The Conscious Classroom

Mindful Joy: The Secret Sauce in Educational Leadership

March 03, 2024 Episode 64
The Conscious Classroom
Mindful Joy: The Secret Sauce in Educational Leadership
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein unpacks the importance of teacher happiness and how to use mindful awareness and perspectives to improve teacher wellbeing and sense of possibility prior to making practical changes, which undoubtedly also need to occur. 

Amy explores the impact of educators who tap into their passion, setting the classroom tone and invigorating their students with a love for learning. In this insightful episode, she dissects how a teacher's zest for their craft can revolutionize the traditional learning space, fostering innovation and a thriving environment for both students and educators. The goal of this is to understand the perspective -- and  to lay out practical steps that will reignite the spark in our educators' eyes, ensuring that their connection to teaching becomes the cornerstone of educational success.

The role of Assistant Principals takes center stage, revealing their unique ability to steer a school through their own calm and caring leadership. Amid their diverse responsibilities, these unsung school heroes can demonstrate the power of stillness and mindfulness in a nurturing educational ecosystem. Hear a heartwarming description of how a simple, intentional, mindful approach can open up communication with a student, revealing hidden struggles, and helping resolve school conflicts. showcasing the unexpected ways in which leaders can make a real impact. 

Join Amy for a compelling episode that reimagines the future of education by  emphasizing the essential role of teacher wellbeing and the transformative potential of a mindful approach.

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Amy Edelstein:

Today, I wanted to talk about the importance of teacher happiness. The importance of happiness overall is one of the central themes of a conscious classroom. Everything we're doing is to inspire our students to love what they're doing, to feel passionate about education, about learning, about discovering, about growing, about change, about possibility and about who they are essentially, about their joy and their own existence and nature. To cultivate that happiness in our classrooms is a big part of what a conscious classroom does. All the tools and tricks are really about shifting our attention away from limitation, away from problems, away from strife, away from inadequacy, away from mistakes and towards that which lights our hearts on fire, because if we're connected with what we truly love, not a fleeting attachment or a fleeting desire, but that ineffable which makes our life purpose shine brighter come into focus and fuel our jets. Then all kinds of problems will be overcome. When we think about how we're going to do that, what is the future of education? How do we create the environment that enables us to walk the path that leads towards greater fulfillment, greater happiness In the school? A huge part of it rests on teachers. Teachers having the bandwidth. Teachers being inspired by what they love, teachers being connected with the reasons why they chose to go into such a demanding profession. Those teachers are going to create those pathways for happiness. Those teachers are going to guide their students and they're going to be able to contextualize mistakes and obstacles, as small things, within the greater context of our own beautiful, precious life and each student's beautiful, precious life, and that context that allows for growth and development.

Amy Edelstein:

If our context is too small and it's only set within all of the problems, we're never going to find our way out. If our context is set within that which is ennobling, inspiring and even that which we can't quite wrap our heads around, we have so much room for innovation and change. We're propelled by an updraft and we have a sense of the way forward and also in our context, is that big? We're willing to do things differently. We see the distant horizon and we know that the earth is round, so we can keep going and keep going, and so the idea of trying something new, reaching for what we truly care about and want to see happen, feels accessible if our context is big enough. If our context is just limitation, that'll be beyond our context and we'll feel like we have to punch through walls to get there. So, as you can see, you know I'm coming to one of my often repeated themes, that how we're reviewing our classroom, our situation, what's possible, is a big determinant for what is going to end up happening.

Amy Edelstein:

And, given that teachers create those pathways for students and set the tone, supporting our teachers to have a bigger context, supporting our teachers to feel the way forward is possible and supporting them to feel the joy of learning and discovery and collegial support is essential. We can add all of the most incredible technology. We can change our buildings with all the building issues that we might have. If we live in an old school district where buildings were built, you know, 70, 80 years ago, we could replace them with state of the art technology, but if the human beings who are guiding the classroom are not supported, then our students will feel it. They'll feel the sense of limitation, they'll feel the sense of restriction, they'll feel the sense of overwhelm. So caring for the quality of education, in the way that we're uplifting our youth, means we have to care about the adults who serve them. We have to draw out the best of their understanding, their intelligence, their creativity, their experience and, most of all, their care and their honoring of themselves as the human beings that they are. So how do we do that?

