The Conscious Classroom

Practicing Love & Kindness

April 14, 2020 Amy Edelstein Season 1 Episode 6
The Conscious Classroom
Practicing Love & Kindness
The Conscious Classroom
Practicing Love & Kindness
Apr 14, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Amy Edelstein

The foundation of good learning is a good relationship with one’s teacher or mentor. Building Love & Kindness practices into your school day creates a culture of appreciation, respect, kindness, and care. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein shares some simple ways that you can work with compassion building tools, allowing students to embrace goodness. In a culture where students are exposed to violent video games and acrimonious public discourse, building in care into the classroom is a welcome focus for both you and your students.

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Show Notes Transcript

The foundation of good learning is a good relationship with one’s teacher or mentor. Building Love & Kindness practices into your school day creates a culture of appreciation, respect, kindness, and care. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein shares some simple ways that you can work with compassion building tools, allowing students to embrace goodness. In a culture where students are exposed to violent video games and acrimonious public discourse, building in care into the classroom is a welcome focus for both you and your students.

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Practicing Love and Kindness 
with Amy Edelstein  



Hello. Welcome to the Conscious Classroom Webinar. My name is Amy Edelstein. This month, we are going to be talking about practicing love and kindness. It’s a subject that’s close to my heart and it’s a subject that I believe should be much more a party of our education and our day-to-day experience in the classroom than it customarily is. 


Practicing love and kindness has an effect on ourselves, on our students, on the culture of the school. It influences our physiology, the body, the mind, and of course our emotions. 


Bringing love back into the classroom doesn’t have to be some kind of mushy-touchy, feely, sentimental, or personal, a really personal or embarrassing thing to bring back into the classroom. We bring back love and kindness into the classroom as part of our foundational human values that we co-exist on this planet together and we want to co-exist in a way that benefits all of us, that supports all of our happiness that enables all of us to realize our higher potentials and capacities. 


Students flower under an environment where love and kindness are embedded in the framework of that environment where they’re not something added. They are not the special sauce at the end. They’re really the very container that the classroom is being held in. 


If you feel like in your teaching, in your classroom, or in your interaction with teens or younger children you may be involved with that you are finding yourself assuming more and more the role of the frustrated disciplinarian or you are finding your voice level rising past where you are comfortable with more times than you would care to, it’s time to revisit practices of love and kindness that you can incorporate into just the way you are with teens. 


The more you do these exercises and approach teens in this way, the less frequently you should need to discipline. And if you do need to discipline, still frequently you will be able to do it without holding on to a kind of anger and resentment with settles in you and is a little hard to shake at the end of the day. 


Let’s talk about one simple attitude to shift which is part of the bedrock of cultivating love and kindness in the classroom. And it requires a lot of mindful attention. It requires really being present with what’s happening, not with just our reactivity or past assumptions or carry over from previous events. It requires our mindful awareness on the totality of what’s occurring, both what is happening in the classroom or with a student right in front of us. 


But also, what has happened earlier in the day whether they are pressures intentions following your class. And taking into account things that you may know of that are happening in your life, in the child’s life or extenuating circumstances around that particular day. 


So we want to practice mindful awareness. Be aware. Take in everything that’s going on. And when we are really focusing on love and kindness and bringing love and kindness into the classroom, we want to turn our attention to the positive. We are trained to find the negative. It has been part of post-modern deconstructionism to look for the negative to be able to critique and pull apart and dissect anything from a beautiful piece of literature to music, to art, to ideas, and even sometimes to each other. 


Rather than dissecting and looking for the negative, train yourself to look for the positive. Maybe there’s a student who has been disobedient, disrespectful, not doing their work, but they do one small kind thing. They greet you at the door. They smile or they tell you a joke. They get you to laugh. Notice that. Let that positive action register in you. 


We sometimes have a fear that if we notice the positive in the midst of a negative picture that we are not going to respond and keep that student on track. But what will happen is if you notice the positive, if you put your attention there, when you do need to correct that same student, you will be able to do it from a gentler, more holistic, more loving place. 


That’s going to have a better effect on the student. It’s also going to have a better effect on you. We always feel better when we are responding to our students from the better part of ourselves. From that part of ourselves that cares and is kind and supportive and that’s also detached, that is separate from our students, not entangled or in meshed emotionally. 


We want to see the love and kindness practices that we do as nourishing and supportive for ourselves that they are also ways that we build self-care and rejuvenation into our day. It’s not just so that we are kinder for the kids. We count in this equation. As educators, we matter. And our own health and well-being and positive outlook and sense of happiness and calm, inner joy, and evenness and a lack of entanglement and messiness is really important. 


