This past summer, Upper School science teacher, Kata Baker engaged in a professional development workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York to gain a deeper understanding of mindfulness and how to employ that practice with her students. According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is defined as the “ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” A study from Cambridge University has shown that mindfulness can increase students’ resilience to stress.
Baker attended a local mindfulness conference last winter with the encouragement of Dean of Students Will Gilyard who thought that the practice could be beneficial to those educators teaching life skills and Vincit Qui Vincit (VQV). Her interest was piqued by the workshop, and she decided to do a more intensive workshop this summer. Along with 60 other educators, Baker trained from 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00. She believes the hands-on practice is essential. “You can’t teach the students if you don’t do it yourself. They know when you’re being disingenuous.”
Baker explained some of the exercises that she practiced during the week. One session involved dancing so that “you get out of your own head” and take notice of the sensation in the body and all that surrounds you. Another exercise required the group to focus on the middle of a bullseye while the instructor would make a noise to test when one was distracted. As a multitasker and an advocate of exercise, Baker admits that mindfulness does not always come easy, and she needs to slow herself down. She said, “I'm not a good sitter.”
One particular aspect of the workshops that Baker felt was most impactful was the session on compassionate or non-violent communication. She described how in our day-to-day conversations we tend not to listen, and we are programmed to win. Instead, the focus of conversations should be to form connections and understanding, especially when the topic is highly emotional.
She’s conscious of not pushing mindfulness on her students, and she was pleased by how receptive the students were to the idea when they were in her advisee meetings or in PLB. She walked the students through deep breathing exercises and gauged their emotional temperature so they were aware of their feelings. Were they worried about a test or excited about the weekend? A zero indicated very low stress, and a 10 indicated high anxiety. She said in her classes she gives her students five minutes of transition time to sit and be reflective. “Class always goes better when you do that. I always did that in my classes, but now I do it more purposefully. To tell students to just buckle down, doesn't work. I want to impart these skills on them, but I want for them to develop it in themselves,” she said.
Baker plans on sharing her knowledge with other interested faculty members. “Mindfulness is not about regulating the students, but that is one of the upsides,” she said. “It’s more about students understanding themselves socially and emotionally.”
To read more: The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students - Daniel Rechtschaffen
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life - Marshall Rosenberg