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Attachment theory is heralded as the gold standard in the psychological field for understanding the process by which a child develops a sense of relationship to self and other. Most of the attachment research focuses on the parent child relationship as it is in the first three years of life that these attachment dynamics solidify.

Research has shown (Schore 2001) that secure attachments in childhood create the foundation for mental processes such as metacognition and reflective functioning, emotional regulation, and attunement.

But the field of interpersonal neurobiology has taught us that the brain is plastic across the lifespan (Siegel, 2012) and that attachment patterning can change across the lifespan as well, as a result of safe and secure relationships. That being the case, it is important to look at the role of what John Bowlby, a pioneer in attachment research, referred to as “secondary attachment figures,” e.g. teachers, caregivers and therapists, and the ways these figures become essential in the development of secure attachment in their students.

How much can an adult – outside of the home – impact a child’s developing sense of self? The answer seems to be quite a bit. Recently authors in the field of interpersonal neurobiology and education such as Lou Cozolino and Kirke Olson have written about the impact teachers have on the attachment development of their students. In fact, Cozolino emphasizes how imperative it is for teachers to foster secure attachment.

How Can Teachers Impact the Outcomes of Their Students? In addition to primary parent figures, teachers can be critical figures throughout a student’s lifespan to support the student’s needs for connection and exploration, as demonstrated by the Circle of Security.

In addition to primary parent figures, teachers can be critical figures throughout a student’s lifespan to support the student’s needs for connection and exploration, as demonstrated by the Circle of Security.

Reflective Functioning
As secondary attachment figures, teachers can develop skills to understand both themselves and their students behaviors or feelings – a skill that Peter Fonagy (Fonagy et al., 1997) refers to as “reflective functioning.” One way these skills can be enhanced and developed is through the process of mindfulness meditation. Meditation supports the ability to stay aware of one’s own internal experiences – body sensations, emotions, thoughts – while simultaneously paying attention to the facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal communications of another.

As teachers develop these reflective skills, they foster secure attachment in the classroom. Teachers are setting the foundation for promoting students’ executive functioning, skills which inform a child’s ability to focus, problem solve, make decisions, develop persistence and inhibit impulsive behavior – all of which are essential for academic learning.

Mentalization
This cultivation of perception of one’s own internal mental states (intentions, feelings, thoughts, desires and beliefs), as cultivated in meditation practice, can help teachers to make sense of and anticipate the feelings and actions of their students. This curiosity about their students’ internal lives (another benefit of mindfulness practice), what Fonagy refers to as “mentalization,” is a function of the teacher’s attuned reading and modulating of the students’ internal state. Mentalization is a key means of helping students to regulate their emotional lives and creates pathways for greater emotional regulation skills in the future. A teacher’s ability to mentalize the internal world of the student also fosters the child’s capacity to make sense of his or her own internal experience.

Creating Learning Environments That Foster Secure Relationships

While we can focus on the importance of teaching children meditation, it might be more significant that teachers learn basic mindfulness skills themselves. Mindfulness practice can lead to the development of greater reflective functioning and mentalization capacities, so that teachers can engender an environment of curiosity and connection, instead of frustration and isolation. These skills provide the foundation of secure attachment relationships over time.

Teachers may routinely misinterpret insecurely attached children’s “problematic” behavior as aggressive, unpredictable, uncooperative, withdrawn, reactive, distracted, or impulsive.  Therefore, it may also be important for teachers to have a basic understanding of the distinct attachment styles so that they can interpret a child’s “misbehavior” through the lens of “what happened to you?” as opposed to “what’s wrong with you?” This approach will lead to teacher/student relationships that are born of curiosity and compassion, which can have a great effect on a student’s relationship to themselves and others over time.

The role of teachers – in influencing attachment patterning in students – extends far beyond the classroom, impacting the student’s work and love relationships in adulthood.

In My Work …

As a therapist specializing in working with the effects of early childhood trauma on adult relationships, one of the most important questions I ask when learning about a client’s early life is: “Was there a teacher or mentor with whom you were close as a child?”

This question is fundamentally important. First, it instills a reflection opportunity for the client independent from their parent-child relationships. Second, if the answer is yes, this person has a fundamentally higher likelihood of achieving “earned security” in their lifetime.