When we are aware of the positive, it can also help us manage days that are really more stressful. So in the middle of a day that’s just not going well where the students just can’t settle down, where you’re interrupted from request from the principal to paperwork from the district to whatever interruptions kind of encroached upon your teaching time and you just feel like, “Oh no! If one more thing happens, my whole day is going to be shut.” 


And at that moment that you feel that, you just notice that outside it, it went from gloomy and overcast to a little bit of sun. Even though that little bit of sun is the tiniest portion of your day, notice it. Let it register with you. Believe me, you will still remember and respond to all of the challenges that you encountered during the day but allowing a small bits of goodness to really register in your being, to really notice them is going to help you navigate a system that is – can feel brutal at times. As wonderful as education is, there is a relentless pace to it as all seasoned teachers know. 


And the way that we stay on top of that is we notice the small good things and we allow those to impact us. We allow those to register in our being. 


If you can, when there are negative things that happen in the classroom, do your best to find something positive about it. Again, not to whitewash the event, not to minimize, disrespect, or losing battles when you are trying to get students to turn over a new leaf. But if you are able to keep your cool, if you are able to be more even, if you are able to not be a meshed, notice that. Notice your own progress because as you notice your own cultivation of inner joy and inner kindness, kindness towards yourself as well as to others, that is going to impact the culture of your classroom and the students. 


It’s tricky for us because we always believe that if we don’t give equal voice to the negative, we would not be seeing things clearly. But seeing things clearly is best accomplished when the screen of our awareness is uncluttered by overreactions, past associations, negative frameworks, pessimism. It’s a little bit like your blackboard when you actually – when you keep erasing and it becomes dustier and dustier, it’s very hard to write clearly and see the mistakes in the writing. And if you clean your blackboard and then have a student come up and write, you can easily point out the places that need correction. 


So we want to keep cleaning the blackboard of our own awareness and the blackboard of our emotional responses. And the way we clean our inner awareness is by noticing the positive. It has this mysterious effect on us of allowing accumulated tensions to wash away, allowing the cortisol in our bloodstream to lessen and allowing our heightened stress responses in our brain to normalize. It’s not that our physiology is going to reset immediately. But the habit of letting go, the habit of noticing the goodness will help over time.


They do say that it only takes 90 seconds for a brain on a heightened emotion to calm down just a little bit so that you will be able to see more clearly. So you can see that as we take the time to look for something positive in the midst of a negative, to notice something good in the classroom in the middle of a disruption, to notice the quiet student who is actually work and not being distracted by some commotion in the hall, noticing our own ability to care and feeling positively about that will help us keep resetting our stress points. And as we reset, we model for the students how to reset. 


Practicing love and kindness is a matter of choice. Oftentimes, we feel like we are victims to what happens around us and when we practice love and kindness, we are choosing where we want to put our attention. So if we are in challenging classroom, the classroom activities are going to present us with plenty of negative to pay attention to. And it’s going to seem overwhelming and we may start to feel like victims of our surroundings, frustrated all the time with infinite amounts to complain about whether we give voice to that or just complain to ourselves. 


We want to choose to put our attention on that which is wholesome and encourage it to grow that which is positive, movement forward in students. Then we feel like we are masters of our destiny. We are masters of what we are going to put our attention on. 


The trick to this is a soft and subtle quality of attention. So we are not forcing ourselves to ignore something because that feels like a harshness and a violence in our thoughts. We don’t want to be harsh towards ourselves. We don’t want to yell at ourselves inside our minds, “Don’t focus on this. Focus on that. What’s wrong with you?” We want to resist that negative chatter and say, “What do I love? What made me smile today? Is there a color in the room that I like? Is there a goofy hairstyle that one of my students has that just makes me smile about teen fashion? Is there a song someone was playing that I like the tune to? Is there a part of my subject matter that I particularly enjoy today? Do I like the feel of the chalk in my hand?” 


It can be the smallest things. Do I love the warmth that the cup of coffee that I have in my break? Do I like the photograph of my child or a friend or spouse or pet that’s on my desk? 


Training ourselves to notice these small things and being grateful for them, allowing that gratitude to affect us, to uplift us really helps us reset. And then we start training our students. So once we have started to cultivate our appreciation for the good things however small they are that life presents us with, we start calling that out in our classroom, “Oh! Look how good so and so’s handwriting is on the board. Look how – look what a great answer so and so just gave. Look what a creative idea so and so just had. Look how still everyone was during the mindfulness practice today. Look how sweet the mindfulness bell sounded because we were all quiet. Look how we managed to be quiet even though there was so much commotion over the loud speaker in the hallway.” 


