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Lovingkindness in our classrooms – observations from the field

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Implementing mindfulness in daily life.

Feb 27, 2015

I work daily on my practice, sitting in meditation and working on my ability to notice, and to be mindful during teaching, with students, teachers and my surroundings.

How is it to be a student? What did it feel like to sit in a meditation group for the first time?

The question arose during ‘Safat haKeshev’, the wonderful course taught by Simi Levy Yeshuvi,  “What is beginner’s mind?” or what was it like for me when I first began to meditate. I suddenly recalled my first real time of sitting for 30 minutes in a meditation exercise.  There I was, sitting in a room amongst others sitting and I simply waited for the miracle: that something grand which would surely splash upon my being from above. I waited. I looked around and assumed that all the others in the room had already experienced the ‘splash’ and  were contentedly meditating.

It took a while for me to understand that there was no point sitting around in wait: meditation is work! Noticing what I notice is not something that just happens.

So, how can I present it to students?  How can I make it easy for them to want to do the work?

How can I help them put aside their cellphones and focus on their own bodies and breathing.

Suggesting that this work is for more than ourselves.

This week,  I suggested that lovingkindness is a key to developing harmony within the classroom, and deepening relationships.

I borrowed from Sharon Salzberg‘s lovingkindness meditative phrases: May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I be happy.

I didn’t think that these phrases would embarrass some, cause discomfort in others. But that’s what happened. There were smiles, and outbursts. Some students proceeded, listening to me. A few found it difficult.  May I be safe, be healthy, be happy.

We concentrated on our breathing, while dropping these phrases into the mind.

May I be safe, be healthy, be happy.

- Sharon Salzberg

– Sharon Salzberg

Then, we thought of someone else, someone who makes us smile. Not a family member but someone else. Or an animal. Thinking of that person or animal, we offered the phrases to them.  May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy.

Opening the feeling of connectiveness to others is a vital step in the forging of a healthy environment.

The work is just beginning.

Every moment is a new moment. “You’re only as good as your present moment”.  But that also isn’t true – good/bad is not at issue.  Non-judgemental noticing is what moves the mind along nicely. Moment by moment.

Feb 14, 2015

I practice formal meditation every morning.

When things allow it, and I’m alone, I practice informally (not sitting in a quiet place) and I may do a short chant or practice being aware of placing my feet on the ground, or  simply noticing the random thoughts that swirl through my head and listening to the sounds around me.  I’m working on being more mindful.

Life is not a scented saffron silken room.

Then real life happens.  And I’m amazed at how easily a student’s attitude can trigger old responses.  (I think to myself: A teacher must be firm. A teacher needs to keep to the school’s rules. A teacher needs to stick to her word). But emotional responses are also just below the surface.

Here’s a story from my week. I like to call it ‘Confrontation brings Opportunities’

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Mid-lesson, a girl left the classroom and took along with her another student, her boyfriend. At the first chance, I went into the lobby and asked them to come back in. She said: “It’s hard for us!”  I knew that she meant it was hard for her, and so I corrected her: “You mean it’s hard for you.” “No, it’s hard for us! It’s too hard.”

I looked at her and knew she was hanging onto him for dear life, needing him to be there. But, I knew that he was perfectly capable of learning and needed to be in class. I invited him in. He decided to busy himself trying to ‘fix his watch’ and he avoided my eye. She was hanging onto him with an iron grip. She told me to leave them alone. She was ordering me to go? Woh! I felt the blood dance through my veins!   I turned around to head back to them, not sure what I was doing but feeling a response from me was required. How was I going to deal within the playing ground of that 15 year old. She added: “Please”.

I walked away.  Never mind that this girl was escaping something hard, never mind that she was ridiculed by her homeroom teacher. Never mind. Yet, there had been some transaction and I had kept to some semblance of acceptable teacher behaviour. (There’s a well-known guest in my head that goes by the name: ‘what a real teacher would do’)

When I thought about it I wondered what to do, next. I know from a foolish past attempt, it’s never wise to come between friends. No point even mentioning to him to let her simmer in her suffering alone, to save himself. No. That wasn’t going to benefit anyone.

A day later, I saw him and decided to approach him to tell him that I appreciated his support of her. He offered that she was “going through something” and had needed to stay outside of the classroom.

Okay, not too bad. He offered a respectful reply.

The next confrontation came when they handed in their project. His work was almost perfect and hers was missing a few items. They got marks accordingly. He approached me. “What?” he said. “We had the same project so how was it that they got different marks?” I mentioned that they were both missing a few general tasks but that her part was missing quite a bit.

“We’ll fix it. Her part didn’t get printed.” They went off to the computer room to search for her unprinted segments.

They returned and sure enough, more pages had been found and printed. I gathered up their new submission with due honour and directed them to do the test that had been going on in their absence. While they worked I attempted to make order out of their work. Eventually I invited them over to discuss their project and how it was now worth more according to the grading rubric.

However, when I indicated the mark I’d given her for being on task only some of the time, she was wounded. “Why? I was working really hard and for many hours. You are showing me disrespect by giving me such a low grade.” (I admit I entertained the image of her braiding another girl’s hair during one project session, or those many hours that he had worked alone because she wasn’t around). But all I said was “Disrespect?” “Yes!” she said.  I felt sarcasm just itching to pop into my mouth with potential responses, but I was able to breathe for a second and halt all that to say: “I’ll give thought to what you said.” I looked her in the eye, she looked at him, then at me and seemed somewhat satisfied.

It was a close call. I could have slipped into 15 yr-old confrontation mind (no problem!) but I was saved by a moment of mindfulness.

Thank you!

Q. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? (goes the old joke)  A. Practise, practise, practise.

Occasionally we experience a moment some might call miraculous. A moment when the old habitual brain is stopped from making the same old mistakes and a new path is explored.

Observations from the field.

And note to self: keep practising.

In the morning, I do a 25 minute meditation. I include lovingkindness in my meditation. Then I do a 10-minute chant.  May I have the good fortune to actually implement that which I’m practising!

Have a wonderful day,

Judih

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2 thoughts on “Lovingkindness in our classrooms – observations from the field

  1. this is so wonderful!

    Like

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