For Your Best School Year Ever — Take a Breath!

 

Ah, when big box store aisles are teeming with school supplies, can the new year be far behind? As a teacher I had a love/hate relationship with this time of year. I was loathe to give up my calmer sleep-in mornings and my “no homework” summer evenings.  At the same time, I was excited about beginning a new adventure in my chosen career. I was anxious to see my class list, prepare my room, and formulate ways to make sure this year was going to be the year! Starting a new school year is all about creating and dreaming and hoping.

After wading through the obligatory district and school staff meetings, I would hit the ground running so that I’d be prepared for the new material, new schedules, and new students. The night before school finally started, I could never sleep. My mind would race with endless “to do” lists and things I absolutely must not forget. My brain would erupt with worries about the unforeseen “what if’s,” and my anxiety level would peak with a yearning to hurry up and get in a routine.

With all the essential requests and requirements of the first few weeks of school, it is easy to find ourselves skittering around like squirrels on a highway trying to find a calm place in all the chaos. Those first few weeks can be overwhelming and leave teachers feeling exhausted. As the new school year begins perhaps the best practice we can employ is to pause, take a breath, and prioritize.

Since 2007, educators across the U.S. have been formally introduced to the practice of mindfulness. Most educators are at least familiar with the idea. The concept of mindfulness is gaining recognition in the fields of neuroscience and psychology as a way for individuals to grow and control their brains in a particular way. It generally begins with learning to focus attention and be fully aware in the moment without being distracted by past anxiety or future uncertainties. The basics are simple but take practice.

 

The Five-Minute Mini-Meditation

  1. Find a quiet spot to sit, lie, or stand. Pick a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Get in a comfortable position.
  3. Rest your hands on your legs or at your sides.
  4. Either close your eyes, or focus on a single point in front of you.
  5. Listen to your breath as you inhale and exhale.
  6. Try to focus on your breathing and not what is causing you stress.
  7. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Inhale slowly to the count of five, then exhale slowly as you count to five.
  8. Continue for about five minutes.
  9. If your mind wanders, don’t beat yourself up or feel defeated. Simply refocus and begin again. Be patient with yourself. The more you practice, the better you will become at maintaining your concentration.
  10. At the end of the session, open your eyes or readjust your eyes.
  11. Notice how you feel.
  12. Pay attention to the calming that has occurred.
Find some great mindfulness tips here!

 

The simple act of pausing to connect with one’s thoughts in a focused, nonjudgmental setting can yield remarkable feelings of awareness and control.  Just being able to label feelings and realize one has a conscious choice about whether or not to act on those feelings is empowering.

Teachers often feel helpless because we face so many things in our school environment are out of our control. Once we are able to label and manage our emotions, we are better able to decide where to put our limited time and energy.  I love this sensible graphic I found on BizNews.com:

 

One of the greatest gifts we can give our mental, spiritual, and physical well-being is compassionately to “let go” of the things beyond our control.  Instead of wringing our hands with “if only” statements we can start framing our thoughts around “I can” statements.

 

If only . . .

I can . . .

my colleagues weren’t so negative. keep myself healthy and upbeat. I can try to be more encouraging and less judgmental.
the principal had given me the class assignment I wanted. learn all I can about this new assignment and approach it as a challenge rather than a punishment.
the “powers that be” would stop making these ridiculous mandates. express my concerns in a thoughtful, cogent manner to those who can actually influence the decisions.
these parents would get more involved. communicate with parents in every way possible and actively try to build relationships in which they feel more trusting and inclined to respond.

 

 

 

If may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to handle our hyper-connected, over-stimulating, distraction-filled school lives is to take time to be still and think. Even if it’s just for short periods, educators can make huge leaps in personal well-being by pausing, breathing deeply, and making conscious decisions about our priorities.

 

Share your ideas with us about how you insure your own well-being both at the start and throughout the school year.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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