Getting Started with Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help you cultivate, understand, and develop curiosity for your own internal mental states. To get started, you might try these guided mindfulness practices:


Julia Barry, MFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Somatic Experiencing® and EMDR Practitioner in Boston, MA. Julia’s clinical practice focuses on the treatment of trauma, attachment and mother-infant bonding, relationship issues, sex and sexuality and personal growth. Julia has received training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, with an emphasis on adult and infant attachment, Somatic Experiencing® (a body based method for working with trauma) and EMDR.

References:

  • Cozolino, Louis.  Attachment Based Teaching:  Creating a Tribal Classroom, 2014
  • Fonagy, et al. Attachment and reflective function: Their role in self-organization. Article: Development and Psychopathology 9(4):679-700 · February 1997
  • Olson, Kirke.  The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience & Mindfulness in School, 2014.
  • Schore, Allan N.. Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health. INFANT MENTAL HEALTH JOURNAL, Vol. 22(1–2), 7–66 (2001)

The post What Is Secondary Attachment? How Teachers Can Create Learning Environments That Foster Secure Relationships appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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Mindful Schools by Alison Lee - 2w ago

A sense gratitude is often fleeting in the human experience, but, it can be cultivated through regular mindfulness practice in order to support our well-being. In our “practice of the month” posts, we’ve discussed some of the more challenging aspects of our mindfulness practice, such as stress and anxiety. While it can be helpful to develop tools to work with some of these difficult aspects of our minds, it is equally beneficial to focus on the qualities of our minds and hearts that are the basis for happiness and well-being.

For this Practice of the Month, we are going to explore and develop the practice of Gratitude.

Practice of the Month: Attitude of Gratitude with Dave Smith (May) - SoundCloud
(707 secs long, 1 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Research on Happiness and Gratitude

Researchers of positive psychology have discovered that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude gives people improved access to constructive emotions and it allows us to better participate in meaningful life experiences. It provides the foundation for improved health, resiliency, and the ability to foster strong relationships.

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Happiness research continues to indicate that gratitude is one of the key ingredients to human happiness and continued well-being. Before we delve more deeply into gratitude, let’s take a look at what happiness is, how it can be defined and some of the common misconceptions that are prominent in our culture.

Let’s explore three kinds of happiness:

First: The pleasant life. This consists of having all the pleasure available to us and the resources and means to amplify and sustain this pleasure. This is often the kind of happiness we see in the media, celebrity life, and mainstream culture. As most of us have come to realize, this kind of happiness is very limited and doesn’t guarantee long term well-being.

Second: The good life. The good life is rooted in knowing what your strengths and values are, and then building your work, friendships, connections, enjoyment, and families upon these strengths. This is what creates purpose and belonging.

Third: The meaningful life. This kind of happiness is characterized by utilizing your strengths and values in the service of the things that you believe are greater than you. There is a Greek term, eudaimonia, which in Greek philosophy means achieving the best conditions possible for a human being that results in human flourishing. This is not just limited to the happiness of pleasure, but also to our sense of value, virtue, meaning, and purpose.

A happy life is a meaningful life: a life of genuine happiness and the experience of eudaimonia.

Gratitude is the foundation upon which a meaningful life is built and sustained. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, defines gratitude as: “the feeling of reverence for things that are given.” He goes on to state that “gratitude stems from the perception of a positive personal outcome, not necessarily deserved or earned, that is due to the actions of another person.”

Gratitude motivates us to make positive changes in our lives as well as the world around us, through feelings of connection, elevation, modesty, and a sincere and committed responsibility to our purpose and values. Although gratitude is commonly associated with external objects, we also benefit greatly when we can cultivate gratitude for others and ourselves. We can develop this within a regular mindfulness practice.

What is the relationship between gratitude and mindfulness?

Gratitude is an attitude. It colors and defines the way we see the world and ourselves. It can be the antidote to jealousy, envy, cynicism and negativity. It can allow us to overcome the pains of our past and provides inspiration and creativity towards the future. In present-time awareness, gratitude can be an emotion we feel in our bodies. A feeling of warmth and groundedness, a slowing and settling of our breath, accompanied by a soft spaciousness in the chest and heart-center. The intensity of gratitude can also produce tears of joy, elation, and an automatic and uncontrollable smile. If practiced, we can learn how to lean on our practice of gratitude when life presents challenges and difficulties. Here, gratitude doesn’t equate to a blind and vacant optimism, but rather a confident and heartfelt response to whatever adversity we encounter.

