10/24/2022 0 Comments
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of running a workshop for AISA (Association of International Schools in Africa) educators about mindfulness.
Since that experience, I have been thinking non-stop about good health and well-being and the nature of our busy schools. Perhaps if you're like me, your typical teaching day is a whirlwind of activity, conversation and tasks, and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Planning, grading, meetings, co-curricular responsibilities... sometimes you finish the week and it feels like you've just completed an Ironman race. Right?
Yet Sustainable Development Goal #3 highlights the importance of good health and well-being, and the Inner Development Goals show us that only by attending mindfully to our own mindsets and sense of being can we care for others and the world. Many of our schools have created important SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) programs in the past few years, and mental health and well-being has been brought to the fore as a result of Covid-19. All of these important signals suggest that a school week like the one I just described is unhealthy and unsustainable.
I listened to a podcast this morning where someone mentioned the obsession we have (culturally) with growth, and the pervasive mindset that growth needs to be continuous and rapid, as if we're driving with our foot continuously jamming the gas pedal to the floor. Yet, to sustain growth (personal, economic, intellectual or innovative growth), there needs to be a balance with reflection, rest, consolidation and healing.
The best example of this might be how we build muscles at the gym. When we lift weights, we create tiny tears in our muscle fibers. But this isn't what makes our muscles stronger. Strength is built during the rest period that follows the workout. During rest, the body repairs the muscle fibers and actually fuses fibers together to create stronger strands, and more of these strands. Hence, your muscles increase in size and capacity. Without a rest period, your body wouldn't be able to build stronger, bigger muscles.
If this is true of our physical bodies, and a growth cycle is dependent on rest and repair, it makes sense that other types of growth would benefit from similar periods of purposeful rest.
I wonder how we might create classroom and school cultures where this is possible for teachers and students. Instead of running frantically from one class to the next, and inhaling your lunch while working at your computer, what if the school day was calm and peaceful, allowing for mindful eating, walking and learning? How might this impact the way teachers and students learn, communicate and connect?
This may seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but I think schools would benefit from creating conversations and ideation sessions where teachers and students could discuss the value of slowing down and the importance of personal and collective health and well-being.
As a starting point, individual teachers might want to consider their own classroom space and how they might invite students to co-create opportunities to rest and repair as they learn. I can imagine solutions like extended (and creative) reflection time, quiet reading time and meditation or stretching to start a class or create a break during longer class periods. I'm sure students would have innovative ideas about how to create more mindful experiences and settings for their learning, as well as valuable insights to share about what they need to grow (intellectually, emotionally and socially) in purposeful ways.
Teacher self-care is also a vital ingredient in this recipe. In what ways are you carving out time and space for your own cycles of rest and repair? Are you caring for yourself with exercise, meditation/reflection, time in nature and creative endeavours? How might you design your days and weeks to include elements that allow you to pause, rest and heal so you can grow personally and professionally?
In the AISA workshop I mentioned in the first paragraph, we began with deep breathing and a conversation about wellness and mindfulness in our schools; we then engaged in a guided meditation and a quiet partner conversation to reflect on what we had experienced. In one hour, we were able to create a space where it felt like time slowed down a little bit and where we could all could exhale slowly and let our shoulders relax. If we can create that space in a one-hour workshop, what might happen if we build mindful moments regularly into our days?
Here are some resources to help you create a more mindful classroom and school:
Learning for Justice
(Important considerations of mindfulness that advances equity and acknowledges student trauma and systemic failure)
Source of image above
Last week, our family experienced a beautiful miracle.
Our oldest daughter gave birth to our second granddaughter, a perfect little 5-pound human named Clara, and the world shifted on its axis. Our hearts divided and replicated like active cells, encompassing a universe of love for this new little one who has captivated us with her tiny fingers and her alert, bright eyes.
When I look at this precious new baby, and at my energetic and wonderful 3-year-old granddaughter (Clara's older sister), I am overcome with many emotions. Love and gratitude, of course. Joy and contentment and wonder. And also worry, a sense of urgency around the grave issues facing our planet and its future.
It's one thing to imagine a future for myself where climate change and other factors have made life challenging and/or untenable. It's quite another to imagine that future for my grandchildren; I want them to experience life in its fullest, most rich and beautiful iteration, not life that is compromised, broken and painful.
So I have been pondering futures thinking this week, a dynamic way of thinking about a desired future and using design thinking skills to design strategic solutions that support that vision. The idea is that our thoughts lead to action, and if we imagine a more sustainable, just and stable future, we can create ways of making that future come to life.
I have been an ardent fan of design thinking since I attended an introductory workshop at the Stanford d.school back in February of 2018. Since then, I have participated in several d.school training events, and served as a facilitator for two d.school workshops at Concordia International School Shanghai. I have seen the power of design thinking in opening up thought patterns, encouraging creative and critical thinking, and in fostering action that is positive and generative. I have participated in design thinking sessions with colleagues, and also with students. It's pretty amazing and if you haven't experienced design thinking, you can learn more here.
Futures thinking uses the principles of design thinking to inspire people, young and old, to shape the future of our world. Given the state of many things in 2022, this can be a powerful way to create change, and also to generate hope and a sense of agency and ownership for how the future may unfold. Often we can feel removed from many factors (governmental and otherwise) that shape policy and communal ways of being; futures thinking allows us to tap into the power of who we are, as individuals, to shape what we can control, and then to amplify the ripple effects into local and global communities.
While this might sound rather pie-in-the-sky in terms of realistic action, evidence suggests quite the opposite. Where we focus our attention is where our energy and efforts are concentrated. Reflecting on the future helps us understand what is happening now, and allows us to change behaviours that aren't positive or that don't support the kind of future we envision. And engaging in this kind of dialogue fosters the type of creative and critical thinking that is the basis for radical innovation, the kind of innovation we need to solve some of our pressing problems.
So this post is all about hope, and I encourage you to check out these resources about how to use futures thinking in your classroom. Equipping your students to believe they have a role to play in creating the future of our world is a way to empower all students, PK-12, to engage in positive and sustainable work in this world.
Some sites that include excellent resources about futures thinking include:
1) Teach the Future
2) Encounter Edu
4) Futures Thinking Course for Teachers on Coursera (free)
And I can't close this post without including some photos of little Clara and her big sister Eden. These two little humans (along with all the little humans you know and love) make it imperative for all of us to engage in futures thinking and in sustainable, purposeful action for our planet and its people.
Please share these resources about futures thinking with any colleagues who would be interested.