A Teacher's Quest - A Practice of Mindfulness

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A Teacher’s Quest – My Practice of Mindfulness

By: Erin DeCoste

I was feeling quite crabby this morning, for no particular reason.  I was getting irritated with everything and everyone around me, and just wanted to be left alone.  I have a very full life and schedule, as do all educators, and require a fair amount of decompression time each week in order to maintain peace and order in my brain.  I have been lacking that time recently – which was really evident this morning!  I sat for a quiet moment and a realization dawned on me – what if today was my last day?  What if?  The thought disturbed me for a moment, and then I thought: If today were my last day, how would I want it to play out?  Would I want it to be a day of being grouchy and irritable? Absolutely, positively NO!   

Feeling extremely grateful for that moment of grace and clarity, I practiced being mindful with every thought I had the rest of the day. I gave each moment its due.  I stopped multi-tasking when my daughter told me what she did at her friend’s birthday party, and I gave her my absolute, fullest attention.  I noticed my own joy watching her animation and happiness while she shared her story. When my cat crawled into my lap for attention, I stopped what I was doing and patted her until she chose to leave. I noticed my happiness because she chose to share her affection with me. My heart and mind were full of gratitude for my family, my friends, the world, my wonderful life, everything.  Being mindful of my range of emotions, and then making a conscious choice to change my experiences, really turned my day around.  

I have read a lot about mindfulness, and I have sat in on several Mindful Meditation sessions offered in my town.  I practice being mindful every chance that I can.  I have the best intentions every day when I wake up: I say my prayers of gratitude, then set my intentions for the day to be compassionate, empathetic, and really notice how I feel during encounters and experiences with others.  

Some days go according to this plan, and others definitely do not. As a special education teacher, I typically have a lot of patience, and know not to take what other people do and say personally.  However, I get pushed to the end of my patience sometimes, and in these frustrated moments, I turn to mindfulness – I take a deep breath, examine my emotions and responses, reset myself, and counsel myself to go back to the situation in a mindful state. I notice how I am feeling, see the situation from the student’s point of view, feel compassion, change the tone of my voice, make better word choices, and become aware of my non-verbal language. I always feel instantly better when I do this.  Usually the situation can be turned around, and I am able to have a constructive conversation with the student. 

When I interact with my students in a mindful way, they respond more positively to me. They see me actively listening to them, and hear me responding to what they are saying, which validates their opinions and ideas. It has led to them being more thoughtful and mindful toward their classmates and myself. I have a quote on my board (from Cinderella’s mom): Have courage and be kind. Last week, one of my students adjusted it: Have courage and be kind to Mrs. DeCoste. My heart was full.

I work with my students every day to assist them with finding their mindfulness – what works for them?  How to quiet the many, many thoughts flying through their minds at any given time, and focus on the task? How to be mindful of how their words and actions affect others?  How to set positive intentions for themselves every day, as they navigate through a very difficult time in their lives – middle school? Some strategies that we use include:

  • mindful breathing – being aware of breath, slowing it down
  • mindful steps – how the ground feels, what do you see/hear/smell
  • gratitude journal or jar: writing what you are grateful for
  • sense countdown – think of:

                        5 things you can see

                        4 things you can touch

                        3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

                        1 thing you can taste

  • guided meditation using a succulent plant to focus attention

As a faculty member at Anna Maria College, I try to instill upon my educator preparation graduate students the importance of practicing mindfulness as they go into their classrooms every day.  You never know the impact you may have on another human being – may it be positive or negative.  Give students and others in your life, your fullest attention.  Be mindful about how you respond to stressful situations and how you view your world.  Good self-care is essential for educators to practice in order to support their health and well-being. Some strategies to try include:

  • adequate sleep, healthful diet, and good hydration
  • spend time outdoors – nature therapy
  • move! Walk, run, jump, dance, tiptoe, ride, swim – just move!
  • pursue your hobbies
  • spend time alone; spend time with people you care about
  • keep a gratitude journal or jar: write what you are grateful for
  • plant therapy: growing, caring for, admiring plants
  • pet therapy: spend time with animals
  • practice meditation: even if it is only for 3-5 minutes
  • (see “Headspace” below for short, guided, daily meditations)
  • community service: helping others feels great!
  • squelch negative self-talk
  • find something interesting and positive about people you know

Learn how to practice your mindfulness. My mindfulness is a work in progress, but I feel like my baby steps are more like toddler steps now.  I want my mindfulness to continue to increase and develop within me.  I know that I need to nurture it, as I do the plants in my garden.  Some days I forget to water, but thankfully, my plants are forgiving and keep growing. I remember that they need my full, mindful attention, and all is well again.  

Mindfulness resources: 

~Fully Present: The Science, Art, & Practice of Mindfulness; written by Susan L Smalley, Ph.D. and Diana Winston 

~Headspace: https://my.headspace.com/

 ~Insight Meditation Society (Barre, MA): www.dharma.org 

~Mindful magazine: www.mindful.org 

Erin DeCoste has been a faculty member at Anna Maria College since 2015.  She currently teaches Strategies for Inclusion and Development of IEPs for the Education Department, and is the Moderate Disabilities Program Coordinator.  She is also an instructor at The Bromfield School in Harvard, MA, where she teaches middle school special education students. 

Alternative Spring Break 2018
2018 Spring Senior Art Exhibit