A regular mindfulness practice is the most effective tool that can be used to cultivate gratitude. Each time we sit, we can be reminded of why we practice; to become a better friend to the people we love and those we teach and learn from. We become grateful for the people in our lives that motivate, challenge, and inspire us. Most importantly, we become grateful to ourselves for our joys, successes, and our commitment to creating positive change in our lives and in this world. If we can remember to recognize our potential for gratitude, more often than not, we may feel that sense of warmth and ease in our bodies and minds after our mindfulness practice; if we can remember to recognize our potential for gratitude.

The post An Attitude of Gratitude appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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“There is no greater power than love and no greater gift than service.” – Frater Achad

School Was My Safe Haven

I was a student who faced some very traumatic experiences. School was my safe haven. In the most compassionate way possible, teachers were the creators of that safe space for me. I loved helping my teachers after school and at lunchtime because it gave me a sense of something beyond myself. In truth, it also gave me a way to deal with the pain of the trauma I was experiencing at home. I wanted to offer that same compassion to other students, and so I became a teacher and then an administrator.

As I grew in the profession, I chose to work in urban schools with students who looked like me and were likely experiencing trauma themselves. The work soon began to take its toll. I was anxious a lot, I felt burned out and tired, and I dreaded going to work. My students’ trauma triggered traumatic memories within me. Before I knew what happened, I was in the middle of full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on in part because of the secondary trauma I was experiencing. Secondary trauma is a normal occurrence for anyone who works with people who suffer from trauma (Figley, 1995).

I practiced self-compassion to heal. I focused on self-care and eventually left the school site. With intensive healing support, I made a full recovery. Along this journey, I came across the term compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that comes with working people who are in constant states of distress or trauma (Lerias & Byrne, 2003). Left unaddressed it can cause extreme mental and physical health challenges (Figley, 1995). Stamm (2010), conceptualized compassion fatigue as a combination of secondary trauma and burnout.

I believe that compassion fatigue played a role in my departure from direct student service. If it affected me in that way, I wondered if it was possible that compassion fatigue was causing other teachers to flee the profession as well? What follows is a summary of research aimed at exploring this possibility.

Research on Compassion Fatigue

During my Education Doctorate program, I set out to explore the extent of California teachers’ experience of compassion fatigue. I wanted to know how it impacted their perceptions of school climate and working conditions. And I wanted to know what support systems could be put in place to help?

The Professional Quality of Life Scale, version 5 (ProQOL5) was administered to teachers throughout the state of California, and subsequent follow-up interviews were conducted (Stamm, 2010). The ProQOL 5 measures compassion fatigue in two parts – burnout and secondary trauma, and compassion satisfaction. Compassion satisfaction is the joy one experiences from their work. The sample pool of 100 teachers-participants contained 35% of elementary school teachers, 24% of middle school teachers, 37% of high school teachers.

Here are just a few of the findings:

  • Female teachers experience more Compassion Fatigue than male teachers.
  • Compassion Fatigue is more acute with beginning teachers than with veteran teachers.
  • Teachers working at high poverty schools experience statistically significant differences in compassion satisfaction and fatigue than teachers at low poverty schools. They experience less compassion satisfaction, higher burnout, and higher secondary traumatic stress.
  • Secondary trauma from students is not the only trauma teachers are experiencing. Trauma is school-conditions- and climate- based. Parents or school site administration are sometimes the cause. Common threads amongst all interviews were the implication that school administrators do not always understand the teacher’s everyday classroom experience and that parents sometimes feel like an adversary, even though they are not supposed to be.
  • School climate and conditions matter. Teachers have concerns about how actions taken by school environment actors including parents, students, other teachers, and administrators affect their ability to create safe and academically challenging environments. Teacher morale is often affected by how students are treated or how students are treating them.

Given that 60% of California’s 6.2 million students live in poverty, 73% of its teachers are female, and newer teachers are often the ones hired to work in understaffed urban schools, we have a big challenge on our hands. My overarching recommendation to address this problem is this:

Compassionate responses and policies that genuinely make a difference in the life of teachers and students should be implemented at the school, district, county, and state levels.

Examples of Compassionate Responses and Policies
  • Recognize compassion fatigue as an occupational hazard for educators, especially those who work with traumatized students in high poverty schools.
  • Include the development of a course on Compassion Fatigue and secondary trauma in teacher credential programs
  • Develop professional development training focused on Compassion Fatigue, educator self-care strategies, adult social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies, and mental health first aid (MHFA) crisis response strategies (National Council, 2015) that support the health and wellbeing of students and staff.

