Mindfulness for Teachers: An Interview with Kris Gedeon

Posted on September 30, 2018

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For four years now, I’ve been teaching mindfulness meditation and other self-care practices to my high school students. As a teacher researcher, I’ve shared my story and my research with colleagues at our regular, monthly meetings of the Eastern MI Writing Project Teacher Research group, and in professional development workshops for educators at Inside Out Literary Arts organization in Detroit, at the MI Council of Teachers of English annual convention, and at the MI Reading Association annual convention. As a result, I get the joyful privilege of hearing stories from other teachers, who, like me, are finding healing and power through mindfulness practices. Here is one of those stories:

Last spring a card arrived in the mail from my friend and Eastern MI Writing Project Teacher Research colleague, Kris Gedeon. She was excited to share the news that she had begun daily mindfulness practices–and that she had begun to notice some positive changes in her life as a result.

As a teacher researcher, of course I wanted to interview her immediately to learn more about what she was noticing in her practices and in her life. As a beginner AND a high school ELA teacher, her perspective was of particular interest to me. I was eager to learn more. Fortunately for me, and for the readers of this blog, Kris agreed to share her thoughts on the journey she had undertaken. What follows is our interview, edited for clarity and brevity.

le: What did you know about mindfulness practices before I started sharing my research in our Teacher Research meetings?

KG: I knew about Zen Buddhist meditation, but I only knew it as a religious practice. I took a class called “How to teach ABOUT religion” at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, and we visited the Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, where they led us through a meditation practice. I loved it – but I was limited because I saw it as a religious practice, and only a religious practice.

le: What did you think when I talked about using mindfulness with my high school classes?

KG: OH, lisa… I’m so sorry for my original thoughts. I thought those practices bordered on inappropriate for the classroom–because I saw them as a sanitized version of a religious practice (Yes, I know better now.).

I was really uncomfortable with the entire mindfulness idea. I didn’t see it as something I could do in my classroom, because I didn’t see the value of them (yet!). I also didn’t think I could do it, because I hadn’t done it myself yet. I thought it was all just way too “granola” for me. But I’m telling you because you asked, and because you should see the difference you’ve made in my life. Also: the barriers I faced are probably indicative of barriers others face before they make this jump.

[Note from le: I appreciate that Kris explains the thinking that created barriers for her. I also appreciate the compassion for others–and for me–that this response conveys. I do not think that Kris owes me any apology at all; that was her honest reaction, and I would never take it personally when someone rejects any idea I embrace or share.]

le: What brought you to DOING mindfulness practices yourself?

KG: LOTS of things. You talked about it in Teacher Research meetings–for YEARS–before I tried it. So it became more and more familiar – mindfulness isn’t as far out there as I originally thought.

Then I went to your presentation at MCTE (I admire you and wanted to learn more about it – and, honestly, it seemed like the polite and supportive thing to do).

And I EXPERIENCED it.

WOW.

It had been such a long day, and I was tired and stressed out–and then BOOM–I wasn’t anymore. I felt more like ME. I felt like the calm, centered, good-parts version of me that I aspire to be.

I loved it, but I wasn’t “in” yet – I wasn’t doing it regularly…then I started having trouble sleeping. I was exhausted, but my brain wouldn’t STOP. For hours, and then night after night. Stress was eating my brain. And one night at about 2am I hadn’t fallen asleep yet, and I was so desperate that I decided…”FINE, darn it, I’ll look up that mindfulness thing you suggested from Dr. Vo!”

I did one ten minute guided mindfulness exercise, looked out the window into the darkness of the night, and then went back to bed. And SLEPT. So the next night I didn’t wait until 2am, and it worked again. And the next night. And eventually I did it before I went to bed…

And at the beginning of February, I decided I needed to keep track of positive self-care habits, because my life felt like it was spinning out of control. Along with exercise and eating habits, I decided to do a guided mindfulness practice every day. At that point I started doing it in the morning.

It was TRANSFORMATIVE! I went to work calmer, more centered, more me. Things that would have put me over the edge before, flew by me without having an impact. I liked myself, and felt like I had more control–not more control over outside factors, but more control over my reactions to outside factors.

le: How long and how often do you practice?

KG: From February 1 until the end of April, I did it every morning for 3 – 10 minutes. After that, I think it had a cumulative effect… and my focus changed. But I’m just beginning to realize how I do actually want to practice every day; it’s not just about controlling for bad days anymore.

le: What resources do you use, appreciate, or recommend for someone interested in trying mindfulness practices?

KG: You recommended Dr. Vo’s Mindfulness for Teens to me, and while I understand that it’s not intended to be used forever, I’ve gotten a lot out of it.

[Note from le: I see NO problem with using it forever. I love those recordings every time I hear them.]

KG: I love Dr. Vo’s calm voice. I love the imagery he uses: “your mind is a puppy… imagine your thoughts are clouds that you watch pass by… don’t worry if you get distracted – bringing yourself back to your breath IS mindfulness.” I’ve even started to do some mindfulness without his voice in the background, although I’ve found that I do better if I set an alarm (otherwise I’m so focused on when to stop that I’m not in the moment).

le: How do you use mindfulness practices for yourself, and what’s happened, as a result? Is there a particular moment or experience that you would like to share, regarding your mindfulness practices, that would illustrate what can happen when someone practices?

KG: Oh, so much.

  1. I don’t feel like I’m about to lose my temper – like I have better decision-making capacity in my actions/reactions.
  2. I did mindfulness before my job interviews, and I just felt – calm, centered, and I could allow myself to be in the moment instead of worrying about what would happen next.
  3. The Best One. It turns out that for me, one of my triggers for procrastination is getting lost in the thoughts of the MANY things to do; I can’t settle on one thing to focus on, and then I do nothing. By accident, I noticed that when I couldn’t focus on one thing I would do a mindfulness practice, and then – LIKE MAGIC – I’d get up and do just one thing. And then the next. It allows me to move forward and make some progress on a big project. It’s been miraculous!  Mindfulness gets me out of the procrastination cycle–which has changed my life!

le: Would you recommend mindfulness practices to others? Why or why not?

KG: YES. Absolutely. No hesitation.

le: Have you recommended mindfulness practices to others? What happened?

KG: I’ve said a few things about it on Facebook, and recommended the Dr. Vo guided meditations. I don’t like being pushy about this–maybe because it took me so long to come to it? I’ve tried to not be evangelistic about it. I do it when it comes up in conversation organically.

le: Do you use mindfulness practices in class? If yes, describe. If no, why not?

KG: No. I think I needed to be comfortable with it myself, first – which might have happened too recently. I also have to find a way to fit it in… And now that I’m starting a new job, I need to figure out more about the school culture before I jump in  and change things.

le: Is there anything you can think of that I haven’t asked about, that you think is important to share with readers?

KG: TRY IT before you decide. See what it does to your body and emotions before you dismiss it. The research on mindfulness is also part of what convinced me – I knew NONE of that, and I’ll need to know more about it, so I can present it accurately to students.

le: Thank you, Kris, for sharing your story with my readers and me. Your perspective as a new mindfulness practitioner who has experienced a transformative journey through simple, daily practice is deeply appreciated. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

It seems there is but one more thing to say today, to my friend, Kris Gedeon, and to all beings:

May you be happy; may you be well; may you be free from suffering; may you be at peace.

 

 

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