As a teacher, you are busy. Your mind and body are running a mile a minute, and it can be hard to find the time to slow down and re-center.
That feeling can really take a toll, especially during the late fall and early winter, when both the start of school and holiday breaks feel far away. As a mindfulness expert who specializes in working with educators through her Happy HeART Teachers program, Jenny Bevill knows this better than most. In the latest chapter of the Robertson Center’s Whole Teacher series, she joined educators from across the city for a primer on how to use mindfulness techniques to re-center their focus, manage their energy, and create calm, joyful classrooms. Here are some of her secrets.
Be nice — to yourself. You would never tell a student that they’re not good at what they do, that they’re incapable, or that they don’t deserve kindness or support. But, as adults, we do this to ourselves all day long. That’s bad for us, and also bad for our students. “However self-contained you think you are,” explained Bevill, “when you’re negative to yourself, that negativity ripples out to your kids.” She recommends a simple practice for when you start down this path. “Think about the students you love and what you want for them, or even try picturing yourself at the age they are now. When you show more compassion for yourself, your ability to empathize with others expands, too.”
Send calming signals to your body. When you’re feeling stressed, your body gets flooded with hormones that can make your heart pound, your muscles tense, and your mind feel panicked or anxious. To address this, try putting your hand over your heart for a breath or two. “This lets your parasympathetic nervous system know that everything is okay,” Bevill said, “and it’s something you can do anywhere, anytime, without attracting attention.” You might even consider a mantra that helps you ground back down into reality when you’re feeling overwhelmed. “Something as simple as ‘It’s all already okay’ serves as a powerful reminder that there’s almost nothing that happens that we can’t set right.”
Leverage the power of ‘yet.’ You are a teacher because you know that kids have the ability to grow and change. The same is true for you, too. Think of a frustration in your life — ‘I’m not good at math’ or ‘My kids aren’t where I want them to be’ or ‘my classroom culture isn’t working’ — and apply the same growth mindset to yourself you want to see in your kids. It’s as simple as adding the word yet at the end of each sentence. Your kids aren’t where you want them to be yet. Your classroom culture isn’t working yet. Write the sentence down and post it somewhere you can see it.
Hit the pause button. When you feel an overwhelming rush of emotion, don’t try to push it away. Let it come — then let it go. “Emotions only last 90 seconds if you don’t attach a whole big story to them,” Bevill said. “Breathe through it. Feel it in your body, then let it pass away.” Teach your students how to do this too, helping them learn how to keep their thoughts neutral and breathe through the strong emotions that will inevitably come their way. Along with reducing classroom meltdowns, you’ll be giving your kids a skill that will serve them throughout their entire lives.
End each day with gratitude. At the end of each day, take time to write down three things that happened that you’re grateful for: a thoughtful piece of feedback from a teacher down the hall, a parent who paused to thank you for what you do, cupcakes at the staff meeting — nothing is too small. You can even get students involved, and make this gratitude reflection the closing moments of the school day. “Energy flows where your attention goes,” said Bevill. “Gratitude is a great way to supercharge positive energy. You’ll feel it for sure. Your kids will, too.”
These techniques all take lots of practice, and you probably won’t feel like you’ve nailed every strategy every time. But the more you stick with it, and encourage your kids to practice, too, the more you’ll start to feel the magic of a joyful classroom all throughout the day.