mindfulness for educators
Jul 10, 2022
This mindfulness program has been developed for school educators and administrative staff.
The introductory session offers an experiential exploration of what possibilities mindfulness may offer. It begins with the thinking (driven-doing) mode of mind, versus the sensing (mindful-being) mode.
Drawing on this, a conceptual framework is introduced which suggests the qualities of the two modes of mind. The thinking (driven- doing) mode of mind is the mode most of us identify with in our work context. This has many advantages. However, we want to explore whether opening to sensing (mindful-being) mode can increase our possibilities.
Participants will be invited to do a sitting practice so they can experience sensing with curiosity and kindness. This practice offers opportunities to contemplate what mindfulness may have to offer. Supported by the inquiry & discussion which ensues, participants' learning can be drawn out and underlined.
The underlying theme of possibilities continues in the context of educators in particular. What are some reasons one might practice? What does a course look like? What is the evidence base?
Some will be interested to explore how mindfulness can support the young people they work with. What would it look like in the classroom?
However, to bring mindfulness to young people, we begin with ourselves as educators.
By putting on their own oxygen masks through a course such as Mindfulness for Educators, participants can experience mindfulness and boost their own well-being. For some, this is also the start of the journey toward being able to teach mindfulness in an embodied, authentic way to students. For others, it will be about how to cultivate and integrate mindful awareness into your teaching experience.
The program unfolds as follows:
Waking Up to the Autopilot.
Autopilot and the Costs of Habit and Inattention
Steady the attention through sensing body and breathing – finding an anchor in body sensations.
Practice FIRM, PATIENT, KIND, and REPETITION to train the muscle of attention.
Mindfulness starts when we recognize the human tendency to operate on automatic pilot, and begin to learn how best to step out of it. This is highlighted by the experience of eating mindfully and noticing the differences between the experience of this and our habitual, autopilot way of eating. This offers an example of how we can choose to tune into what our senses are telling us and engage in all the activities in our life, becoming more aware of our moments.
The body is our great ally in this, and the foundation of all mindfulness training is the cultivation of embodied attention. By learning to gently drop attention again and again into the sensations of the body, we can practise grounding ourselves in the present moment of lived experience and not feeding difficult thoughts and feelings that can so easily carry us away. In this way, body sensations are a great place to anchor the attention and the first step in mindfulness training is to practise connecting with these and sustaining this connection.
As well as an anchor, however, body sensations can also be a radar. It’s in the body that you can feel the first stirrings of emotionally charged thoughts. Instead of your body acting as an amplifier, it can become a sensitive early warning system that alerts you to unhappiness, anxiety, stress and fatigue almost before they arise. But if you are to learn to ‘read’ and understand the messages from your body, you have to learn how to pay attention, in detail, to those parts of the body that are the source of the signals. As you will soon discover, these signals can arise from anywhere in the body. This means you need to use a meditation practice that includes every region of the body, ignoring nothing, befriending everything. And for this we use the body scan.
When we use the body scan we begin to recognise habits of mind and body, encouraging awareness of these with an attitude of patience and non-judgemental, friendly curiosity.
However, it is also important to be aware of recent research coming out of the disciplines of neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology that confirm that our teaching of meditation be informed by an understanding of how the nervous system works. A key finding here is to know about the mechanics of your own body, mind, past experiences, and the possible impact of trauma in your own life.
Trauma is all around us. It will visit you in terms of your own life experience, inherited experiences, or in the people you serve and interact with. Therefore, it is important to be trauma-informed. The basis of being informed is to know that life, energy, aliveness, and arousal, run through your body all the time. This is not just a concept. It's a lived experience.
Visiting sensations in the body might not feel right for you at this moment. Awareness of that is important. So, a priority will always be to remind you to bring self-compassion to your own needs.
Bringing Curiosity To Our Experience
Using the body as an anchor and radar.
Calm your mind by ‘anchoring’ it in the body.
Explore and befriend bodily sensations with curiosity and kindness.
Use bodily sensations as helpful indicators.
The first week of the mindfulness program began the process of building a capacity for sustained mindful concentration and awareness. It may have given you a glimpse into the mind’s inner workings and its tendency to ‘chatter’. For very good evolutionary reasons our mind tends to ‘chatter’ about what is going wrong, and this can easily hijack our attention and sweep us away towards anxiety.
