One month ago my dear friend Jess, who is also a teacher, texted me asking if I wanted to go with her to a conference about “The Science of Kindness”. I answered, “YES!” before I even checked out the link she sent me. This weekend I had the incredible privilege of attending the Heart-Mind Conference in Vancouver. Heart-Mind 2014 was organized and presented by the Dalai Lama Centre in Vancouver and, yes, some of our presenters do hang out with the Dalai Lama…like, they’re friends with him. I could probably stop writing this post right now based on that tiny fact alone and you’d fully understand the magnitude of this conference. But I really want to share the experience Jess and I had this weekend, so I’ll keep going.
This is how happy we were on Friday morning as we settled into our stellar seats in UBC’s Old Auditorium:
Our line up of presenters for the day was nothing short of inspiring. We cried our way through Erin Gruwell, most famously known as the teacher of the Freedom Writers. We oohed and ahhed at Felix Warneken‘s work about toddlers and their innate tendencies to be helpful. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl piqued my interest when she mentioned implementing a “random acts of kindness intervention” into the lives of teenagers. We thought long and hard about what Thomas Boyce had to say about “orchid” and “dandelion” children. We laughed along with Linda Lantieri, whose important work on the inner nurturing of adults was served with a side of fantastic humour. Our Friday ended with a reminder from Chief Robert Joseph that “any act of kindness that we do is rooted in love”. We left the conference on Friday evening very full in heart and spirit.
I’m going to write my reflections of Heart-Mind in several parts because I need to read through the notes I took and let the new and old ideas, thoughts, inspirations and motivations simmer and settle a bit. However, one thing I want to touch on in this post is the theme of “teacher wellness” that seemed to permeate the presentations of nearly every guest speaker. Readers who also attended Heart-Mind feel welcome to speak up here, but I don’t think I’m the only one who caught on to the message that teachers must be well in their own lives in order to do good work in the classroom. The phrase “do good badly” was mentioned this weekend. I think that means that even if teachers intend to do good, they “do good badly” if they are constantly inundated, overwhelmed, overworked. This feeling of “I’m in way over my head” likely hangs around for many teachers throughout the year, but I’d be willing to bet it gets more intense in May/June, at least for us Canadian teachers.
During Saturday’s small group session with Mark Greenberg the topic of teacher wellness came up again. Mark mentioned an idea where teachers were encouraged to sit in their cars upon arriving to school and simply breathe for a few silent moments. He joked about how that kind of study would be extremely difficult to undertake (collecting data from teachers while sitting in their cars!?), but he insisted that there is definite value in taking a few moments of silence to start one’s day off on a good, calm note. Mark said that a class’ entire day can go more smoothly if the teacher walks into the building happy, calm and alert. This all seems fairly straight forward, right? I started thinking about the terrible days in my classroom compared to the awesome days in my classroom. I realized that on the terrible days I walk through my room’s door in a grumpy mood and on the awesome days I walk in singing (this has happened before and yes, I got caught). While Mark continued to explain this very simple phenomenon I thought about my daily commute to school. I think I’ve written before about how I sing my way to work? If not, well, now you know. Every day I sing my way to work…even at red lights when I run the risk of getting caught by other commuters. I just love to sing in the car! The song of the day varies, but lately it’s (obviously) been Beyonce mixed in with some Lady Antebellum. Singing on the way to work puts my mind and heart at ease and I walk through the school’s door happily and willingly and literally with a song in my heart. As a yoga teacher I firmly believe in the concept of “holding space” for the yoga students practicing together when I teach. I carry this practice of holding space into my school classroom, too. Holding space means the teacher is responsible for the students’ well-being of spirit – it means creating a space where students are safe, seen, heard and welcomed. Singing in the car helps me to realign with my intentions and prepare to hold space for my class for yet another day.
If singing is not your thing, I challenge you this week to find something that might settle your heart and mind before walking into your school or workplace. It doesn’t have be an elaborate task, but something as simple as sitting in your car and closing your eyes for a moment might just do the trick to start your day off on the right foot. Try it out and let me know what you discover about yourself, your colleagues/students and the course of your day in general.
More to come on Heart-Mind, I promise!