Amy Edelstein:

This past week, I was running a training for the assistant principals in Philadelphia, at one of their regular leadership convenings, and the tools that I brought were incredibly simple. We started out connecting with why we work where we do. Why do we teach? Why do we? Why are we administrators in a school? What's our passion for education, for learning, for discovery? And then we acknowledged what are the difficulties? Creating space, expanding context means we have to see clearly.

Amy Edelstein:

So first we have to root in our passion, in that which lifts us beyond. We all know if, when we fall in love, whether it's our, if we remember our first love when we were young, or we have a new baby in our life and we look at that infant and we feel that extraordinary love and care. Our problems recede, our eyes go a little misty, in a positive way, because our heart has come to the foreground. And when our heart comes to the foreground and we feel in love, we feel that problems and obstacles are smaller and anything is possible, because our hearts feel as big as the universe. So first we ground in our passion. Grounding your teachers, if you're an administrator. Grounding your colleagues, if you are one of the lead teachers, when your common planning time. Grounding in your passion, grounding in something you love that has meaning. That's related to the purpose of why we care to guide our young people.

Amy Edelstein:

We could get rid of schools, we could go back to, you know, a time when there were no formal structures of education. We don't, for many reasons. Education is so important, it's an enabler when it's done right. So grounding and passion first of all, and then being direct and simple about the pressures and the limitations. So not drowning in the obstacles, but being able to name them has power, because when we can name the obstacles together without diving into the story, or getting lost in the details or trying to come up with immediate solutions. We're simply setting the stage with reality. We're simply seeing what's there. We can't move from where we're not. So grounding in our heart's passion grounds us in reality as well. That's what moves us and motivates us and inspires us to step out, seeing the obstacles that are there.

Amy Edelstein:

So for assistant principles, of course, there are many obstacles. Assistant principles have tons of responsibility but they don't often have the same level of authority to implement. Assistant principles are buffers between everything they hear, from the staff and teachers in the school to the principal and from the principal back down. So being the buffer means you often have to carry everyone's tension because you're getting it from both sides, and then you're trying to reduce unnecessary friction so that you can convey a clear message in a way that's going to inspire change and not just add to irritation. So that's an interesting conundrum for that role.

Amy Edelstein:

And assistant principles are often deluged with work, from minutiae that has to get done. That doesn't seem like part of their job, but because they are enablers, they often take things on like that to strategizing, to big picture, to supporting the leader of the school, to see the whole system of a school, to see the whole ecosystem and organism. Because schools are like organisms they're live, they're breathing, they're moving, they're growing, they're shrinking, they get hurt, they get sick, they get better, they have successes. So we have to see our role and the situation clearly, not just what happened this week and what didn't work or what did work, but how does the whole system work. So when we can see that dispassionately, without excess emotion, we're all on the same page. So that's one way that you can help your teachers and your staff or your leaders in the school.

Amy Edelstein:

And then the third step, of course, is to hold your deepest passion and love and the reality of the present and the practical and, without getting caught in limitation, allow yourself to be still, whatever that looks like for you, whether it's a formal practice of mindful breathing or open awareness or rooting in the body, but allowing that inner silence and stillness to fill your mind and your heart. So you can intuit a next step through. So what's aligned with what you really want to see happen in your school at the deepest level, that takes in the practicalities as they are and then that sees a change. That change might not be the one that you anticipated. Sometimes we have to come out of problem sideways, and you must know this.

Amy Edelstein:

When you're with a student in crisis and they won't talk to you and you're sitting down in your office, you know face to face, looking at them directly, and they look away, and then you say you know, why don't we go for a walk? I have to make some copies in the copy machine, which is way down the hall and up the stairs. Will you come with me? And so the student that's in crisis is like oh phew, now I don't have to do anything, I don't have to talk, I'm off the hotspot. And so you're walking down the hall and you're walking up the stairs and the copy machine is going and spitting out 200 copies and all the while you're just fiddling with the buttons and the student is there.

