School Re-Envisioning It Begins With Me!

School Re-Envisioning
It Begins with Me…

After 25 years in education, I can confidently state and report that our vulnerabilities, darker dispositions and the exposed part of ourselves that we try like hell to minimize in our professional and quite possibly personal l lives are seen and felt by our students in enormous ways. Why? Because the teaching and learning progression is an organic relational system that cannot be parsed into test scores, teacher evaluations and curriculum planning meetings, metered into stringent behavioral management initiatives. The varied energies, perspectives, and life experiences we carry into our worlds deserve an educational system that honors the temperature and energetic balance or imbalance of every individual!
If musicians take the time to tune their instruments before engaging in a performance, is it not crucial that we tune in to ourselves and to our students so that emotional engagement and mindful learning can occur? In today’s world, our students and educators come to one another with a vast array of states of mind and from familial systems that are stressed, frantic and filled with chaos; and yet, we expect one another to push it all aside when we walk through a building called “school” embracing an automaticity of “academic learning” that the brain is incapable of embracing in such survival reactive mind sets. We need to tune in with present awareness and this is the core concept of this article.
What is effective teaching? What is the role of the educator in this 21st century? What is the role of student? How do we identify effective teachers? Is it based solely on test scores? Rubrics? Quiet and orderly schools and classrooms? Is it based on graduation rates in high poverty or in all schools? Is it based on learning outcomes and if this is so, how have we affected the well-being of every student, academically, socially and emotionally who has triggered, unnerved, or has created a significant presence in our life that has challenged and changed us?
This past week I have been thinking about my own life and the relationships I have nurtured, disallowed, strayed from and cultivated consciously or subconsciously. All relationships embed our perspective of “trust.” Beyond and within every relationship is the core driving aspect of how we view, perceive and integrate trust in our lives, personally professionally and collectively. We are social organisms and to survive and thrive we depend on one another in imperious ways.
Presence from the teacher’s point of view is the experience of bringing one’s whole self to full attention so as to perceive what is happening in the moment. In this moment, we have simply forgotten how very social each of us are and without the connections and “trust” we go crazy aggressive, violent and irrational to have those feelings of approval, validation and capability.
If I am to be truly present, attending to my students, then I must learn about and adjust my own long held inner road maps that often times interfere or light up in a crisis or conflict when they have been neglected, pushed aside and buried. My students are not only my greatest teachers; they are lighthouses that steer me in the direction of my own well-being through experiences of contrast.
The Latin root of attend, attendere, is ‘to stretch toward’. Definitions include: ‘to listen or pay close attention to; to accompany; to remain ready to serve’. I cannot think of a better way to serve ourselves and therefore our students than to attend to the inner energetic balance or lack thereof inside our own lives. Let me explain.

When we are experiencing a balanced relationship, there is a measurable and imaginary line between two people that in balance, holds that perfect physiological/ energy stability of …let’s say, six inches. Picture this line with two stick figures on each end. When an experience occurs and it is perceived as negative, one of the persons either resists, pulls away or pushes harder against the other for what they need. We then see the line change and when one pulls away, the other comes toward the resistance and a new balance occurs based on these polarities. The lines of energy and connectedness automatically and organically readjust striving for that new balance when there is disparity felt inside the relationship. And as individuals resist or persist in pushing against the other, a balance or imbalance is born, where movement occurs constantly and subconsciously as we move toward or away from one another! As Dr. Allen Watkins explains, when we are aware of the physiological data we are experiencing in our bodies…we then begin to observe “how” our perspectives, self-created stories and reactive thoughts and behaviors play into the negative emotion of another, practically fueling the fire for further inflated conflict.

(Take a pen and draw this line with stick figures at each end, drawing their slants as they resist and push toward one another.)

When teachers feel their emotions and observe “how” their triggers play into the hands of their students, a magical shift occurs in how we define a problem and respond to the imbalance in ourselves and in our relationships. Nothing ever happens to us, only within us.

It is our neurobiological instinct to want to fix this imbalance with something outside ourselves as I explained to my graduate students two nights ago. … just look at the astronomical prescription and nonprescription drug use and sales, the growing numbers of depression, anxiety, aggression, violence and other maladies that have permeated this country and world over the last fifty plus years. There is clearly a dissatisfaction or restlessness with “life,” but out of this dissatisfaction and restlessness, there is good news. We don’t have to reach outside ourselves. We have all we need within to adjust the imbalance, reappraising our own emotional temperatures and the relationships we encounter. I believe we are asked to be creative in how we respond, interact, think and feel our way through our inner worlds and connections with others. Sir Ken Robinson states that creativity is our greatest natural renewable human resource and it is “here” in this place of relational creative teaching and learning the emotional and social embers are kindled.
Can we teach trust? Can we model healthy relationships to our students? Are we able to take a deep hard look at these core issues inside our own lives? How do these questions affect students who learn differently, think differently and behave in ways that we cannot understand?
I want to return to the ingredients of relationships, because without them, there no improved test scores, lasting feelings of success, accurate assessments, and behavioral engagement plans that show eternal results. We are a species, sentient beings that survive and thrive with other people. Our energy, the molecular composition that beats our hearts, produces strong emotions and thoughts, running blood and oxygen through our brains and bodies is an organic force, a stream of electrical and chemical opus that changes constantly, moves in many directions , engineering our motivation, our environments and how we interact with others.
So how do we invite self-compassion, balance, and a disposition of centeredness on the roughest most exhausting days? We begin to move within our own inner worlds…exploring and diving into the “physiological data” that is pulsing and speaking to us 24 hours a day. We listen and then tap into a few interpersonal and intrapersonal strategies that guide us through those times of challenge and change.