You can find a summary of all of the research findings and recommendations for action in my policy brief entitled: Improving Teacher Retention by Addressing Teachers’ Compassion Fatigue.

Start Your Own Healing Journey

If this research resonates with you and you think this may be something you or someone you know may be experiencing, I offer these recommendations to you:

  • Take the Professional Quality of Life Scale. Talk about the results with some you care about. Seek professional support if need be.
  • Talk about ways to improve your school’s climate.  See the School Conditions And Climate Workgroup Recommendation Framework for suggestions.
  • Intentionally show that you care with appreciation for yourself and others. The appreciation should be regular, meaningful, and sincere (Pennington, 2017). I show care with kind words like, “you’re not alone.”
  • Attend to your social-emotional needs by adopting practices that support your ability to “effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CDE, 2018, p. 2). California’s Social and Emotional Learning Guiding Principles Social and Emotional Learning Guiding Principles could help in this effort.
  • Practice mindfulness in and out of the classroom. Mindful Schools has some great resources for educators, you can start with the Mindfulness Fundamentals course.
  • Practice self-compassion. These articles on Meeting Self-Judgment with Self-Compassion and Kindness and Self-Kindness have some great tips.
Support and Advocacy

Lastly, this research was designed to help policymakers like school boards, superintendents, and politicians gain an awareness of what teachers are experiencing in all aspects of their work, including those aspects that are unpleasant and born of suffering. I share this with you in hopes that you will sponsor me with your support and advocacy. Please talk about it, share it with your colleagues and administrators, and implement the recommendations that resonate with you.  This research shows that compassion fatigue is a real concern for teachers. We all must do our part to help mitigate its effects.

Jacquelyn Ollison, EdD, MEd, is a committed educator with extensive education experience as a teacher and school site and district administrator. She has served as an AVID/MESA Coordinator, Mathematics Teacher, Assistant Principal, After-School Education, and Safety Program (ASES) Coordinator, Vice Principal, and Principal. In her time at the California Department of Education she has supported the development of the California “State-Determined Intervention Model,” currently in use by the School Improvement Grant program. She has co-facilitated and supported the School Conditions Climate Work Group whose recommendation framework was the impetus for much of the recent work focused on school climate in California. She is committed to seeing that all students have access to the best education possible so that they can grow and realize their dreams. She recently earned her EdD at the University of the Pacific with research interests that encompass systems theory, compassion fatigue, school working conditions and climate, the teacher shortage, and teacher retention. Her dissertation is entitled Improving Teacher Retention by Addressing Teacher’s Compassion Fatigue. Currently, she serves as an Education Administrator for in the Performance, Planning, and Technology Branch in the California Department of Education.

References

Figley, Charles R. (1995) Compassion fatigue as secondary traumatic stress disorder: an overview. Compassion Fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized (Psychosocial Stress Series), 1, 1-18. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.  

Lerias, D., & Byrne, M. K. (2003). Vicarious traumatization: symptoms and predictors. Stress and Health, 19(3), 129-138.  

CDE (2018). California’s Social and Emotional Learning Guiding Principles. Retrieved from https://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/documents/selguidingprincipleswb.pdf.

CDE (2017). School conditions and climate work group recommendation framework. Retrieved from https://www.cde.ca.gov/be/pn/im/documents/memo-ocd-oct17item01a1.pdf

Pennington, R. (2017). The Power of Appreciation to Transform Your Culture … and Your Business. Retrieved December 2, 2018 from

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-power-of-appreciation-to-transform-your-culture_us_59908a6ae4b063e2ae058098

Stamm, B. (2010). The concise manual for the professional quality of life scale. 

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., and Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

The post Compassion Fatigue: How California Can Improve Teacher Retention appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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As the seasons change, we may feel excited about a number of things such as being outside, enjoying the company of good friends, or considering what types of seeds to plant. For some, the changes can make us feel anxious as we may be facing new challenges, changes in work or family dynamics. For teachers and students the changing season might mean it’s test taking time.

Listen to our Practice of the Month on Anxiety and read more below. We’ll explore anxiety, in particular, anxiety overload.

Practice of the Month: Practicing with Anxiety with Dave Smith (April) - SoundCloud
(807 secs long, 16 plays)Play in SoundCloud

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all mental illnesses found within the American culture. Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults or 18% of the U.S. population every year. Although the process of anxiety is a universal human experience and occurs in all cultures, diagnosable anxiety appears to affect Western society, in particular us Americans, more than other cultures.