Amy Edelstein:

And then you're walking down the steps and you're walking back to your office and as you're walking back, side by side, not really looking at each other, all of a sudden the student just blurts out what happened, what got them so upset, why they were so upset, what's going on in their home life, what happened to them walking home from school the day before, what they're afraid of coming up an immigration case related to someone in their family, extended family, a court case, a trial, a hospitalization, a mental health or substance abuse issue, financial hardship, homelessness, and they just blurted out the 10 seconds before you get to the door of your office. So all of that time walking down the hall, standing at the copier, walking back down the stairs, walking back, was just creating that space, that stillness, to allow for something to come in sideways. And that's something that comes in sideways may explain why, when the teacher was short-sighted or snapped or criticized the student, the student flipped, not because of what the teacher did, but because of what the student was carrying. And if you'd stayed in your office, face to face, without student addressing it directly, pushing for acknowledgement of their rudeness, you never would have understood what are the extenuating circumstances, what are the factors. So then you and the student, now on the same page, can acknowledge what happened, you can express full support and care and compassion and the student has the room to see that their rude behavior or snapping at the teacher was unfair, misguided, misplaced, and they can apologize because their whole reality's been met. So again, rooting in the passion for positive change and wholeness, seeing things as they are and then creating space for an unexpected insider solution to emerge sounds very simple, but it takes a tremendous focus on the part of a school leader, teacher, the administrator, not focus.

Amy Edelstein:

That dedication to truly evolving our way of being with each other is a huge part of creating an educational future that is really going to work for everyone. It's not just finding the latest, greatest technology. It's not just changing the structure of a school so there's a more human amount of time between classes to take care of bio needs or emotional needs. It's not just providing stimulating learning environments. It's about our real sense of our own interconnection with our environment and our sense that opening up through stillness whether it's a classical mindfulness practice or it's simply the way your quality of attention when you're walking down that hall that focus and openness and sincerity will start, in small and large ways, changing our approach from the biggest context possible. And when we change our approach from trying to make all the odd shaped pieces fit and trying to work within limitation to working within a context that allows us to identify with that visionary goal of education, that's when it's possible to intuit change Within the education system, within your school, within your classroom, that has real meaning and transformative power.

Amy Edelstein:

So, as you go through your week this week, as you start thinking about the way you relate to your day to day, keep this in mind. Do some exercises, focus yourself and allow yourself to shift in this inner orientation, how you relate, and then see how the practical will follow suit. It's like setting the rudder of your ship. If you're just slightly off over time, you're really going to end up in the wrong place, and if you set your rudder true to the direction that you really care about heading, you will get there. Now, as we allow this to permeate our being, let's sink into a short mindfulness practice, and one that you can do every day, as you go, as you set the tone of your day, maybe when your students are in advisory, in the homeroom and you have a few minutes.

Amy Edelstein:

So allow yourself to focus on your own sensations, on what's present in your experience, what your hands are touching, what your feet are resting against, the way the chair holds you up. Take a deep breath in noticing how the air passes through your nostrils and tickles the back of your throat, fills your lungs so that your chest rises and, as you exhale, allowing the stomach to collapse and push the old air out, just breathing at your own pace for a few breaths, paying attention to the sensations at the nose, at the throat, your chest rising, your belly expanding, your belly softening and contracting the air pushing out through your nose. And as you pay attention to the breath, notice any stillness that's coming in behind the thoughts, just like your head opened up into the whole sky so much space. Notice a small smile in your heart as you remember an excited moment when you first decided to pursue your first teaching job. Take a deep breath in and a slightly longer exhalation, drinking in your own joy and passion and commitment, breathing out your love and care for your students and their learning, bringing in the value of your own vision for what's possible in learning. And breathing out that sense of happiness of your own creativity and innovation and possibility for change.

Amy Edelstein:

As you bring your attention back to the room that you're in, to your students in front of you or wherever you may be, allow that spaciousness and groundedness and sense of your own heart's wholeness to leave an imprint in your experience. And when you go about your day and the inevitable conflicts and problems and limitations arise, know that you have the room inside you to see them clearly for what they are and allow that stillness and silence and room inside to perhaps reveal one of those sideways, solutions or next steps that can unfold a much better possibility for everyone involved. Thank you so much. Thank you for all the good work that you do. Thank you for listening to the Conscious Classroom. I'm your host, amy Edelstein. Please check out the show notes on innerstrengthfoundationnet for links and more information and if you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend and pass the love on. See you next time.

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