When Helping Students Helps the Teacher: Mindfulness for Teachers

Posted on October 8, 2018

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Hello, friends. In my last post, I interviewed a friend and colleague from the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Teacher Research group, Kris Gedeon. In today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to another colleague from the group: Beth Shaum. Beth has used mindfulness practices in the classroom, but also, she has found that mindfulness practices can help us be who we want to be in the world, as individuals, as teachers, and as community members.

Beth is a former middle school English teacher and current school librarian in Allen Park, Michigan. Her passion is finding the perfect book for every student, and she makes it a personal mission to help every student feel like the library is their home away from home. In addition to reading, Beth loves cooking, travel, and cuddling with her two pugs, Frank and Reggie.

Bio photo

When I started talking about my mindfulness research in meetings, Beth was interested in trying it with her students and did so with success. Additionally, she started to practice on her own, for her own well-being. Of course, I was eager to hear about her experiences. Beth agreed to an interview, and I’m happy to share it here. It has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.

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

BS: I didn’t know very much. I just knew that mindfulness was something to use to help ease anxiety, which I suffer from. I didn’t actually start meditating until I introduced mindfulness practices to my students, thanks to your influence.

le: What did you think when I started talking about using mindfulness in my classes?

BS: I loved all of the findings you came to our Teacher Research meetings with. You are someone who doesn’t do something just for the heck of it. You really do the research and make sure that what you are implementing in your classroom is good teaching practice. So when you started doing mindfulness practices in your classroom and reported all the amazing benefits it was having on your students’ lives, I knew I had to bring them into my classroom.

le: What brought you to DOING mindfulness practices yourself?

BS: I initially started doing them in my classroom to help my students, but I soon realized how much they would help me deal with my anxiety.

le: How long/how often do you practice?

BS: I don’t have a day or time that I set aside to meditate, but I have integrated into my day whenever I find myself needing it.

le: What resources do you use, appreciate, and/or recommend for someone trying mindfulness practices for the first time?

BS: Dan Harris of ABC News is a great resource, because he has become a meditation evangelist and really helps people to understand the science behind why mindfulness is so important. Check out his books, 10% Happier, and Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Also check out this short video of Harris explaining “Why Mindfulness is the New Superpower.”

I also use the 10% Happier app as well as the Calm app for guided meditations.

le: What has happened in your life as a result of practicing mindfulness?

BS: I use meditation when I find myself going through some intense thought spirals. Studying mindfulness and meditation has allowed me to be present in those anxious moments and talk myself through them rather than letting them get completely out of control.

le: 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?

BS: A few weeks ago I was feeling really anxious about an event that wouldn’t be coming up for another year. I found myself trying to come up with ways to try to get out of going. I knew that I couldn’t let my anxiety get the best of me and so rather than coming up with excuses, I sat down and meditated, focusing only on my breath and on the present moment. I didn’t allow myself to think ahead to that time in the future that I was dreading. After about ten minutes, my thought spiral calmed down, and I found myself feeling confident and capable about the future event rather than anxious about it.

le: That is a powerful experience. I’m so glad you have found this self-care tool, and that it is helping you to embrace opportunities that come your way. Based on your experiences with mindfulness, would you recommend mindfulness practices to others? Why or why not?

BS: YES! Because it helps you to control your own mind rather than allowing your mind to control you.

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

Yes. Some teachers have tried them in their classrooms as well and have found them helpful.

le: Do you use mindfulness practices in class with students?

BS: Yes. I used to do it once a week when I taught 8th grade English. Students looked forward to it and would ask to do it more often. A few students even mentioned to me that they did mindfulness practices on their own time.

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

BS: A lot of people who don’t think they can find time for meditation in their lives have a mistaken idea of what meditation is. You can meditate anytime, anywhere. You can meditate while driving. You can meditate while taking a walk with your dog. If you are able to mindfully focus on the present moment, focus on your breath, and try not to let yourself get swept away by your own thoughts, congratulations! You are meditating.

le: That sums it up beautifully! I agree. I started with formal practices, but as I learned more about mindfulness, I learned to LIVE mindfully. I do formal practices, but I also try to be fully present in every moment of my life.

Finally, Beth, I’d like to ask you: as a librarian, can you recommend some books to read on the subject?

BS:  There are some great picture books that deal with mindfulness:

Breathe by Scott Magoon

Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead

What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Now by Antoinette Portis

Meditate With Me by Mariam Gates

I Am Peace by Susan Verde

le: Thank you, Beth, for taking the time to talk about mindfulness with me. May you be happy; may you be well; may you be free from suffering; may you be at peace.

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