The Conscious Classroom

The Dynamics of Calm

May 12, 2020 Amy Edelstein Season 1 Episode 8
The Conscious Classroom
The Dynamics of Calm
The Conscious Classroom
The Dynamics of Calm
May 12, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Amy Edelstein

Kids are naturally full of energy. That energy, when channeled helps learning. And yet, as teachers we crave calm. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom Calm, Amy Edelstein will show you that calm doesn’t always look “quiet.” And quiet isn’t always calm. You’ll learn more about how to create authentic calm, ease of being, and openness in your classroom. As always, we’ll do some mindfulness and perspective taking practices to experience and to promote ease of being in the classroom.

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Show Notes Transcript

Kids are naturally full of energy. That energy, when channeled helps learning. And yet, as teachers we crave calm. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom Calm, Amy Edelstein will show you that calm doesn’t always look “quiet.” And quiet isn’t always calm. You’ll learn more about how to create authentic calm, ease of being, and openness in your classroom. As always, we’ll do some mindfulness and perspective taking practices to experience and to promote ease of being in the classroom.

Support the show (

The Dynamics of Calm 
with Amy Edelstein                                                                                                  



Hello and welcome to The Conscious Classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. And I’m excited today to be speaking about the dynamics of calm with you and exploring what creates calm in the classroom, what calm really is, how we can cultivate it, and how some things may disguise themselves as calm which aren’t really. 


Let’s begin by taking apart what those two words mean, the dynamics in the same phrase as calm. Dynamic tends to mean agentic, active, forceful, moving, in relationship with. And calm tends to make us feel inactive, solitary, without movement. 


The more I reflect it on what calm really is, the more I began to appreciate that calm has its own cadence. It has its own rhythm. It has its own active and engaged relationship with our surroundings. It has its own life force and its own life pulse. 


In order to build calm into our classroom and in order to encourage our teens to cultivate the capacity to be calm, we want to start recognizing what those dynamics of calmness are. How can we pay attention to them more so that we can nourish and foster those qualities that catalyzed the experience of calm, that sustain the experience lf calm, that deepen the experience of calm, and that extend the experience of calm? 


When we can recognize what we are looking for, know what the target is that we are aiming towards. We know what we are trying to hit. And when we know where bull eye is, we have a better chance of reaching it. 


Calm is an interesting experience. Quiet is not always calm. Still is not always calm. Think of the quiet students in your classroom who don’t give anything away, who don’t engage with you, where you never can really read them, you’re not sure what’s going on, you’re not sure how much they are absorbing, you’re not really sure whether attention or where their passion is. If you can’t find their passion, you can’t awaken the love of learning and you can’t really teach to those students who are disengaged. 


Sometimes behind that quietness simply lurks sleepiness, regular dullness, moments of apathy. Sometimes behind that quietness lurks depression, giving up, apathy, fear, deep unhappiness, disengagement with life to avoid unsafe experiences. So quiet isn’t always calm. 


The quietness of a student or a classroom that’s calm has a hum to it. It has a vibrancy. It has a potency. It has a life pulse to it. You can feel that calm as goodness. You can feel it almost has a color to it, a life-sustaining sense of color and potency. And it transmits ease. It’s inviting. The quietness of calm exterior that doesn’t invite usually has something less positive as its heart. 


Calm doesn’t have to look inactive. Speaking in a quiet, calm voice isn’t always the most calm thing to do. We can be happy and express exuberance or express warmth or express affection for our students or express congratulations and appreciation and recognition in a way that doesn’t create agitation, in a way that fosters the student’s sense of safety and goodness. 


Calm in today’s classroom feels safe. It feels awake. It feels engaged. It feels loving. And for students who often experience so much insecurity in their relationships, in the world around them, often a lack of safety, a lack of physical safety in neighborhoods that are more dangerous. A lack of safety for many children of color in a world that is so polarized and carries so many images of unsafety for students of color. 


We want to recognize that calm and safety and love and security in the classroom is a really potent touchstone for the students. 


Oftentimes, we feel as teachers that our lives are anything but calm. The period bells are ringing before we’ve even finished our class then next classes marching in. We are being asked for information by our districts and our supervisors and our principals. We have papers to grade and tests to give and lessons to prepare and students who missed class to catch them up. And it feels anything but calm. 


So how are we in the middle of these very dynamic classrooms going to create an oasis of calm?  And I want to propose that the three foundation or tenets of The Conscious Classroom, the three foundational points of the inner strength system all interrelate and all create the kind of dynamic calm that we are aspiring towards in our classrooms. 


And those three principles or qualities or foundational cornerstones, or calm curiosity and care, and they feed one another. They create a very stable foundation. 


The way that calm relates to curiosity is curiosity has to do with engaged interest in our surroundings. It has to do with the context within which we are seeing our experience. And when we learn to expand the context around which any event is happening, it helps us create room for all of the chaos or emotion or activity in our day. It helps create space and understanding of things and reasons why these things don’t work. And having a bigger space within which to deal with all of the issues of teaching helps us be calm in the middle of a storm. 