How is anxiety different from stress?

How can we discern between the two? How can we use mindfulness practice to better manage and understand them?

In general, stress is a response to an external cause, such as a difficult deadline at work or an argument with a close friend. With stress, the experience will typically decrease in intensity once the situation is over. Because stress is caused by external causes. To learn more, read our recent blog on stress.

Anxiety is our specific reaction to stress. Its origin is in our internal experience within our thoughts and emotions. Anxiety can be characterized by a “persistent feeling of apprehension, anticipation and dread” often in situations where there is no actual threat. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after the experience has passed. It lingers quietly and incessantly in the background of our mental chatter.

For example, if you have an argument with a friend where you said something hurtful and find yourself feeling guilty and stuck ruminating about what you should have said instead, or how you are going to repair, or how they needed to hear it, and how they never listen to you and on and on… this is the very nature of anxiety.

Anxiety is typically accompanied by the experience of rumination. Rumination is defined as going over and over the same thought or a problem without coming to a conclusion. It’s like a vicious hamster wheel that we just can’t seem to get off. It seems the longer we are on it, the harder it becomes to get off. Sound familiar?

Anxiety overload: When the external demands collide with our habitual reactions. At times we may find ourselves confronted by this scenario. Whether it’s the anticipation of taking a test, walking into a difficult meeting at work, or knowing that you’re about to have a difficult conversation with our supervisor. In these situations it may seem as though our bodies disappear as our attention becomes absorbed into our thinking minds–flooded by worry, anticipation, suspicion and a range of mental states based on our common habits of mind associated with anxiety.

3 strategies for practicing mindfulness when you’re experiencing anxiety

In these moments there are a few things we can do to bring ourselves back to our senses.

  1. Recognize that your attention has been pulled into rumination and over-thinking and shift your attention into the body, breathing, or any other sense experience. Sound can be very anchoring in these moments.
  2. During formal mindfulness, see if you can begin to identify common types of thinking that you get caught up in.
  3. Begin to identify your common themes associated with anxiety, such as: worry, guilt, defensiveness or so forth.

Working with anxiety can take time and patience as we develop a mindfulness practice. Remembering to meet yourself with kindness–as you begin to uncover and work with the universal experience of anxiety–will be a supportive ally.

The post Breaking Free from Anxiety Overload appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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Image courtesy of Christopher Willard

For those who think the idea of teaching little kids to settle down and quietly focus on their breath is beyond comprehension, I’ve come up with ways that make mindfulness fun for even the youngest audiences and I am happy to share them.

Here’s a little piece of research that has inspired my work. At some point in the last century, a very brave researcher named Lev Vygotsky decided to do an experiment in which he would ask eight-year-olds to stand still for as long as they could. Spoiler alert: if you’ve ever worked with or lived with eight-year-olds, you probably have a sense of how this story is going to end.

He gathered the group, pulled out his stopwatch, and told them to stand still. If you guessed that they were all running around after a few minutes, you get a gold star.

What he did next was the kind of secret the best child professionals know intuitively – he corralled the kids back and offered them a twist. “Let’s stand still again for as long as we can once more, but this time, I’d like you to imagine you are the guard at a factory,” (he lived in Soviet Russia at the time) “or a knight guarding a castle.” This time, the kids were able to stand still for closer to twenty minutes.

Join our online workshop with author, Christopher Willard on April 14

Simply by tapping into the power of imagination, by making it something of a game, a role-play or performance, the kids could stand still for four times as long. In both scenarios in the experiment, the kids activated their prefrontal cortex and anchored their attention to the task. But the anchor in the second scenario was an image of themselves guarding the castle. (Incidentally, when the study was replicated a few years ago, the kids attention spans with and without the image were about half of what they were fifty years ago.)

So, how do we bring in imagination, games, performance, and movement into mindfulness for kids? We can make it fun by connecting mindfulness practice to movement and images that already make sense to kids. If you think about it, those of us adults who do yoga find the image of a curling cobra or downward facing dog really help us visualize the pose we are trying to do. This kind of thinking inspired the idea for “Alphabreaths,” a fun way for kids to visualize mindful breathing.

A: Alligator Breath
Hold your arms out like the jaws of an alligator. On the inbreath stretch your jaws open wide like a hungry alligator, and on the outbreath, snap them shut. Try a few of these, but remember to not bite your neighbor.