You just drop these small phrases and start turning your class’s attention in small ways towards goodness, towards that which is positive. 


If you do do a quiet mindfulness practice, we are going to do a love and kindness practice now. You can even ask your students to smile, a very small inner smile in their hearts. No one needs to see it, just between them and them have an inner smile. You’d be surprised at how many teens would do that regularly and tell you that they do that. Maybe in one of their essays they write or maybe when they catch you in the hall. But they will start doing these small invisible things to help them feel happy, to help themselves cope, to help manage that storm of adolescence. 


So let’s do a small guided visualization and this is a practice that you can do irregularly. You can do it on special days. And you can encourage the students to this on their own. And this is where we are going to take a memory of something good that happened and allow ourselves to really feel it. What happens is good things occur in our lives and we don’t really let ourselves feel them. 


And the practice of going back to these good moments in our meditation can help students even the ones who feel the most troubled find something that they love and even in the middle of so much cloudiness that often obscures a teen’s experience of life. This can start showing them that there is a sun behind the clouds and they can remember that and reach for that even if it’s not their immediate experience right away. 


So to do this meditation, allow yourself to sit tall, your spine straight, the vertebrae stacked one on top of the other. Uncross your legs and let your feet rest flat on the floor. Noticing the contact with the floor and noticing the contact you have with the chair. Gravity pulling you down as your spine lifts up tall. 


With your inner eyes, see if you could create a little space between each of the vertebrae, allowing the discs to plump up and letting your head float at the top of your neck. Take a moment to appreciate the body, how extraordinary it is. Amazing how the skeleton works, allowing us to sit, allowing us to stand, allowing us to walk, allowing us to run. 


And now, turn your attention to memory of something that made you happy. Maybe it was cake on your birthday. Maybe it was playing outside. Maybe it was going to see your favorite grandma or aunt or uncle. Maybe it was listening to a song that always makes you happy and singing your favorite phrase at the top of your lungs. Maybe it was putting on your favorite sweater and feeling cozy. Whatever it is, remember what happened. 


And now, turn your attention to that feeling of happiness. Remember where you were. Remember that feeling inside when you eat that first bite of your favorite birthday cake, when you pulled that sweater over your head and felt the warmth. 


See if you can feel it from the inside out, that feeling of quite happiness, that little smile inside. You might feel that smile in your whole body or you might feel that smile in your mouth. You might feel that smile in your heart. You might feel that smile in your belly. 


Let that smile take over your whole body. And you can even take a big inhalation and a big exhalation. And when you exhale, you can exhale that smile so it gets even bigger. So that smile takes over the whole space around your body. 


And now, you can slowly let the memory go, allowing yourself to just absorb the smile and the happiness just like when you eat your favorite food. You absorb it into your body and it gives you nourishment for the next day. 


And when you hear the bell, we can finish. 


So I hope you could feel that guided visualization yourself. I was using language that you can use in the classroom with your students. Of course, it works for us as well. And really let yourself as you are guiding the students through it feel that inner smile take over your whole body so that you are allowing yourself to relax, to sit back, to let go. 


Stress and anger and negative mind states, they cause our body to fall into crisis modes. They really shut us down. When we go on a state of high alert, various functioning in our body literally shuts down. So an adrenaline is pumping through our body and cortisol is pumping through our body. When are stressed and we need to be on high alert, our rationale functioning of the brain slows down, our digestive system slows down. All of the activities that our system does on automatic that aren’t utterly essential for survival slow down so that our body can react and respond in these life-threatening situations. 


The thing is, we fall into this stress response oftentimes when we are not threatened for our lives like some wild animal chasing us but when we are just angry or overwhelmed or frustrated. So what’s happening all the time when we are living our life feeling angry and frustrated and overwhelmed is that our body is going into crisis mode and the smooth functioning of our digestive system, our reasoning, parts of our brain, our problem-solving parts of our brain are slowing down, using less energy. 


Staying on high alert like that is really not sustainable for long periods of time. And yet for many of us in the classroom, we often feel like we are on a state of high alert all of the time. 


Practicing love and kindness is a really important part of mitigating the stress and automatic arousal modes we go into when we feel frustrated and angry and overwhelmed. So I really encourage you to weave this into your day not as an extra but as an essential. 


Some of the things that you can do are you can have the students keep a love and kindness journal or a love and kindness log that’s part of their regular self-reflection books if they have self-reflection books in their creative writing classes or their English classes or the History classes. 


And have them when they come in every day before they sit down in their chairs and before you start the class, the first thing they do is write down one kind thing that someone did for them and one kind thing that they did for somebody else. It can be small or it can be large. So that every time they are walking into your class, the first thing you are putting their attention is something positive. 