I was talking with some administrators at a school earlier this week helping them to implement some of the Conscious Classroom principles and of course at this time of year, there were just so many tensions that they were dealing with. They were dealing with staff coming and going, teachers leaving and need for new teachers to arrive three quarters of their way into the year, students landing on the doorstep not knowing the school’s culture and how to fit in, the chaos of not enough space in the building of not enough teachers to work with special needs, of not knowing how the students were going to fair by the end of the year and which ones would be back the next year. So, so very much chaos. 


And that often breeds a sense that we need to close off or hunker down. So what we did instead is we expanded the context. We looked at what’s happening systemically in the districts, not just that school district but school districts all around this area, this state, and even more broadly generally across the country. We started to understand some of the dynamics that feel like an us and them, a school against a district or a teacher against the administration. But really, you see everyone is responding to similar set of pressures just in different ways. 


And the more we expanded and started to look systemically, the more we became interested in the context in which these tensions were arising. The more calm descended, the more space there was for kindness, for everyone involved, dissolving the us and them, depersonalizing disappointments. And that calm gave way for space to make a plan. It wouldn’t resolve all the issues immediately but it gave space to make a sane and grounded and humane plan for how to move forward, how to take back authority over the quality of one’s school, one’s classroom. 


When we lose our center of calm, when we feel victim to the forces around us, we feel like we lose the heart of why we are teaching or the heart of what our school is about. And so very critical to understand how being interested, being curious about the factors, the context around the issues that are upsetting or rocking our sense of stability and focus and center will help us regain that composure. 


Calm doesn’t come about through control. It really comes about through letting go, through allowing ourselves to be interested, to immerse ourselves in the factors going on with an expanded context, with an expanded sense of what’s possible. And with enough trust in ourselves as we regain that sense of stability and composure that we can find unexpected but also very obvious solutions. 


I was reading a book earlier this week and in it, the author reiterated an old story which I haven’t had a chance to look up where it originated from but it’s a great parable. And it’s all about how to meditate. And so, some meditation students go to their teacher and they say, “Teacher, what is it to meditate?” And the teacher – what is true meditation? What is it to meditate? 


And the teacher said to the students, “Meditation is like pouring water in a sieve, having the sieve hold water. So of course, the students were very perplexed. They didn’t understand what the teacher meant. It sounded impossible. How could a sieve possibly hold water? How could you have something so filled with holes become a container? How could that imperfect vessel of ourselves so full of cracks and imperfections possibly contain that water of meditative calm? 


So the teacher marched the students down to the river and the teacher took that sieve and placed it in the water. And all of a sudden, that sieve was surrounded by water inside and out. So no longer was it filled with holes. It was permeated by the calm, by water, by meditative awareness. 


So when we think about how to find calm, we often think how can I in my life which is so, so – where I feel so stretched and so distraught and so beleaguered and so imperfect, so full of cracks and holes, how can I find a corner of myself that will hold a little bit calm in the midst of feeling embattled? 


And the best way is to allow ourselves to really relaxed and let go and use the tools of mindful contemplation to bring that experience of calm in and around us so that we can immerse ourselves like the sieve in the stream and feel that calm inside and out because we can’t possibly patch up all the holes of ourselves and the holes of the systems around us and the holes of the education system and the holes in some of our kids’ lives and any other holes that you might imagine. We can’t possibly find stoppers to plus those holes up. We need to find an accessible stream that we can immerse ourselves in. 


And the more we practice mindful awareness and the more we bring mindful contemplation into our classroom, the more we bring that stream in and around us. And when we bring that stream in and around us, we allow ourselves to immerse in that calm. We bring our students into it. And that creates a magnetic environment. It creates an environment where kids feel happier where they want to be, where you have more access to that part of themselves that wants to learn. 


Being able to rest in mindful awareness also really just allows us to let go. And oftentimes, we are so much in the thick of the fight, again, which feels like a Donkey Hodie alone waving our lens and we need to be able to let go just a little bit. We need to be able to be. We need to find our own center where we can trust ourselves and trust our capacities, trust our creativity. And that little bit of calm can be found relatively easily if we don’t insist that everything that disrupts that calm needs to go away. 


I’m sure we all recognize that when we have that calm, we are less triggered by our students. We don’t feel like we are marionettes being pulled in the ends of strings, jerking with every event that happens outside us. 


And when our students see us even if we get angry with them, even if we have to discipline them, even if we have to correct them, even if we have to fail them, when they feel that stability, that non-reactivity, that trustworthiness, and that calm, it gives them a sense that they are not cast off and adrift for no reason. When there’s no reason, they can’t find a foothold to improve. When they feel our trustworthiness and stability, they understand that there are reasons for being corrected and then they can find out what they need to correct and learn and change and develop and do that step by step. 


