize how deeply beneficial the things I was learning were for my work and my professional relationships, as well as potentially being of value to the teachers, parents, and students in my school. These simple emotional management skills that I was having to learn in my mid 50s could, I realized, be helpfully introduced to students in school.

I also realized that, over time, I had lost connection with my passion for teaching and my initial reasons for becoming a teacher. As an administrator, I hardly taught at all, but when I started to offer classes in mindful awareness to students in the middle school I gradually began to rediscover the joy of teaching and the pleasure of openly connecting with my students.

What we want for our children we need for ourselves
As time went on, I found some excellent programs that were specifically designed for teaching mindfulness to students, and I also began to share what I was doing with teachers and parents, many of whom were interested in training in mindful awareness for themselves.
In the work that I do with MindWell Education, we use the framework of:

Be mindful
Teach mindfully
Teach mindfulness

Although we do also train teachers to deliver mindfulness programs to their students, our emphasis is always very much on the Being Mindful aspect-the understanding that through self-care we can better manage stress, avoid burnout, and enjoy teaching. This, in turn, can lead to a more mindful approach to our work that, given the huge impact of authentic, connected relationships on learning, begins to affect the way we interact with our students and improve the classroom environment.*

I believe it is now time for schools to begin to shift the focus towards incorporating social and emotional learning more centrally into our programs and approaches. Mindful awareness training for students, teachers, and school leaders can provide invaluable support in developing this overlooked but crucial aspect of human learning in 21st-century education.

Better late than never!

Although I never did write that initial article, I am pleased to have finally put pen to paper and paper to print. And my initial question is still relevant: if you are engaged in some type of mindful awareness training in your school, do let us know about it. Please drop an email to TIE (editor@tieonline.com) briefly describing what you or your school is doing. We will collate this information and feed it back through a future article. Thanks!

References:
Cozolino, L. (2013) The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom. New York: Norton.

Jennings, P., Brown, J., Frank, J. Doyle, S., Oh, Y., Tanler, R., Rasheed, D., DeWeese, A., DeMauro, A., Cham, H., Greenberg, M. (2015) 'Promoting teachers' social and emotional competence and classroom quality: a randomized controlled trial of the CARE for Teachers professional development program', draft submission EDU-2015-1078R2, Journal of Educational Psychology.




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Comments

02/16/2018 - rupa
I am a school head and a teacher.

I am worried and mindful about my students and their levels of stress . I am very keen to understand the theory of mindfulness and would love to learn more from you.

Please consider my expression of interest to be associated with you.
Rupa



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