The body is our great ally in not getting swept away by this chatter. As we have seen, the foundation of all mindfulness training is the cultivation of embodied attention. By learning to drop attention again and again into the sensations of the body, we can practice grounding ourselves in the present moment of lived experience and not feeding difficult thoughts and feelings that can so easily carry us away. In this way, body sensations are a great place to anchor the attention and the first step in mindfulness training is to practice connecting with these and sustaining this connection.
As well as an anchor, however, body sensations can also be a radar. It’s in the body that you can feel the first stirrings of emotionally charged thoughts. Instead of your body acting as an amplifier, it can become a sensitive early warning system that alerts you to unhappiness, anxiety, stress and fatigue almost before they arise. But if you are to learn to ‘read’ and understand the messages from your body, you have to learn how to pay attention, in detail, to those parts of the body that are the source of the signals. As you will soon discover, these signals can arise from anywhere in the body. This means you need to use a meditation practice that includes every region of the body, ignoring nothing, and befriending everything. And for this, we use the body scan.
Mindfulness in Daily Life
Integrating mindfulness into movement and daily life
Bring mindfulness into movement.
Practice doing a short signature practice for this program.
Meditation is a particular activity distinct from others, whilst mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day: it is a particular way of doing whatever we’re doing. Deliberately practicing being present in the midst of activity - keeping connected with the sensations of the body, feeling breathing, noticing our state of mind and thoughts or impulses that may be strongly present – these are ways of bringing a quality of mindfulness and wakefulness into the midst of daily life.
Formal practice offers us practice in developing more control of our attention focus and approaching our experience and fostering the attitudes of curiosity, patience, and kindness towards our experience and ourselves. But we practice formally so that we can have mindfulness more readily available to us in our lives. So, intentionally bringing practice into our lives through short formal practices (such as the .b you will be taught) or by choosing to be present for everyday activities we do in our lives is an important part of this learning.
Practicing shifting modes of mind with mindful awareness helps us to build flexibility and supports us in feeling which mode of mind supports us best in moments of life. We may find we are choosing to step away from unhelpful habits of thinking or doing that we notice or towards enjoyable experiences we notice.
Practicing being mindful whilst moving – in activities, walking, sport or creative pastimes – can enhance these experiences and even support a sense of flow and ease in the midst of what we’re doing. We are learning to recognise that mindful awareness can be present in both stillness and movement in our lives. We are developing skills through ‘formal’ practice so that they can be more available in our daily lives.
Tuning in to Thoughts & Feelings
Thoughts: how influential they are and how we can learn to relate to them more mindfully and skilfully
Recognise patterns of worrying and overthinking and the effects that these have.
Practise unhooking from such patterns so as to find more freedom in relation to difficult thoughts.
This session highlights the possibility of relating differently to thoughts and so discovering a new freedom in relation to this powerful aspect of our experience that so often controls and inhibits our lives. It’s the movement from viewing thoughts as facts to recognising them as mental events that come and go in our awareness, even when the thoughts and the feelings accompanying them are unpleasant or strong.
Learning to step back from, or decentre, from our thoughts allows us to see them clearly and decide whether or not to listen to their story. With awareness, we can see the interconnections of thoughts, moods, body states and actions we take, and loosen the grip of habitual reactivity. We can begin to recognise habitual thought patterns such as self-criticism or problem-solving strategies and learn to respond to these well-worn mental grooves with kindness and wisdom. We can begin to choose which “thought bus” we board as we wait in the station rather than getting on every bus that arrives, even if we don’t want to go to the destination to which it will inevitably take us.
In this session, this changed relationship is highlighted both by ‘didactic’ learning about ways of relating to thoughts and also by practicing this new relationship through the Sounds and Thoughts meditation and the Thought Bus exercise.
Exploring Difficulty: Building Resilience.
How turning towards feelings of difficulty can help.
Identify your stress signature in order to cope more skillfully.
Befriend and breathe with sensations of stress so as to respond rather than react.