Our own calm invites the students to learn and it invites them to model us so that they don’t freak out. They don’t have a meltdown. They don’t descend into a younger version of themselves. They don’t fall apart. They recognize that there is need for improvement. They can find a way to improve and they can actualize that improvement step by step. So having that calm really gives the kids a way forward. 


Teens especially are so emotional. The limbic system is working on overdrive. They are feeling their emotions more intensely. Their emotions are lighting up more intensely. So that non-reactivity on our part helps create a container for all of that, so very important in adolescence. 


The third foundational quality or principle of The Conscious Classroom is care, of course. And when we are calm, we can access an open-heartedness. We can access a sense of our own well-being and our desire for others to experience that well-being. 


Calm gives rise to happiness. It gives rise to positivity. When you feel calm, you often feel a little smile cross over your face. You often feel a little lightness of being or a flicker of happiness cross your heart. 


That calm that gives rise to happiness gives rise to a sense of connectedness, of care, of possibility, of non-sentimental affection and love for the process of teaching, the unfolding of learning and discovery and passion, wanting our students to do well, wanting our schools to do well, wanting our colleagues to do well, wanting goodness not in relationship to not wanting badness, wanting goodness for its own sake in a way that uplifts us, makes us happy, pulls us forward, stretches us to reach, to reach out of joy not to reach for something out of lack. 


The care that arises out of calm and it gives rise to calm is a specific type of care. It’s a very non-sentimental type of care. It’s a kind of care that makes our heart feel expanded, stronger, more muscular. It’s a type of care that gives rise to the desire to help because we are simply sharing our love of learning. 


It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of helping out of lack, helping because the other needs and feeling like we have to pour ourselves into so many empty vessels. At a certain point, we are going to run dry. We are going to feel tired. 


The care that arises from this wellspring of calm is a care that’s more like a mirror really that we share like a mirror shares. The mirror reflects back the goodness. It doesn’t need to extend itself or extend goodness from its own being. The still forest pool reflects the moon. It doesn’t need to generate the light of the moon. So that care that we start to extend from this calm, still forest pool of ourselves is a light that is just reflecting back, the light that is around us and how we were able to recognize and catch it and extend it without any depletion or lack of ourselves or of what’s possible. 


So let’s do a short practice to experience that calm, to experience that sense of well-being, to experience that letting go. And even if you’re in school, at work, give yourself a few minutes to try this. I just ask if you are driving, don’t do it and wait until you are home. Always keep in mind your surroundings and your own safety and the safety of others. 


Allow yourself to sit up with your spine tall, your vertebrae stack one on top of the other, feeling gravity pulling you into the chair, feeling your weight solid on the chair beneath you, feeling your feet touching the ground, the stability of the ground beneath you. And notice that miraculous aspect of our spine that when we are seated solidly with our spine straight, it rises up almost without effort. 


There’s a specific balance in the human form in a way that the spine has created that allows us to sit or stand tall, erect, almost without effort. Let yourself feel that. Let your spine just adjust and settle into its own balance, allowing the tension to melt away from your neck and your head to simply float at the very top of your spine. 


Allow yourself to feel your body aligned. And as it aligns, it takes away the pressure, it takes away the stress, creates a little bit of space between each of the vertebrae so that your discs can pump up and expand and oxygenate. 


Turn your attention to your breath, noticing the inhalation and the exhalation just as it is without force, without any pressure for your breath to be any different than it is, shallow and slow, deep and long, or short and quick. 


Let your thoughts slip to the back, to the background of your awareness. Let your attention be absorbed simply by the breaths without trying to learn anything particular about it, just resting your attention on the inhalation and the exhalation. 


And as you let your whole system rest and relax, hold that image also in your awareness of the sieve at the bottom of the stream, letting the calmness of the breath going in and going out. 


Breathe through your whole being, just as the oxygen we breathe in travels to all the cells in our body and the miraculous network of blood flow. 


And keep allowing yourself to just enjoy being easy. Enjoying the calm and feeling the dynamics of it, feeling the heartbeat of calm, the happiness of calm, the vitality and vibrancy of calm. 


And now, begin to bring your attention back without any sense of needing more, without any judgment of whatever your experience was. Simply learning from it, observing, allowing it to be, and recognizing that even if your experience was agitated, that agitation happens because of a vast array and variety of events and because we can allow our awareness and attention to expand and consider those events, we can create a much bigger context for the busyness of our lives. 


When you hear the bell, we can finish. 


Thank you very much. I encourage you to continue to reflect into relationship between calm, curiosity, and care, how we can expand the framework or the context of our experience so we can make space for everything and for new solutions and for regaining our center and for allowing ourselves to be kind and gentle first and foremost with ourselves so that we can also extend that care to our students, our colleagues, our superintendents, our co-teachers. 


Thank you very much and we will reconvene again next month for the next installment of The Conscious Classroom Series. 


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