Sunday, January 20, 2019

New Coalition Supports Mindfulness in Schools (interview)

Tracy Heilers is a yoga instructor and mindfulness instructor for pre-K through high school students and teachers. She is
the the founder and executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Mindfully (COSEM). COSEM will be hosting its first annual conference from February 28-March 2, 2019 in St. Charles, IL (outside of Chicago). 

In this interview, Tracy discusses COSEM and her approach to mindfulness with Catharine Hannay, editor and publisher of

Catharine: I was interested to see that your bachelor’s degree is in Civil Engineering. What led you toward yoga and mindfulness?

Tracy: My mindfulness path started when I was an engineer. When I’d get lower back pain from sitting all day with stressful deadlines, I sought out a remedy and found yoga. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Song Playlist: Self-Compassion, Self-Acceptance, and Empathy

by Catharine Hannay

Continuing the popular series of song playlists for teachers, here are songs about self-compassion, self-acceptance, and supporting each other

There are three songs for young children, which I've put at the top of the list. (You might want to check them out even if you don't teach young children. "You are Wonderful" is catchy, the "I Can Be" video is charming, and Kermit the Frog is, well, Kermit the Frog. I mean, what more can I say?)

Most of the other songs and videos are appropriate for a wide range of ages and audiences, but there are a few videos I would only feel comfortable showing to adults or mature teens. As always, please watch the full video and read the lyrics before deciding what's appropriate for your particular context. 

It's not easy bein' green. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things. And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky. But green's the color of Spring..."

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Thought-Provoking Videos About Empathy, Compassion, and Service

by Catharine Hannay

Continuing with the popular series of video playlists for teachers, here are a variety of moving and thought-provoking perspectives on:
  • How to Have a Good Conversation (even when we have opposing viewpoints);
  • How to be an Upstander against bullying; 
  •  What Not to Say to d/Deaf people, people of mixed race, people with disabilities; and people with cancer; and
  • Getting More Than We Give from volunteering

I've included some videos that are appropriate for all ages, and others that I would only feel comfortable showing to adults and mature teens. As always, please watch the full video before making your own best judgment about what's suitable for your particular context.

Perspectives on Empathy and Mindful Speech

In this TEDX talk on How to Have a Good Conversation, award-winning journalist Celeste Headlee explains how to listen respectfully and learn from people whose opinions may be very different from our own. 

 (Ms. Headlee expands on these ideas in her excellent book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter.)

Have you seen the famous 'All That We Share' video from Danish television, about putting people in boxes? 

These students were inspired to make their own videos:

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mindfulness Helps Kids and Adults Handle Stress

Florenza Denise Lee is a radio talk show host, author, speaker, certified life coach, and children’s mindfulness coach.

Her book The Tail of Max the Mindless Dog teaches children the benefits of breathing and experiencing the present moment.

In this interview, she discusses her work with veterans, military families, and recovering addicts with Catharine Hannay, editor and publisher of

Catharine: In The Tail of Max the Mindless Dog, Max keeps chasing his own tail, thinking that if he can catch it and tie it in a knot, it will stop causing him so much pain. Do you see any parallels with your work in addiction recovery? 

Florenza: As a previous director of a women’s home (for addiction recovery) as well as an advocate for our veterans, I believe that the way we respond to pain most surely parallels the way Max felt in my book. 

Max was not to blame for his pain, but he was responsible for how he responded to his pain. I share this thought with both my residents in the home as well as veterans. 

Of the women in the program, more than 85% were there due to abuse they encountered as children. This carried over into their adult years and resulted in them having addictions. 

Our Veterans face similar challenges. Many experienced untold encounters that caused them to develop conditions such as PTSD, etc. Like Max, they have pains that are not necessary their fault, but also like Max, they try to come up with their own solutions which result in negative habits that prevent them from fully enjoying life. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Realistic Self-Care: How Many Minutes Have You Got?

photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem from 

by Catharine Hannay

All this talk about self-care is lovely, but who has the time? You've got more work every day than you can possibly handle, which means you don't even have time to meet the needs of all your students or clients, not to mention the needs of your own family. 

