Voices in Education

5 Mindful Lessons to Keep You Inspired

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You’ve made it through the first couple of months or so of teaching. Maybe by now, you are feeling overwhelmed, tired and for some, ready for another vacation week. No worries, maybe an attitude adjustment is in order, and as a veteran teacher with 39 years in public school pedagogy, I am here to recommend five easy lessons in mindfulness, to keep you inspired.

Just to share with you a little secret. Early in my career, waiting for Fridays to come was how my mind and those of my colleague, thought about constantly. Our favorite greeting on Mondays was, “Good morning, can’t wait for Friday,”- and when Friday came, it was, “Happy Friday,” as if the rest of the week was not so happy, no matter what day. It was all a blur because we had our minds on something else each day and we were never fully present in the moments of the rest of the week. This kind of non-presence can  sometimes make showing up for work exhausting and you probably already know that this feeling is not exclusive to teachers. We have our own unique stressors that go along with teaching, but to no consolation, we are not alone. Most people are bogged down with negative thoughts or either thinking of the past and future and never fully present in the moment, at their jobs or even at home. This is your first lesson in mindfulness. Becoming present takes practice.

Lesson One: Defining Mindfulness

Mindfulness is being in the present moment and paying attention to what is and not what could be (future) and could have been (past). It means keeping a focused awareness, witnessing every feeling, situation and conditions as they are happening with no judgement or avoidance. For example, you probably can remember a time when you were fully present in a situation, and for a moment, you stayed calm and dealt with whatever was at hand. Maybe you took a deep breath, stopped yourself from saying or doing something you may regret later. Your next lesson is to value your breath.

Lesson TwoTake a Mindful Breath

I learned the value of a deep breath in my yoga practice. Yes, you guessed it, I am an advocate of Yoga, because it taught me the science of the breath (prana) and how learning to take a slow deep breath not only helped to calm myself physically, but also mentally. Dr. John Douillard is a globally recognized leader in the field of natural health. In his book,” Body, Mind and Sport,” Dr. Douillard shares the latest science on practicing taking in deep and slow nasal breaths which activate the parasympathetic system to help the body relax, which in turn helps the mind slow its thoughts and helps promote more focused attention. I highly recommend this book -- just try a few slow, deep breaths each day before you get out of bed or before your students enter your classroom or make it a part of your routine with your students. I used to stop in the middle of a lesson, and just asked my students to take a slow, deep breath with me. In that moment, we were back to the present and regrouped our attention to what is.

Lesson Three: Teach from Your Heart

Students, parents, administrators and even our own colleagues can sometimes take their toll. During stressful times, we may break down and react from a negative and destructive place. Complaining, arguing, and losing hope or venting every day in our teacher lounges on occasion is sometimes satisfying. The consistency of harboring such negative feelings can be detrimental, and it’s the expression of these negative thoughts that should not come at the expense of our own health and well-being.

Teaching from the heart is a quality of self-love. Exploring the qualities of our heart takes courage and honest self-evaluation. It is not a time to beat yourself up but to question and have an open dialogue around our beliefs, the beliefs of other teachers, and especially the many different students who have entered the classroom. Was I not mindful for how I expressed my disappointment towards an unruly group of students? Was I triggered by a lousy morning drive in, causing me to say and do things that had nothing to do with them? Students being “disciplined” more harshly and the rise in numbers of students with emotional problems being ignored in our schools, to me, is part of a growing lack of mindful behavior of some teachers and administrators.

Learning to be mindful is also a practice of mindful loving. It will not solve all of the problems in our schools, but more love in our schools being brought about by genuinely mindful people cannot hurt. Mindful teachers learn to love more because placing the focus on negative self-talk, victimization, stressful multitasking is exactly what will show up in your classroom, no matter what subject you teach. Cultivating love within yourself requires some level of vulnerability and changing the inner voice that says you are separate from everyone else.

Lesson FourAffirm Yourself

As you become more self-aware, you realize your words and negative thoughts can hurt but they also can heal you. This is where affirmations come into play. What we say out loud and what we think, both have an effect on our minds and bodies, and they have a way of coming back to us. If we say that we are unworthy, then we will make decisions pertaining to how we really think of ourselves. It usually shows up in the way we allow people to treat us.

How worthy do we feel about our profession, to our families, or community? It may depend on the thoughts and words that we use every day with our colleagues, family, and students.

Affirmations are attitude changers for teachers. They support our beliefs of ourselves and they are very powerful tools to enhance our self-esteem. It is not a way to enhance or support the ego. They affirm what are really true about us as we grow in our practice of mindfulness.

Even though our mind is constantly thinking, we are able to choose an affirmation and bring attention to it, bring a feeling as if it is really happening. Your attention supports your intentions. Affirmations are wonderful ways to take your mind and emotions to a more productive place. Thoughts tend to lean toward the negative on a daily basis, but remember, you get to choose which ones that you will listen and be attentive to. 

Reading a positive sentence, feeling what you feel without judgement and saying positive affirmations out loud gives a more mindful approach to daily self-listening and attention.

Here are few to begin your positive affirmation.

“I am available for more: 

“I am grateful for:

“I am worthy of:

Lesson Five:Stay Inspired

Staying inspired is like any other thing in life that keeps you wanting to continue and find some enjoyment. It is an inside job. Reading inspirational books, spending time in nature, hanging out with colleagues that are saying and doing positive things, all can contribute to a more positive teaching experience, but it truly is an act of self-love and mindful awareness. Don’t give in to life’s everyday drudgery and keep waiting for your ‘happy day,’, walk into your classroom every day, bring your whole self, your strengths, your courage and your vulnerabilities. You may not always have it all together, you may not be present on most days, but make an effort to practice moments when you can be. Just being is also a mindful practice.

Angela Jamal Teacher

Angela Jamal is a retired (2017) Health and Wellness Boston Public school teacher who is currently working on her doctoral degree in Oriental Medicine. She is the mother of five children, married for 30 years before her husband’s death in 2009 and is the author of two published books called The Mindful Teacher Handbook (2019) and The Spiritual Teen: Awakening to the Real You (2016). 

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