I often wonder about the possible inner landscape of a teacher on one of those really difficult days – the rocky terrain of children’s challenging behavior, a distracted mind filled with multiple demands, the tug-of-war between care for self and care for others, and the search for truth in “Is this still the right place for me?”
During recent conversations with educators and coaches, I have captured more and more the idea that there can be moments and days in classrooms when teachers and coaches live in low-level (possibly even higher-level) fear. This can vary from not feeling fully supported, feeling concerned about a child’s behavior, to having anxiety in general about what is to come and what to do next.
A very thoughtful group of coaches I spent time with yesterday were asking questions about how to make things better for teachers.
- How can they help relieve stress levels that have teachers wandering in their minds by 9:00am?
- How can they help teachers find focus and joy in learning with children throughout the day?
- How can they help teachers recognize their thoughts about themselves and the children they support with hopes of some of these (negative) thoughts losing their power over time?
I wasn’t sure how to respond at first. Their thoughtful questions felt big. It makes sense though – bigness gets passed along. Teachers can feel the bigness in their day ➔ a coach feels the teacher’s bigness ➔ coach of the coach feels the bigness. The parallel process in action: what happens in one interaction influences what happens in the next.
This leads to many thoughts including how we actively work to cultivate (inner) calm alongside teachers on a regular basis. If we don’t spend time planning for it and practicing, we’ll likely see strengthening in negative thinking (e.g. “…that kid will never change…” and “It is what it is…”), for example.
So, what’s the secret to making this happen and creating lasting change? Some might say it’s in the doing. I believe it’s when we hold a combination across knowing, doing, and being. Some might also jump right to growth mindset and the idea of positive thinking. While key ingredients, perhaps we consider starting with empathy and self-compassion. I like to think of it this way:
First awareness…then understanding…and, then check-in with change.
The following flow can be helpful to further explore this complex work as a teacher, a coach, and a teacher and coach together:
- Take a few deep breaths.
- What challenges did I experience today? What did I notice, including how did I feel?
- What are my unedited thoughts about this experience(s)?
- What did I want for myself in that moment? What did I want for someone else?
- Take time for a few more deep breaths.
- Is there anything I would like to remove from or add to this experience?
The next moment will come along. Pausing to refresh helps us endure tough moments and get unstuck from piling one thing after the next.
How fortunate am I to have had time with these coaches. They helped bring to the surface the idea of going slow to go fast in the end. Do we want to explore vulnerable moments and blind spots or let patterns repeat?