Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Practical Tips for Mindful Teaching

Conversations, by Nick Gregory
This past weekend I took some time to put the brakes on after a whirlwind start to the school year. A lazy Saturday drive led to this photo (right) and some time to just enjoy the ride without any plans.

In addition to teaching, I have been getting in on valuable Twitter chats, reading interesting education blogs and elevating my involvement within my school community. I am an adrenaline junkie who binges on big ideas and feeds off student energy every September and October. This past weekend though, I embraced the reality that teaching is a marathon and not a sprint. I know this from 15 years of experience, but in the past I would wait until a November crash to face my demons.

I cannot express enough how important it is to take the time before October hits to step back and breathe. Slow your roll. If we are not mindful, we can get sucked into the day to day without appreciating the important nuances of our craft. We get so busy that sometimes we substitute movement for meaning.

Four Tips to Remain Mindful as an Educator 

1. Breathe and observe 

Set aside five minutes per day for silent observation. Take in the learning that is happening all around you. With some patience and permission, you may be surprised by what you notice unfolding in your presence.
The Curious Walk, by Nick Gregory
The photo to the left happened because I set my camera aside and noticed surfers climbing a hill in the distance ten minutes prior. By the time they re-appeared there was a two second window to capture this moment with everything in harmony. In the classroom, we spend so much time trying to be "on" that we sometimes forget to appreciate the joy of just being.

To capture and live the moments that matter, it pays to slow down. When students are engaged and on-task, it is a credit to the expert in the classroom. Our default mode is programmed to juggle and multi-task. Choose to be intentional about noticing what is going on around you - the sounds, the sights, the feel. Live in those harmonious moments (Harmony can be many things in a classroom -  designed chaos, loud, messy or even quiet, low-key and deliberate, etc.) A positive classroom environment is to be appreciated, not taken for granted. At the very least, observe recess or the lunch room to breathe it all in. Be present. It works.

2. Make meaningful 1-minute impressions daily

Choose 5-10 students that you will get to know a little better each week. These will be those "1-minute moments" to listen with more intention as they are in group work or to read homework a little closer. Find your opportunity to dig a little deeper. Simply make a point to intentionally engage those 5-10 students more than normal. It could include reaching out to a family member, checking in with past teachers or noticing something unique and sharing your observation with the student. Whatever means you employ, take one valuable minute to personally connect and it will enhance the learning experience. By Thanksgiving you will have connected individually with all of your students in a meaningful way. If you have fewer students (elementary or special education come to mind), you could alter this idea to fit your classroom and maximize these personal connections early in the school year.

3. Connect your talents to your work 

Drifting Together, by Nick Gregory
Take something you already enjoy and build it into being a better educator and colleague. The connection can be loose, but it's a risk worth taking.

So for me, I enjoy photography and writing. Connecting for me means making post cards to share with colleagues (There are samples below from a gift set that I will give to some friends and colleagues). I even made business cards which fed into my interests designing. I intend to design stationery using my photography for notes to students, recent graduates, colleagues or families from time to time.

The idea is that you take interests you want to develop and play around with them. It is not a race. These initiatives bring you to a place where you are enhancing your experience in your professional life. Let's come to terms with the fact there will always be things we have to do, but applying your interests to your career is something you will enjoy doing. And besides, when you let people in and they learn more about who you are then a more meaningful work experience is right around the corner. We all have talents (fixing things, building things, planning things, organizing events, art, gardening, web design, writing, exercise, yoga, music, video, etc.) that inform who we are and match up with values within our profession. When we can sneak something personal into our professional life it brings us back to our center and it enhances the experience of others. It is worth the energy to experiment. Acting on this idea has brought me immense gratification. It is a win.

4. Seek the company of people who make you smile 

Sometimes we need to put the fun back into work. When the grind of education becomes a challenge, feed off others. Every school building has a zany goofball who is ready to supply a hearty laugh. Better yet, we all have students with this gift. Find them. Now. The gravitational force of helping others can create a roller-coaster experience and laughter can make for a lighter and more enjoyable ride. Seek opportunities to smile. We all know this is important, but the reminder never hurts.

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Honoring our craft (See No. 3 above)

The photographs included in this blog above represent a sample from a set of postcards I will pass along to others over the course of the school year. I have included a few more of the postcard photos below. Each card represents a big idea that is central to learning and the craft of teaching. On the postcards, the "big idea" is printed on the front of the card (listed in the captions for this blog post). The recipients can display them or they can pass them on to someone else. It is entirely up the recipient and it honors our profession.

Resilience, by Nick Gregory
Resting point, by Nick Gregory

Imagination, by Nick Gregory

Mindful, by Nick Gregory

1 comment:

  1. So well written, Nick! These thoughts are such great reminders for all of us, in everything we do! Thank you for expressing it so well! XO