Finding Breathing Space for Mindful Teaching

Around the world, educators are saying that there is less time for exploration, creativity, and self-discovery in their schools. Is this true in your environment? If so, how do you work with your students and colleagues to open up time for mindful teaching and learning? 

- March 2014


Honesty & Risk

Making time for creativity and self-discovery in education can be challenging when faced with demands to attain a narrow definition of “success” and “achievement.” As a teacher and student, I find that it requires honesty and risk. I have to acknowledge that the best teaching I’ve done required sacrifice. It is often uncomfortable and in some ways isolates me from knowledgeable colleagues who chose to comply without question. As a teacher and student, I set my priorities and try to align my actions with them. I attempt to be proactively mindful with my risk-taking because the most difficult and pressing moments often project a façade of urgency, making comfort and ease appealing.

courage and isolation

The phrases "honesty and risk" and "comply without question" get at the heart of the matter of mindfulness. In an honest relationship with my students, their knowledge and challenges, I am compelled to take risks, to go against the "teacher proof" script, in order to engage and excite my students. Even those who "comply without question" reflect and even rebel when they look back at their class and see that not one of her students is holding on to understanding. The "pacing guide" does not wait for relationships, questioning, and the dissonance required in the learning process. Mindful teaching holds the human aspect of learning.

Wise Dissonance

Thank you Berta for moving into the open space of dissonance where so much creativity and learning can occur. Like Stephani, you've spoken in a voice that is pure and true to the increasingly vulnerable and fragile profession of teaching.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Teacher

Thank you for this wonderful comment Stephani. Doing the right thing--acting with integrity--often requires a certain amount of loneliness. It takes real courage to go the path less traveled.

taking the time

I work in a different type of public school where the teachers are involved in the decision making process and a shared leadership model replaces the typical top-down model existing in many K-8 schools. This year our school was "slam-dunked" into a melting pot of challenges and new transitions. First, we welcomed a new co-lead teacher into our community. In August, we were given an unsatisfactory "label" due to state standardized tests. As a result, we were mandated (you guessed it) to administer more assessments. And, in December our school was hit hard by a budget crises which resulted in several positions being cut. Within this changing environment, I saw little thought given to exploration, self-discovery and reflection. No time! No time! voiced it's panic at each intersection we crossed. Cause and effect were crashing around us. Feelings were hurt. People felt betrayed. Voices were silenced. Trusts were questioned. But, it is never too late to give pause. As a mindful teacher, I see a beautiful opportunity in the moment to look back at how I responded in various situations. Did my intentions ever consider impact? For me, the work begins inside. Now more than ever, urban educators need to pause, look inside, and reflect. Write it down. Draw a picture. Breathe some space into tightness within. It begins with us. It's not an issue of time, but survival.

Breathe some space

Jeff, your comments harmonize beautifully with those of Stephani and Berta before you. You describe a poignant situation in a school that is being hit on all sides by "reformers" from outside who are too eager to tell classroom teachers how to teach. Thank you for your caring and reflective commentary, and for bringing the poetry of "breathing space" to our mindful teacher on-line community.