10/24/2022 0 Comments
Growth in balance with rest and repair: how to prioritize personal and collective health and well-being
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)
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