I get it. I really do. 

When I was working in Japan, I had a full-time teaching load on top of a full-time administrative job, while dealing with university politics, and going through severe culture shock, at the same time I was desperately trying to learn enough of the language to communicate with non-English-speaking staff. 

But here's the thing. Not taking care of myself didn't help. In retrospect, I can see that I would have benefited enormously from simply taking a few minutes every day to clear my head and prioritize my work, instead of frantically rushing from one task to the next.

In fact, looking back on any of my jobs, I can see that I made things even harder for myself.

As Austin Kleon says,
"All advice is autobiographical. It's one of my theories that when people give you advice, they're really just talking to themselves in the past." 
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

In other words: do as I say, not as I did. Here's what I wish I'd done when I was so busy I couldn't think straight. I hope  it helps you avoid my mistakes so you can do your own work in a healthier and more sustainable way. 

No matter how busy your day, you can always squeeze in a five-minute, three-minute, or even just a 1-minute break to refuel and clear your head. (If you really, truly can't find sixty seconds for yourself in the next twenty-four hours, something is very wrong.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Using Mindfulness and Empathic Imagination in Teaching Myths

photo by Sebastian Pilcher on Unsplash

The following is a guest post by Ira Rabois, author of Compassionate Critical Thinking.

I'd like to share with you what I learned from teaching a middle school class called 'The Story From Day One,' which integrated mindfulness and visualization exercises with the language arts curriculum. 

We often teach myths as merely literature, divorced from the cultural, spiritual, and historical context. But we pay a price for this approach. It limits the depth of meaning students can derive from their study. 

Combine this with the narrow focus on the now that social media can foster, and students easily feel isolated on an island of self, cut off not only from their contemporaries, but from a sense of the continuity of life. They have little grasp of how their lives today emerge from yesterday.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mindful Moments, in the Classroom and Beyond

Barbara Larrivee is a longtime mindfulness practitioner and yogi, and has an Ed.D. in research methods and education and an M.Ed. in special education. She has spent her career translating research into strategies to help teachers become more mindful, self-reflective and socially-emotionally literate so they can then be models for their students. 

In this interview, Barbara discusses her books and her approach to mindfulness with Catharine Hannay, editor and publisher of

Catharine: What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

Barbara: My application of mindfulness goes beyond being present and nonjudgmental, taking the position that action should be at the heart of mindfulness. My definition of mindfulness incorporates the conscious consideration of how our behavior affects others.

I contend that being mindful involves awareness, attention, and intention. Acting mindfully takes it to another level. I conceive of mindfulness as having three levels.

“Mindfulness encompasses having mindful awareness, holding mindful intent, and taking mindful action.”
For me, mindful teaching brings a teacher’s core values and actual behaviors into authentic alignment. When inner ideals and outer actions are in harmony, then you are truly mindful. Mindful teachers are self-reflective, that is, they test their actions against their beliefs about teaching, learning, and human behavior.

Catharine: Why did you decide to focus on mindful moments, and how do you incorporate mindful moments in your own daily life?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Three Challenging Questions about the Benefits of Mindfulness

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

When I started the Mindful Teachers website six years ago, I felt passionate about sharing the benefits of mindfulness with as many teachers as possible. Nowadays, I'm more concerned about not contributing to the over-enthusiasm that's led to, for example, 
"teachers who did not have a personal mindfulness practice being asked to deliver MBA’s [mindfulness-based approaches] by their school principals." 
Effective Mindfulness-Based Approaches, for Students and Teachers, interview with Keith Horan

I've been working on updating the Benefits of Mindfulness page, and I confess that I've been finding it quite challenging. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of a sincere, long-term practice, but I'm frustrated by the available research and the ways it's typically reported. 

In a critique of the current standards of research, Van Dam et al outline some of the major concerns: 
  • "The term mindfulness has a plethora of meanings."
  • "Much popular media fails to accurately represent scientific examination of mindfulness, making rather exaggerated claims about the potential benefits of mindfulness practices."
  • "Much more research will be needed before we know for what mental and physical disorders, in which individuals, mindfulness-based interventions are definitely helpful."
Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation

I'd like to share some of my thoughts on these issues, in the hopes that it will contribute to the ongoing conversation about we do and don't know about the benefits of mindfulness. 

First of All, What Do We Actually Mean by  'Mindfulness'?

One of the most popular definitions of mindfulness is "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." 

In fact, this definition has become so widespread that I once saw it attributed to "Dr. Jon-Kabat Zinn, the inventor of mindfulness." (I'm trying to come up with an adjective that conveys feeling simultaneously dismayed and amused. Dis-mused, perhaps?) 

For the record, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has never claimed to have 'invented' mindfulness, but he is one of the key figures in bringing a secular form of mindfulness meditation to a western audience. His pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in 1979 has grown into the influential Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

But as popular as his definition of mindfulness may be, 
"Some people have refrained from accepting Kabat-Zinn's definition of mindfulness, or else have interpreted it in different, sometimes conflicting ways. Kabat-Zinn (2011) himself has acknowledged that the term represents (to him) a much broader scope of concepts and practices than what his earlier (1990) definition might suggest."
Van Dam et al, "Mind the Hype" 

I'm fascinated by the different ways of understanding and explaining mindfulness, and I try to include as broad a range of perspectives as possible. (See, for example, What Is Mindfulness? and Metaphors for Mindfulness and Meditation.)

This has gotten me into trouble a couple of times. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How Growth Mindset Complements Mindfulness (interview)

Mary Cay Ricci has worked as an elementary and middle school teacher, instructional specialist and central office administrator. She is the New York Times Best Selling Education author of Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Growth Mindset Learning Community. Her other books include Nothing You Can’t Do: The Secret Power of Growth Mindsets (for kids 8-13), Ready-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom, Mindsets for Parents, and Create a Growth Mindset School (for administrators).   

Mary Cay is available for speaking engagement in the US and Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @MaryCayR

In your opinion, how can growth mindset complement mindfulness?
Mindfulness and growth mindset both encompass an awareness of our thinking. 

One of the most important tenets of growth mindset is the knowledge that we all make mistakes and we can all learn from them.   

Being at peace with failure and mistakes and small bumps in the road complements mindfulness. 

I’ve heard of a few situations where well-intentioned teachers misunderstood growth mindset and kept pushing kids beyond the point they could really handle. 

Do you have any guidelines for when it is or isn’t advisable to challenge kids?

It is always good to challenge kids IF they have been given the tools they need to approach the challenge and embrace the struggle.  I have found that one of the biggest “missing pieces” when teaching about growth mindset and encouraging kids to embrace difficult tasks, is to help students develop a menu of go-to strategies that they can use when they are stuck or are struggling. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Self-Compassion and Growth Mindset: Don't Be Afraid of Mistakes

Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

The following post is adapted from Nothing You Can't Do! The Secret Power of Growth Mindsets by Mary Cay Ricci, and is published here with permission from Prufrock Press.

Remember that many things we use every day of our lives were invented because a mistake was made or another invention failed. 
Post-It Notes. Chemist Spencer Silver was actually trying to invent a mega-strong glue, but he made a mistake and invented a super-weak one instead. Thus, post-it notes were born! 
Popsicles. In 1905, Frank Epperson mixed up a fruit-flavored drink and accidentally left it outside on a cold night, with the stirring stick still left in the cup. In the morning, the drink had frozen around the stick. He popped it out of the cup and licked it — a popsicle!
Can you think of other inventions that were originally mistakes? (How about chocolate chip cookies and potato chips?)