Mindfulness is often described simply as awareness. “Awareness of what?”, one surely asks. “All things rooted in the present moment, in fact, including thoughts, body sensations, sounds, smells, feelings. The present moment, the only moment that truly exists, and the moment that contains all of the universe”, a teacher might respond. But for beginners, and seasoned practitioners as well, it’s useful to start with the breath, our trusty companion. There is a special strength and catharsis in just focusing on our breath, which connects us to the present, and can produce a still, quiet mind, not to mention relaxation. I hope you’ll find this modest page on mindfulness useful.
The Happy Leader Core Cabinet Retreat for
the American School of Dubai
In August, 2017, I was pleased to lead our leadership team in two days of reflection and disruption to practice. We used Stanford’s d.school design thinking framework to define, ideate, and prototype strategies to better help us as individuals and as a team to align our actions and mindsets to best support the Mission of the school.
The first day intertwined exploring mindfulness concepts, sharing research on how team members can be their best selves (and prevent burnout), time for reflection, discussion, and the generation of new ideas, and two meditation practices.
“What is life, but the angle of vision?” (Emerson)
On the second day, our Assistant Superintendent led us toward commitments to changing at least one aspect of our practice, through a consolidation of the previous day’s topics and centered on key questions:
- In thinking about time, what is something in your daily, weekly, or monthly routine that has worked well for you? Some time when you feel the most productive, happiest, or focused on Mission-critical work. Why?
- What is a time in your daily, weekly, or monthly routine that been the biggest disappointment, time waster, or unproductive time? Why do you feel this way? Are the right people in the room? Have proper expectations been set?
- Finish this sentence: if I could disrupt my daily, weekly, or monthly routine in a positive way, I would ____.
- How will you ensure you give equal time to rest as you do your work? What is a realistic expectation? What barriers are currently in place to prevent this?
- In looking at the Superintendent’s calendar prototype, how do you want to approach your daily, weekly, or monthly calendar differently in order to be your best self? Sketch a weekly calendar for what your ideal and realistic schedule would look like. What commitments will you have to make to accomplish this? What will be the hardest part for you? How can the people in this room best support you?
“It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation,
which gives us happiness.” (Thomas Jefferson)
The Graded School Student Wellness Summit
In September, 2016, I was fortunate to visit Graded School Sao Paulo on behalf of an invitation from my friend and Head of School, Richard Boerner. The work Rich and his team are doing at Graded is truly inspirational.
Graded played host to 70+ high school students and advisors from like-minded international schools in Brazil for a student leadership retreat. I was asked to lead the event through the lens of mindfulness. The first day centered on self-care, where we practiced breathing techniques, mindful walking, and a loving kindness meditation. We unpacked the “soft skills” necessary for effective leadership. The second day was again filled with mindfulness practices, including mindful eating, standing yoga, and the body scan (otherwise known as the “have them fall asleep” activity). The day’s focus was how we could make wellness pervasive in today’s high schools, and each school left with energy and specific strategies they would attempt to put in place.
It was inspirational to see students empowered by their commitment to wellness (their own and for others), believing high school could be a place where students could be happy, healthy, and could achieve academic results. It proved to me that mindfulness has a place in school (beyond just a class or unit placed in the schedule, or as an after-school activity). Young people will embrace mindfulness. This was proven when we were able to get 400+ high school students in a packed auditorium to hold a silent and still posture for almost ten minutes.
I’m happy to share the Google Slides presentation from the two days.
While at Graded, I carved out time for a morning “Mountain” meditation, as well as a two-part Happy Teacher workshop, for we need to take care of our teachers as well. Here is the Google Slides presentation from this.
Finally, I ended my time at Graded with a parent presentation. The topic was “school stress”, which I drew from my days in the U.S. and my affiliation with Denise Pope’s Challenge Success initiative out of Stanford University. I find the advice coming out this work on point, and the 125 parents were quite receptive. Here is the slideshow.
The Mindfulness Summit (link)