Creating Transformation Starts with Being Transformed

“Having a creative classroom means that the teacher takes risks on a daily basis and encourages his/her students to do the same.”

—Pann Baltz, 1993 ATA Teacher of the Year as quoted in The Creative Classroom Project by Harvard’s Project Zero

On the last day of the Pages teacher workshop on Mindful Creativity, we spent some time talking about how mindfulness can be implemented in the classroom. There was some talk about the specific strategies, but what I ultimately ended up coming back to was: do it yourself. In order to teach mindfulness, it begins with experiencing the practice, benefits and struggles as a personal experience.

This is the one thing I liked most when I first started researching the teaching of mindfulness: part of teaching it, the main part, is doing it. Mindfulness is about transforming personal experience.  Facilitating the process in others strengthens my own understanding of what it means to be present and to connect. In my opinion, and in the opinion of other experts whom I have read, this is really the way it is supposed to work.

Perhaps this same philosophy could also apply to the teaching of other things, too.  So often teachers come into a chosen field with a passion for students and connection, but also a passion of the field in which they study. Somewhere along the line with the busyness of teaching, something gets cast to the side. In many cases it is the “creator” and the “doer” within us. In other words, it is the “self as creator and practitioner.”

     How can I find time to write? I have all of these papers to grade.

     How can I find time to do art? I have planning to do.

     How can I find time for silence? I have a million student voices in my head, and my own children at home, and a committee meeting tonight- the list goes on.

How can I do this? Because I have to. It is part of the practice. Changes within lead to changes without; a transformed and engaged teacher is a transformed and engaged classroom.

Teachers are not the only ones who struggle with these issues. I know creators in all fields who found day jobs related to their art but not grounded in expressing what is deepest within them. They, too, struggle to find a place and time for their own expression and transformation.

As teachers especially, I think it is very difficult to bring our “whole selves” into all we do. We are not allowed to be “human” because everything is about performance: don’t show when you are having a bad day; don’t be “too nice” in the beginning; don’t ever, under any circumstance, touch the people with whom you work all day every day.

And yet. Teachers do have bad days and want to be able to be human on those days. Teachers want to be kind and connect from day one. Teachers want to give a hug or a pat on the shoulder when they see a student they care about really struggling or really succeeding. Many teachers do these things anyway, but it is counter-culture to the mainstream of what teachers are often told they should be doing.

So my suggestion for transforming the classroom with mindfulness and creating an environment of mindful creativity is this, and it is something I challenge every Pages teacher (and all teachers) to do:

Make time for yourself now and after the start of the school year. This time should be used to settle into silence in the way that is most meaningful to you; to express what is deepest within you so that you may share your experiences with students in meaningful ways; and most importantly, to allow yourself to be fully human and whole.

This is the (slightly modified) “assignment” I give to those with whom I work when I first introduce mindfulness, and it can be used as a starting place for anyone interested in incorporating mindfulness into daily life.

Assignment

Part I: Are you mindful?

  1. Take the mindfulness quiz from Greater Good from UC Berkeley
  2. Print out your results and reflect upon what you learned about yourself from this quiz (in a short writing)

Part II: Practicing mindfulness for the next two weeks

  1. Set an intention to notice where you find silence in your daily life for the next week; remind yourself daily of this intention in the mornings and at any point throughout the day.
  2. Commit to five to ten minutes of silent mindfulness practice and five to ten minutes of journaling on how your intention and practice are developing for five days of seven each week for the next two weeks
  3. After week one, set a more individualized intention for yourself rather than noticing silence. Given the focus on creativity for our work together, perhaps it can relate to your creative self. For example you may set the intention of: creating space for creative expression, seeing the world through the eyes of an artist etc.

This same assignment can be given to students at the beginning of the year, but really, I highly suggest that you do the assignment yourself first, with fidelity, and then introduce it to students. Give yourself permission to know you are as important as your students.  Even (and especially) in these stressful beginning weeks when all you may be thinking about is who is coming into your classroom and what you need to do to prepare for them.

As you are working through the assignment, please share your experiences with others on the blog. I (and all the other Pages peeps past and present) would love to hear what happens.

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