Image courtesy of Christopher Willard

B: Butterfly Breath
Begin with palms together in front of you. On the inbreath stretch your arms out and back, on the outbreath, bring them back together, fluttering your wings like a butterfly. This one offers a nice opening stretch through your back, neck, lungs and chest, which might have spent the last few hours hunched over a desk or digital device.

C: Chocolate Breath
An all-time favorite, that even teenagers will do. Cup your hands like they are wrapped around a mug of warm hot chocolate. Breathe in slowly like you are smelling, blow out gently as if you are cooling off your hot chocolate, and maybe even cooling off your own hot emotions in a moment of frustration.

As kids get older, the practices can grow with them. At three-years-old they need the hot chocolate image and hands held up to their face; by age eight, the hands can fall to the side and just the image remains; by age thirteen, they can be aware of their breath, and know just how to slow it down and study it. And of course where it gets really fun is when the kids start to make their own breaths–which I saw recently in a preschool I was visiting. To me the creative inspiration of kids teaching kids is where the magic of mindfulness really lies.

Christopher Willard, PsyD is a clinical psychologist, former special educator and current father based in Boston. Dr. Willard has been practicing meditation for over 20 years and teaching for over a decade. He has been invited to more than two dozen countries to teach mindfulness, has presented at two TEDx events and serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. His thoughts on mental health have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, mindful.org, and elsewhere. He is the author eleven books, including Growing Up Mindful (2016) and Raising Resilience (2017). His latest book Alphabreaths (2019) is a collaboration with  Daniel Rechtschaffen.

The post Making Mindful Breathing Fun: It’s as Easy as ABC… appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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Meet Megan Sweet and Dave Smith on the Mindful Schools Training Team - YouTube

Meet Megan Sweet, Director of Training, and Dave Smith, Head of Practice at Mindful Schools.

Megan and Dave recently hosted a video call with a small group of community members. Watch the recording to learn more about what inspires their work and get a peak into what’s on the horizon at Mindful Schools this year.

Meet our Training Team Leaders

Megan Sweet, EdD is the Director of Training at Mindful Schools. She brings more than two decades of experience as a school teacher, school and district administrator, and a leader in school transformation. She’s an experienced Network Lead with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Her doctoral degree focused on Educational Leadership and Administration and she is skilled in Educational Consulting, Lesson Planning, Educational Technology, Instructional Design, and Curriculum Development. Megan is also a published author of An Educator’s Guide to Using Your 3 Eyes: How to Apply Intellect, Insight and Intuition to Promote Personal and School-Wide Transformation.

Dave Smith began practicing mindfulness in 1994 and is now our Head of Practice at Mindful Schools and an internationally recognized mindfulness teacher and published author on Ethical Mindfulness. Over the last decade he has brought mindfulness-based interventions into jails, prisons, youth detention centers and substance abuse treatment facilities. He has developed programs and trainings for mental health agencies, private high schools and non-profit organizations. Dave speaks nationally at behavioral health conferences as an advocate for the implementation of Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence skills into fields the of mental health, substance abuse, and education.

The post Meet our Training Team Leaders: Megan Sweet & Dave Smith appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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Educating our youth is a calling that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated people. Teachers are also prone to burnout–in fact, last year, public school teachers quit their jobs at the highest rate on record. Educators, it’s time to start showing yourself care and compassion, right now.

We enter this field with our eyes wide open that the pay is low and the work hours are long. Most of us also understand that educating our students will take all the love, attention, and energy we can spare. Education is a calling because, despite all these things, we do it anyway.

While educators are incredibly giving towards their students, we don’t treat ourselves with the same level of care. Overwork is a badge of honor that many of us wear proudly. We tend to equate the number of hours we put in as a measure of our (and our peer’s) dedication to our students.

The thing is, this kind of logic just doesn’t make sense. In a job where the physical, mental, and emotional demands are so high, how can we possibly continue to give our all every day if we have not spent time taking care of ourselves? If we imagine our reserves of energy like a bucket, we cannot continue to give from that bucket without refilling it. Many of us, however, empty our buckets and continue pushing forward without taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that we are prone to burnout and often leave the profession just a few years after entering it.