And if they can’t find anything, they have the opportunity then and there to think of something nice that they are going to do, something kind that they are going to do and commit to doing it. 


And during that 60 seconds while they are logging their act of kindness, you have a moment to scan the room not yelling at them to sit in their seats and pay attention but getting them through their own mindful awareness to come into a state of attention. This will settle down reactivity of some commotion that happened in the hall. It will settle down their discomfort at transitions and not knowing how to move from one class to another. It will settle down their worry about the chemistry test last period that was harder than they thought it was. 


And it will bring their attention together on the same thing but in their own space. So it gives them a little bit of time to collect themselves before they engage with you. And that little bit of time to collect themselves often will bring out a better part of themselves. So when you do engage with them, you’re not the one that has to regulate them. They’ve already regulated themselves. And this will free you up from that initial moment of needing to discipline and call the class to order. 


So you can just have a bell and use the bell. You can have a student. You rotate around the room, so different students remind the class. You can use or you can have some symbol that you put on the board that represents the kindness books and that that’s what they do and you just have to point to it. 


The students will get used to it and they will build that into their habit and that will be the way they start. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Math or Science or History or shop or any of the other subjects, bringing the students’ attention together in this way can really release you from that part of the period that’s always kind of dreadful of calling everyone to attention. And it will allow them to reset. 


So let’s do another love and kindness practice. This is a traditional love and kindness reflection where we send loving thoughts to ourselves and to somebody we care about. We want to remind the students that we are not literally sending thoughts to the airwaves but what we are doing is we are exercising our muscles of care so we can develop strong and big muscles of care. And let’s enjoy this practice. 


So bring your attention to your posture, noticing the way that your body on the chair. Notice your spine rising tall, your neck elongating, your feet flat on the floor. Feel how the chair is holding you. And turn your attention to your breath, noticing the soft inhalation and exhalation. 


And now, in your mind’s eye, picture someone you really care about, someone you feel so much love for and send them this wish, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be safe and free from worry. And may you experience love and kindness.” 


Keep sending them that wish, allowing your heart to soften. 


May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be safe and free from worry. And may experience love and kindness. 


And now, put your attention on yourself. And with the same ease and the same full heartedness, send yourself those same wishes using any words you want. The wishes that you want to send yourself, “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be confident. May I experience love and kindness.” 


Remember to pick any words that you want to send yourself and repeat your wish to yourself, “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be confident. May I experience love and kindness.” 


Now, let us send that wish to everyone in the building that we are in right now, all the people you know, all the people you don’t know, all the ones that you like, all the ones that you’re less fond of, and let us send everyone in the building the same wish and include yourself too, “May we be happy. May we be peaceful. May we be surrounded by friends and good wishes. And may we experience love and kindness.”


Again, sending whatever wish you want to send to absolutely everyone in the building, “May we be happy. May we be peaceful. May we be surrounded by friends and good wishes. And may we experience love and kindness.” 


And you can let a smile rest in your heart. And when you hear the bell, we can finish. 

Now, as we begin to bring that exercise and this session of the Conscious Classroom Monthly Webinar to a close, let me encourage you again to really take this to heart and don’t have any ideas about how incorporating this into your classroom, into your day, into your work day is going to affect the quality of your experience. Just give it a chance. See what happens as you do this regularly. 


Notice it on your drive home, on the subway, when you walk into your house, when you’re making dinner. Just start resting your attention on the positive as a habit. At first, you might notice that that’s not. It’s a little awkward. It feels a little fake or inauthentic. And that will give you a sense of what kind of habits, mental habits, quality of attention habits we’ve been building up. 


And just because we have those habits and they are familiar doesn’t mean they are the best ones for us. And so, we often have to go through a period of rehabitualizing ourselves in a direction that we choose that’s going to be more supportive and more enjoyable overall. 


We only have this one life, let us make it and our experience of it as positive and appreciative and aware of the goodness that does exist in this world as we possibly can. Let us cultivate that habit which will enable us to respond and correct as we need to but we will do that from a place of health rather than a place of toxicity. 


We will do that from a place of wholeness rather than a place of feeling victimized. And we will do that from a place of strength, of inner strength and fortitude that is really unusual in this world. And when we start cultivating that quality, it will start permeating all areas of our life and we will start feeling like we are on solid ground, and that ground is within us so we are not dependent on the external environment. 


Thank you so much. You can chat in your questions if you have them. And I look forward to talking with you again next time. This is the Conscious Classroom and my name is Amy Edelstein. 


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