What can we do to balance our energy, and therefore balance others?
1. Before school every day…imagine the most challenging aspect of your own life and your student’s and picture you both as children, small toddlers, babies, and how you both experienced the world in this time …imagine each of you carrying a suitcase full of everything that is unwanted today… how heavy and cumbersome, how strangling, how very very challenging… what can you help each other unpack and put away? This is your privilege and responsibility. What is it you both do not need or are not aware that you do not need? Can you assist one another in an “unpacking ritual” a few mornings a week releasing all of the negative emotion before classes begin?

2. Breathe in deeply with extended exhales for three minutes before you hit the ground running and enter your class. Inhale all the air you can, filling up with a surplus of breath for your morning work. Exhale slowly, at least five seconds as this calms the parasympathetic nervous system slowing down reactive responses and engaging the prefrontal cortex for clearer creative focused thought processes.

3. When you feel any negative emotion…embody it. You do not have to stop teaching but you need to feel it in your body and stay with it for a few minutes because when we embody it and identify where in the brain and body it is felt and experienced… it begins to lessen, to drain off and when we embody our emotions, and name them, Dr. Dan Seigel states that we then tame them. You can choose to share how you feel with your students and if a class guideline was broken, give consequences later after there is a settling and a return of clearer thinking and balance. Embracing authenticity within yourself and students will only serve to upgrade the levels of “trust” inside your relationships and classrooms.

4. Are we hacking at the leaves or roots? When we hack the roots… we need to look beyond the behavior and listen to the emotions of another. This does not condone behaviors, but it promises a deeper understanding of what is motivating and encouraging the choices of one another. When we hack at the root, we do not usually return to the hacking of the leaves because the balance of trust has been addressed and “felt”
When we address the “root, “we not only shift perspectives, we see beneath the behavior of a student inviting us to dialogue and interact on a playing field that invites discussion, observation and questions to ponder.
5. Validate one another’s point so that both of you are aware that each was heard, and there is understanding. The desire to be understood is to share the power of dialogue with your students so that no one is talking at another, but all are talking to one another. When conflict arises, as paradoxical as this reads, it is imperative that the student feel empowered in different ways- to be a leader and mentor in analyzing your perspective.

6. What do you want? A “want” is a desire, a desire that we focus our attention upon… so if we write out those desires, those intentions; we free our working memory for “ways” to reach our desires and the steps needed to move us closer to that “want.” By writing our thoughts and feelings, we also take care of our inner worlds, because what is expressed releases pent up emotion and stifling thoughts. Once the thoughts and feelings are out of our heads, we can create rituals in our classrooms that move us toward a greater “tribal mentality.” Within this classroom tribe, we can choose what to do with our written thoughts and feelings. Do we have a place to share them, shred them, or post them?

7. Record and Reflect. There is something very significant about listening and watching our words, actions and interactions. This mode of reflection is how athletes improve their performance and it would be beneficial to observe how we respond and listen to one another, what we perceive and how it plays out in real world real time could look and feel very different! This is a great opportunity for class discussion and self-reflection in how we are connecting or disallowing the thoughts and feelings of one another.

8. Mindful Attention- Spend two to five minutes with your students quiet, still, breathing with awareness no matter the thoughts. Observe the thoughts… the reactions of one another. There is no right or wrong way of being mindful. Take a minute or two to notice with full awareness, exercising the muscle of attention and focus. Take the time to focus attention on silence with your students in the presence of your classroom. You may choose to play music, to stand, to sit, to focus on an object.

9. Exit slips for all students and teacher- Share at the end or the beginning of class two gratitudes, two positive notices, and one negative experience. Dissect the negative experiences, discuss them and share from varying perspectives, dialogue from a relational matrix where observations from first person experiences are challenged, validated, affirmed or simply noted! It is absolutely enough to just write about or share a challenge, because being heard, understood, and affirmed without judgment promotes positive emotion and change.

10. You simply are not your thoughts. What is your class motto, your mantra? What is it about your selfhood that invites a personal reflective journey that enhances the innate intelligence inside all of your students? What is it about you that builds resiliency within your own life and therefore those around you?

To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in someone else.

H. H. Dalai Lama
Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know” ~Pema Chödrön

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