It’s time that educators start filling their buckets by embracing self-care and self-compassion. Self-care means caring for oneself. Examples of self-care include getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy foods. Self-compassion means treating oneself with patience, kindness, and understanding. When we practice self-compassion, we use our mistakes as opportunities to soften and be vulnerable. Instead of beating ourselves up, we show ourselves heaps of love.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher, author, and professor. According to Neff, developing our self-compassion is important because it is linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, stress, over-thinking, perfectionism, shame, and negative body image (Neff, 2013).

Additionally, research conducted by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen (2012) has shown that when we show ourselves compassion after a setback, we are more likely to take action towards improving in the future. In short, self-compassion helps us to feel better, rebound from our challenges, and fuels us to keep going down the path of self-improvement.

How can you start showing yourself care and compassion, right now?
  1. Pay attention to your inner voice. Notice your self-talk and ask: Would I say this to my best friend? If the answer is no (and it probably is) then start giving yourself a bit more love and curb the negative self-talk. It’s not helping!
  2. Make a list of ten things that bring you joy. Examples include exercise, reading a book, or watching a favorite TV show. Try to fit at least one of these activities into your life consistently.
  3. Prioritize how you spend your time. Make a list of all of the things you are doing each week. Break them into Must-Do and May-Do categories. See if you can replace some of those May-Do’s with things from your joy list.
  4. Take a break. Educators are notorious for working all-the-time. The problem is, the work never ends unless you choose to step away. If you are not refreshed, you are not working at your best anyway, so start reclaiming some of those nights and weekends.
  5. Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness means being present in the moment, and meditation is a great mindfulness tool. Just meditating 10 minutes a day will make a significant difference in how you feel. Don’t have 10 minutes in a row? That’s okay, break it into two 5-minute blocks, do some conscious breathing on your walk to and from your car, breathe slowly and deeply at red lights. Notice how good it feels to take even one conscious breath.

You might try these guided mindfulness practices:
Guided 12-minute Practice for Self-Kindness
Guided 12-minute Practice for Stress

In the end, learning to take better care of ourselves will enable us to continue to do what we love—educating kids! If we don’t, then we will continue to burn ourselves out, and the churn of teacher and leader turnover will maintain the revolving door of people in and out of our students’ lives. Our kids suffer when they experience persistent changes in teachers and teacher quality. Schools cannot maintain strong academic programs if the leadership changes year after year. If we really want to stay in our calling and educate our youth, we must learn to take care of ourselves first. Our students will thank us for it.

Megan Sweet, EdD is the Director of Training at Mindful Schools. She brings more than two decades of experience as a school teacher, school and district administrator, and a leader in school transformation. She’s an experienced Network Lead with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Her doctoral degree focused on Educational Leadership and Administration and she is skilled in Educational Consulting, Lesson Planning, Educational Technology, Instructional Design, and Curriculum Development. Megan is also a published author of An Educator’s Guide to Using Your 3 Eyes: How to Apply Intellect, Insight and Intuition to Promote Personal and School-Wide Transformation.

Breines, J. & Chen, S. (2012). “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(9) 1133–1143.

Neff, K. (2013). “Resilience and self-compassion” [lecture]. Empathy and Compassion in Society. Retrieved June 25, 2018.

The post Educators: You Have Permission to Take Care of Yourself, Right Now appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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Stress is an experience we all know very intimately. Many of us discover that it is part of our everyday conversations. Or we may find that we don’t discuss it with others and keep it quietly to ourselves. Regardless, it can be hard to admit that stress shows up in every area of our lives. We can try to avoid it, deny it, wish it away through our optimistic thinking, or try to outsmart it through our afflictive ambitious strategies of planning, list making, over-scheduling, and the like. It may seem as though stress is built into the fabric of our experience and it follows us everywhere that we go.

Listen to this Practice of the Month on building resilience in the face of stress and read more below. We will explore some tools in which mindfulness can help us build resiliency in the face of ongoing stress.

Practice of the Month: Resilience in the Face of Stress with Dave Smith (March) - SoundCloud
(774 secs long, 5 plays)Play in SoundCloud
What is Stress?

Stress is the thought, feeling or attitude that I don’t have the internal resources to meet the external demands. If we are honest, our lives might feel like one external demand after the other. So, let’s just acknowledge that, and start building some internal resources.

If we look into the history books, we see that stress is a term that originates in physics, not psychology. In the early 1900’s when skyscrapers were being built in the major cities of the United States, the question was: “Does this building have enough of concrete and steel to hold itself up?”

