Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mindfulness for Teachers and Teens (interview)

photo courtesy Heidi Bornstein
Heidi Bornstein is the founder of Mindfulness Everyday, a Toronto-based nonprofit which provides mindfulness training for parents, teachers, and youth. Ms. Bornstein is a Hatha yoga and meditation teacher who received intensive training at the International Meditation Institute while living in India. She is on the steering committee for Mindfulness Toronto and Discover Mindfulness.

smartEducation™ (SMART) is specifically designed to address the needs of K-12 educators and professional support staff. What are the benefits of taking this type of mindfulness training in the company of other educators?

By taking the SMART program with other educators, teachers are able to share experiences unique to the profession in a supportive, safe environment. Taking mindfulness training together gives the teachers an opportunity to connect with one another in an authentic way that deepens their professional relationship. It can also transform relationships, enhancing a school culture of mindful awareness, kindness and compassion for self and others.

A mindfulness approach is a good way for teachers to support their own sense of well-being and model that to students. It provides a framework of healthy mind habits as a way of creating effective strategies for relating to challenging situations, which are inherent in the profession. It also means that teachers can support student mindfulness programs based on their own personal experience.

SMART includes specific lessons in emotions, forgiveness, and loving kindness. It’s essential for teachers to understand the importance of being able to regulate their own emotions while teaching. 

Despite the fact that teachers are responsible for not only their own emotions, but those of their students, colleagues, parents, administration, and their own families, emotional literacy is rarely taught within teacher education programs. Applying mindful awareness to emotions provides an experiential and cognitive foundation teachers can rely on when they are in the classroom. 

As Pete Reilly put it in a recent interview: “Sometimes we conflate sacrificing ourselves with service… By taking care of ourselves and cultivating our best ‘self’ we’re actually taking care of our students.” 

What are some ways that educators can take care of ourselves in the midst of helping our students and keeping up with our professional responsibilities? 

Awareness of the importance of self-care for teachers needs to be a priority in education. Teachers need to be given the support and permission to do this, beginning early in their careers to establish good self-care practices which they can then model to students.

Teachers also find that having a group of educators to practice mindfulness with is a good way to bring self-care to the forefront.

Practicing mindful awareness is, in itself, an act of self-care that can inform choices that enhance health and well-being. 

The Mindful Edge for teens is based on principles of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program originally designed for adults. What are the similarities and differences between teaching mindfulness to adults and adolescents?

Both MBSR and The Mindful Edge are based on a scaffolded approach to mindfulness practice:
  • beginning with awareness of body and breath;
  • establishing a mind-body connection; 
  • examining perception, how the way we look at the world affects our experience of it; 
  • followed by awareness of thoughts and emotions; 
  • then mindful communication. 

Both programs include implicit and explicit teaching of heartfulness (loving kindness), which contains the practice of kindness and compassion to self and others. Both programs emphasize the use of informal mindfulness practices; that is, bringing mindful awareness to daily activities, to the things that we already do, like eating, walking, taking a shower, answering the phone, etc.

Teaching mindfulness to adolescents involves shorter practices, more varied activities that support the didactic components, and changing the pace of the lessons. The lessons are shorter: 45 – 60 min, on the average; MBSR lessons are 2½ to 3 hours. Home practice is required in an MBSR course, and encouraged in a teen program. 

Another difference is that adults make their own choice to take an MBSR workshop, usually based on stress-related issues. Adolescents are often given mindfulness training as part of a school curriculum, so it’s important to engage them in the program by helping them see the personal relevance of mindfulness and its benefits.

One way we do this is through age-appropriate stories. The Two Wolves Cherokee Legend is a story that we use to illustrate that we all have a choice of how we want to be, and that qualities of kindness, compassion and empathy can be cultivated. 

The Mindful Edge also makes use of apps to support the recommended guided meditations.  An app that we recommend for teens is the following:

Stop, Breathe & Think is a free iTunes mindfulness app. It teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation and asks the user to do a 10-second check-in, answer a few questions about their present state, suggests a few meditations, and then provides a short guided meditation, about 5 or 6 minutes. It tracks your progress and awards "stickers" when you finish a guided meditation.

Because it also has a web-based version, it's easy to demonstrate how the app works on a smart board or screen to a class, then they are encouraged to download it for themselves.  

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you?

It means being present in each moment, putting positive relationships with students, colleagues and parents first and teaching curriculum second. It means being known as a teacher who really listens and who creates a safe and caring environment in which all can learn.

What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you with your work?

I began meditating as a teenager, which led me to find a teacher in India, where I spent many years studying and practicing meditation and yoga. This training is a foundation for my present practice. 

In addition to formal sitting meditation practice and mindful movements, including yoga and chi gong, I also enjoy contemplative art in many creative forms, and connecting with people. 

For me, mindfulness is not only formal sitting practice, but a way of being that permeates all aspects of my life.

Mindfulness helps me be creative, maintain a sense of humour in dealing with the pressures of managing a charitable organization, take care of my own health and well-being, and foster healthy relationships with my friends, family and colleagues.  It has provided me with an amazing community of like-minded, caring, aware, incredible beings who are inspiring and supportive.

My personal practice brings both a wisdom and broader perspective to challenging situations that inevitably arise in our work of bringing mindfulness into education. I am infinitely grateful for the rich presence of awareness in my life.

related posts:

Teaching Mindfulness Across Cultures (interview)

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