The faint chill in the air, the hints of yellows and reds in the trees, the first flights of flocks of fully-grown geese… AND the push and shove of antsy parents scrambling for that last orange, plastic, three-hole binder at Target can mean only one thing…
TIME FOR SCHOOL!!!!
Now add the letter from central administration inviting you to Superintendent’s Conference Day, along with a roster of new student names. When you are a teacher as well as a parent, this time of year rouses a host of emotions that run the gamut from psyched, to terrified, to relieved, to depressed. How to manage??? Mindfulness, of course. To be mindful is to pay focused attention to yourself in your surroundings in the present moment, while non-judgmentally observing your mental, physical, and emotional states. By doing this, we can significantly improve our attitudes and reactions (both internal, and external) and in turn, positively impact those around us. And the people around us who matter the most during back-to-school time are very important people indeed: our children and our students.
It Starts With Us
Improving our world begins as an ‘inside job’. In order to provide the much needed love, care, and support to kids in a time of such flux, we first need to take stock of our own well-being. Only then can we can effectively apply mindful communication techniques in our interactions with these fragile, little beings.
The challenge for me, as a parent and teacher at the end of a summer vacation is that for the past two months, mindfulness practice was easier. My responsibilities were limited. I was able to unplug from my devices without fear of missing something important (see Beating Tech Overload). I was able to sleep until my body was ready to wake (most mornings, anyway). This didn’t mean I stayed in bed awake and too lazy to move, but having the discipline to climb out of bed just as my eyes were naturally opening (NOT at the blare of an alarm). For me, this is the BEST time for mindfulness practice, as it truly sets the tone for the day. We were particularly blessed this year to have really mild weather, so there were plenty of mindful walks. It isn’t too difficult to be truly in the moment when your moment is watching the sun set over the water at the beach.
Strategies for Keeping the Mindful Momentum
Start mornings with a to-do list, then put it to the side. This will eliminate the worry and fear of forgetting something important, enabling you to focus fully on the task at hand. In order to live and work mindfully you need to shed notions about the supposed benefits of multitasking. I attended a workshop with Cory Muscara (The Long Island Center for Mindfulness) during which he said that we only ever have one email in our inbox; the one we are currently reading. If you are short on sleep and didn’t have the morning time to meditate, take just three minutes at your desk to focus on nothing but your breathing. Take frequent breaks to walk. Keep sneakers in your car and weather permitting, walk during lunch. When times are stressful, I know I tend to overeat and reach for carbs. Avoid this by planning ahead. Keep healthy snacks in your desk (nuts, seeds, and protein bars). Most of all, have faith that everything will get done! Worrying and stressing will not slow time: it will only impede your ability to effectively function.
As stressed and anxious as YOU might feel, think about the kids with such limited life experience, and the literal and figurative smallness many will feel upon crossing the threshold of the classroom. For many it is a joyful, optimistic time filled with new sneakers, fresh pencils, curiosity, and new adventures with friends. Sadly though, and often invisibly, for some it is a reprieve from loneliness and hurt, or a source of extreme anxiety. Being mindful of our own well-being will better equip us for the the challenge of helping these students. And don’t neglect the emotional needs of your own kids. Project an aura of calm, maintain a relaxing and reassuring bedtime routine, and LISTEN to any fears or concerns they might express.
Be mindful and truly enjoy this transformative and wonderful time of year!