I recently flew to D.C. for a conference and as we prepared for take off the flight attendant recited a very familiar phrase: "In case of emergency, please secure your oxygen mask before assisting others."
In my work of teaching mindfulness to children and teachers, I've come to realize the importance of this phrase. We can't offer to others that which we do not have for ourselves. Its just as important for teachers sharing mindfulness practices with their students to embody these practices for themselves.
As soon as teachers get overwhelmed, their social-emotional health goes to the bottom of the to-do list. So what does that mean for their students?
Children mirror the nervous systems of the adults around them so if you have a stressed out teacher, you will see stressed out kids. A Canadian-based study released last year found a connection between teachers' burnout levels and students' levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released during stress. When teachers were feeling burned out or exhausted, students were more stressed.
So how do we ensure teachers and children are not only performing their best but feeling their best? How do we provide a pathway to reduce our stress levels and take time to build self-care into the school day without adding one more thing "to-do" in their busy days?
We find our center. We dedicate 10 minutes each day for our mental, social, and emotional, health. And we do it together.
Schools have found that incorporating a mindfulness practice into their day has played a fundamental role in the attainment of academic outcomes. Learning to channel attention to productive tasks, to sustain motivation when work becomes demanding, and to handle the frustrations of sharing, learning, and communicating with peers are skills that depend on the ability to understand and manage emotions. These are competencies that children and adolescents learn alongside more traditionally academic ones.
Demands for these types of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and problem-solving skills only increase as students progress through the school years.
Although the emphasis on academic achievement often captures most of the conversation, important gains are being made by those who take a more holistic approach to education.
I believe a more inclusive and holistic approach to education will level the playing field for all students and that mindfulness education provides a pathway for teachers and students to find their center, together.