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Engaging in Mindfulness

This is the time of year when the anxiety level with my pre-service teachers and teacher candidates are at an all-time high. Some are close to being finished with students teaching and others are wrapping up the last of their coursework. In both cases they are facing Real Life head-on for the first time and it is scary!

A mindfulness exercise that I've revised and adapted from a couple colleagues has worked wonders for them (and me!) and has allowed them to focus more on self care rather than school work and finals and graduation and grading and student evals and finding a job and paying for a cap and gown and what am I even doing with my life right now I have slept three hours in the last week and I still have a ton to do..!

This is how it goes:

You will need a blank sheet of paper and something to write with. But first I want everyone to close their eyes.

It’s the end of the semester; there are tons of things due… I want you to take a trip in time with me. You see yourself doing all the things that need to get done before you student teach. You successfully complete all of your state tests, your finals are all handed in, and you do very well. Summer passes and now it’s student teaching. You have wonderful experiences in your first placement and you move to your second placement and your second placement goes even better than the first. You get wonderful letters of recommendation from your cooperating teachers and your professors here and right out of student teaching you get hired. Imagine a school—your dream school—where you want to teach. That’s the school you get hired in. You design the classroom the way you want to design your classroom. And now I want you to imagine jumping five years down further into your career, where you first feel like you are a real expert teacher. You have a full grasp of everything around you, you know what you’re doing, nothing upsets you anymore as a teacher, you don’t get nervous about tomorrow’s class, and you know exactly what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Now focus on yourself and that teacher five years from now. I want you to think about this: imagine your classroom, imagine you, and imagine your students… Open your eyes and write down who you are as a teacher on that day.

Describe yourself. Who are you? This is an exercise in becoming—who are you becoming?

Who will you become? Who do you hope to become? You do not have to write complete sentences. You can just write descriptive words of who you are.

I want you to think about that teacher you hope to become in five years. The next thing I want you to think about is: what does that teacher believe about being a teacher? So what are their beliefs as a teacher? I want you to try to separate your current beliefs from the beliefs of that teacher if possible.

Think about the nature of your beliefs… Is it significant that maybe your beliefs will be the same? Or is it not significant? And I want you to focus on your real beliefs. The truth inside you that you hold as true or you feel is true… Separate those truths from the things you’ve been told that are true… Know where your beliefs end and the beliefs of others have entered and try to delineate between the two. It’s been my experience that I will learn something here at university, or read an article, that espouses some kind of idea, I will tell myself that I buy into the idea, that I believe the idea and yet the idea that it’s replacing in my mind doesn’t always go away…

If you have any last thoughts, just jot them down shorthand in the margin.

At this point I break everyone up into pairs. I usually have them work with someone from across the room... I don’t want them to just turn to a neighbor. For me, for this part, getting up and out of their seats in essential.

I ask them to go through the three different stages: First talk about who you will be, the beliefs that you will have, and then your current beliefs. I'd like some discussion around how they compare to your current thoughts.

I allow time for discussion.

After a few minutes (or longer if it feels like discussion is getting deep), I feed them some more discussion prompts: Next I want you to think about if your current beliefs support the teacher you want to be. If you continue believing the things that you currently believe, will you become that teacher that you first wrote about? Or will some of your beliefs have to change or be modified or tweaked in some way?

Finally I have them report out to the whole class: Can anyone talk about how our current beliefs help us become the teacher we want to become—or possibly might be obstacles in becoming who we want to become?

After some meaningful conversation (in my experience my students are completely relaxed at this point; they don't have that deer-in-the-headlights look in their eyes, they don't look anxious or stressed) I have them compose their belief statements on colored construction paper. Each of them read their beliefs out loud and then post them on the wall in a quilt fashion.

I then ask them to take one belief and write it again on card stock (about the size of a business card).

I want you to keep these belief statements with you this week and return to them more than once. I want you to think about core beliefs that you have inside yourself about yourself and your practice as a teacher. Maybe some of the things we have up on the board are kind of outside of ourselves—that exists without you even being born. What’s inside of you? And I want you to spend some time maybe thinking about those thoughts that could be problematic.

For example, one of my teacher beliefs is that all of my students are able to accomplish anything, no matter what their perceived ability level may be, no matter what their sex or gender is, no matter where they were before they arrived in my classroom.

This is not a cure-all for PSTS (Pre-Service Teacher Stress -- I just invented that term!), but it is super helpful for them (and me) and it really does alleviate a lot of their stress and anxiety and allows them to see things a little more clearer.

The last time I did this exercise with my pre-service teachers I heard a few of them say I really needed this or this came right at the right time or I feel so much better and that's exactly the reason I do this with them and for them.

What are some ways you support your students or teachers during the last few weeks of the semester? Comment below!

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