For those of you who have been inside of an old elevator you may have seen a sign that reads: Stress Load, 2000 lbs. Which means that if you put more than 2000 lbs. in the elevator, it won’t go up.

If we take a moment to honestly reflect on recent events in our lives, how often do we feel as though we don’t have what it takes to get through a particular challenge or struggle? What is the range of stress in your daily life? How could you be better resourced to manage it?

Moments of Stress

Moments of stress, accompanied by the onset of overwhelm, typically begin with three thoughts:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. There isn’t enough ____. (fill in the blank)
  3. I need to do something.

Does this sound familiar? Let’s bring mindfulness into this equation and see where our agency lies.

Mindfulness: Our Greatest Internal Resource for Stress Reduction

Mindfulness is our greatest internal resource. With the development of short moments of awareness, we can find a pause. If we can remember to recognize that we have the ability bring presence and ease to any circumstance, we are better able to reevaluate and respond rather than react. We begin to acknowledge that a great deal of our stress is perceived, assumed or forecasted. Finding moments where we can wake up from the ruminations and the predictions of our wanderings minds is our greatest tool for stress reduction.

The steady development of this mindful intervention gives rise to confidence and resilience in our own abilities to do well, and to do better. Each small victory becomes the seed for future possibilities and we should feel encouraged by this.

Perhaps, mindfulness can remind us that we have got it all backwards. We spend too much of our lives frantically running amuck trying our best, with often little to no avail to avoid, change, or control external demands. With ongoing mindfulness practice, we begin to develop resilience in the face of stress. To be resilient, is the ability to overcome a challenge.

The hard part for many of us is the fact that resilience is always accompanied by a challenge, and we simply don’t like that. Mindfulness gives us the proper perspective and needed tools to accomplish this task. We can slowly, over time, shift our paradigm to become more interested and skilled in developing internal resources, and less preoccupied trying to control external demands.

Reframing Stress

We can revisit these common themes of stress and see if we can offer ourselves a reframe.

  1. Nothing is wrong, I am facing a challenge.
  2. I do have the resources to meet this experience.
  3. I need to take a pause and ground myself in this moment, just as it is.

By grounding ourselves in presence, we develop the potential to respond, rather to to react.

The post Utilizing Mindfulness in the Face of Stress: External Demands vs. Internal Resources appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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5 Mindful Movement Practices for Youth - YouTube

Hi Mindful Schools Community! Em Morrison here (she/her pronouns), one of the guiding teachers in our Mindful Teacher Certification Program. In the following video I’ll take you through a few of my favorite simple mindful movements to incorporate into mindfulness classes for young people (and adults love them too!). You’ll also learn a game you can immediately use in your classroom.

Mindful movement practices are really important to me when I’m teaching mindfulness in schools because our students sit so much during the day. After a long day of sitting still in classes and doing complicated mental tasks, I love to open mindfulness classes with some mindful movement to help students get back in their bodies.

All the movements I’m going to offer you can do wearing regular clothes. Your students don’t need yoga mats. You can do it right in your classroom even if you don’t have a ton of room, and all the movements can be adjusted for students who don’t want to stand or might have a physical limitation – they can do them seated if they prefer.

To offer this practice in a trauma-informed way, make sure that students have choice if there is a movement they don’t want to do. They can pick another stretch so that the whole class is moving together and engaged, while allowing students to interact and engage with a physical practice in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them.

5 Simple Mindful Movements for Your Classroom

So let’s get started. In this video, I’ll take you through four mindful movements and a game.

  1. Beach Ball Breathing
  2. Smile & Shake
  3. Drawing the Bow
  4. Qi Showers
  5. Quarter Pass Game

Em Morrison (pronouns: she/her) loves nothing more than creating safe, fun, and healthy spaces for teens and adults to flourish, which she has been doing in Washington, DC and throughout the US for over thirteen years. She’s taught conflict resolution, mindfulness and restorative justice at schools, workshops, camps, and young adult and teen retreats. Em is a member of the Mindful Schools guiding faculty in the Mindful Teacher Certification Program, where she trains educators in mindfulness techniques so that they may effectively teach them to young people. She approaches all her work from an empowerment and liberation perspective that holds that we already have all that we need to make the changes we want in our lives. Em is honored to have the chance to share the tools that have brought her so much joy, contentment, and peace in her life.  Learn more about Em at www.pastpresenceforward.com.

The post Help Your Students Focus with 5 Mindful Movements appeared first on Mindful Schools.

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