The whole mindfulness course so far has been building to this point. The invitation now is to use the attention-based skills cultivated in the first four weeks of the course to turn towards and befriend aspects of experience that we might otherwise avoid or work hard to fix because they are uncomfortable and because, as human beings, we are hard-wired to do so.
So far in the course, we have been exploring bodily sensations as the arena for turning towards difficult experiences, and we continue to do this in this session. Curiosity & kindness, allowing and accepting are the keys to doing this in ways that alleviate rather than add to suffering, helping us to respond rather than to react.
In this session, we explore the belief that human stress is created by the way that we see and respond to challenging circumstances, rather than necessarily the circumstances themselves. It is normal and natural to react to threatening situations, but recognising and stepping back from automatic reactivity to choose wisely responding allows us to build resilience and steadiness in the midst of life’s storms.
Reminding yourself of your own practices when difficulty is present in your life is an essential foundation to offering this part of the course with embodied presence, integrity, and genuineness.
We can teach this way of being with difficult experiences because we have first-hand experience of working with it this way ourselves.
Relating to Ourselves and Others
How our mindfulness practice can include our communications with others.
Cultivate an attitude of kindness towards yourself and others through the Befriending practice.
Bring mindful awareness to relating.
Being with other people can be both wonderful and highly challenging. As we practice mindfulness we notice our tendency to relate to ourselves and others using habitual patterns of thinking and acting which may be outdated or unhelpful. Mindful awareness can allow alternatives to become available. Many of us, and especially if we work in a school, spend most of our waking day in relationship with other people. This class offers a chance to explore how we can support this aspect of our lives with mindfulness practice. This is the chance to practice with our eyes open, including another person in our field of focus as we practice.
In this lesson, we build on the previous exploration of noticing, awareness, and recognition of habitual and personal patterns of body and mind. We extend the learning about skillful ways to relate to difficulty, and especially the attitudes of friendliness and curiosity that support this. The possibility to open to or turn towards even challenging circumstances, internally or externally as we are in connection with others, is explored through the image of a petal opening in the Petal Practice. The physical opening in this practice is connected to the invitation to be open to ourselves and others through attitudes of friendliness and acceptance.
Kindness transforms things: the ‘aversion’ pathways in the mind are switched off and the ‘approach’ pathways are switched on instead.
This change in attitude enhances openness, creativity, and happiness, while at the same time dissolving the fear, guilt, anxiety, and stresses that lead to exhaustion and chronic discontent.
Developing Balance In Our Lives
Learn about: How you can boost your mood and well-being through your choices both about whatthings you do and how you do them.
Recognise how we deplete ourselves in daily activities and how awareness can allow us different choices.
Integrate more nourishing activities into your life.
The central question in this session is "How do I spend my time, and do the choices that I make about this really support my well-being and that of those around me?"
It's a challenging question, especially when our lives are so busy, but it seems important to ask it regularly so that we don't just let the weeks, months and years slip by in an autopilot state of busyness. Mindful awareness can offer us a deeper connection between how we are in this moment and the choices we make about what we do and how we act. With mindful awareness we can also tune in to the way we do activities in our lives as much as what we do.
This session allows time to reflect on the ratio of 'nourishing' to 'depleting' activities in a typical day. In this class, we’re invited to consider how to make adjustments to shift this ratio, or to let ourselves be more nourished by the nourishing things and less drained by the depleting things.
This is often about becoming more aware of the mode of mind in which we do both nourishing and depleting activities: to do activities mindfully tends to mean that we're more open to nourishment and less likely to wear ourselves down with the resistance and unconsciousness that often accompany depleting activities.
Mindfulness And The Rest of Your Life?
Learn ways to:
Identify what you’ve learned from doing this course.
Consider what advice you’d give to your future self and what you’ll continue to practice.
In the last class, we explore that, through mindful awareness, we can learn to sense and then respond to times when we, and the activities in our lives, are out of balance. The need to monitor this balance as it constantly shifts becomes apparent: balances are of course always dynamic.
It is this ongoing need for awareness and skilled responding that we are especially encouraging in this last class. Participants reflecting back on their learning from the course, and awareness of how things are currently, inform the choices each participant makes about how mindfulness may fit into the rest of their lives. The learning from the course is drawn on throughout this session, honouring their completion of the course and readiness to continue with their mindfulness practice once the course has ended.