As I explore my intentions for the beginning of another school year, I take a look at what I want for my teaching practice and turn to vital topics such as embodied teaching and self-care. My presence in the classroom is what I know to matter most, and yet the only way for me to juggle the many emotions that come with a large group of children and maintain stability is to acknowledge and honor the need for self-care. Joy and safety in the classroom is proportional to my own spaciousness outside of the classroom. What one teacher may need for self-care to actualize her best embodied teaching looks different than another. And yet we can apply specific practices, such as creating our intention, perhaps to see the caring, patient, non-reactive part of our self take shape when things aren’t going as planned. This year, I’ve taken to spending a few moments of my personal practice envisioning what I want for myself when I’m with my students; already in the first few days of school I’ve felt those moments of visualization seeping into my mindful teaching practice with the students.
I realize that the one true way I can sustain a compassionate presence with my students is consistently checking in with my own body. I notice that with this monitoring of my body, living inside of it, I begin to catch my impulses and find room for pause. Over time I follow my impulse to its beginning, the part of me that is unconscious. Dropping deeper into my body I notice the subtle tensions fold and unfold. I realize I don’t need to try to fix anything in my experience as a teacher navigating a diverse group of children, but I simply need to inhabit my body as I shift from moment to moment, and let the awareness do it’s own natural work of unraveling unconscious habits.
As an effort toward strengthening my intention to be the anchor in the room for stillness and understanding, I begin the year with visualization. Since I am constantly “becoming” as part of the practice of teaching, I visualize the whole day from the time I wake up to saying good bye to my students; I visualize it so that I see myself in a way I wish to be with my students. How am I when greeting students? What is my tone? What is my mood when I walk in the door at school? How do I feel and what do I tell myself as I walk into the classroom before the students arrive? How do I walk around the room when with a group of students? Am I noticing my body, my thoughts, before speaking? Am I seeing beauty before me? I can start with those important transitions first, especially the doorways I encounter as I imagine the start of the day – the doorway transitioning into school and to the room I will be teaching in. Opportunities for this intention practice are bedtime after reviewing the day, when first waking up, or during a moment of sitting practice before leaving home in the morning. The idea is that I visualize myself moving deliberately, especially with those small moments; ultimately I draw on this memory as I pay attention to myself and my relationships with students.
This intention practice is a mental exercise that strengthens the parts of my brain that react from my negativity bias (the part of myself that automatically sees the difficult aspects of my work with children rather than focusing on the joy). Because of this bias, it’s my job to put in the extra effort to see the basic goodness in each moment. When I practice this type of visualization I am preparing to walk through my day a bit more consciously, rather than moving through the day from a place that is ingrained. Since it is biologically natural for me to remember the challenges more vividly, the things that could be seen as small annoyances, it’s vital that I spend time imagining myself responding with care and joy at school. Teaching can sometimes be sticky, with many emotions arising for teachers and children alike and practicing in this way will increase the likelihood of accessing my best self when in need, even if it’s when walking through the door in the early morning for the 100th time or greeting those disoriented kindergarteners during the first week of school.
A lot of children tell me they have a hard time falling asleep. Thoughts about the day, stress about schoolwork and tests, worrying about the wellbeing of mom and dad, and concerns for the future can keep them up. These distractions, plus children having their own mobile devices like smart phones, iPads, iPods, and you have the perfect recipe for staying up way past their bedtime. It can be serious, as sleep deprivation is certainly not healthy for anyone.
When I was younger, I too had trouble falling asleep. I know how distracting it is to have an over active brain. I remember many times my mom would rub my back until I was relaxed or fell asleep. These memories I still cherish to this day. The only downside to those moments with my mom was that I didn’t develop the tools I needed to fall asleep on my own. Often when we try to help kids relax and fall asleep we leave them dependent on us. Who taught you how to relax and how is that working for you now? What can be done for a sleepless child?
Eye pillows, for starters, are an excellent tool for relaxing children (and adults) and help transition them to sleep. Eye pillows can initiate relaxation of the eyebrows, cheekbones, temples, and neck. Children can initiate relaxation themselves and not rely on someone else. Now I am not saying to stop rubbing your child’s back. Rather, eye pillows can be an additional tool for your kids so that when you aren’t around, they can self soothe.
Directions to make an eye pillow (for or with you kid(s) or students:
Put the filler in the plastic bag. Don’t over stuff. Optional 1-2 drops of essential oil into the bag. Seal the bag. Place the bag in the sock. Each student can test it on their eyes to see if they want to add or take away some of the filler so it feels right for them. Tie a knot at the end of the sock. Voila! Eye pillows.
If you have enough time with your students, and if they have the fine motor skills, try using ankle socks and sew the opening shut. Another option, if you do not want to use plastic baggies are reusable snack pack bags. They often have fun designs on them.
Now give your students the experience of using the eye pillow to relax. Try having them go into a restorative yoga pose, or guide them through a progressive muscle relaxation, or offer quiet time.
It may not feel as good as a back rub, but it could be a great tool for when a care-giver isn’t around!
For more ideas on practicing relaxation with kids: