Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

12814244_10156710943540134_2235263687946280847_n.jpgI have spent three of the last four weeks in Mexico. On our last day here in the sun, I realize that this is likely the first and last time (until possibly retirement) where I will have the opportunity to relax this much mid-year. For the first week, I was invited to participate in We Move Forward – an amazing Wellness Retreat for Women in Isla Mujeres where I presented on the Science of Happiness and Impact of Giving. After four days back at work I was packing again and heading to San Jose del Cabo for Spring Break with friends and family for two weeks in the sun.

Three weeks of time to reflect, connect, sleep, eat, drink and enjoy the sun leaves me feeling full of gratitude, optimism, hope and contentment. I feel awake, aware and light (ok … I mean in mind…maybe not in body… thank you guacamole). In this present moment, I recognize the stark contrast to how I felt at the beginning of March: tired, stressed, pulled in many directions and in desperate need for some down time.

During the final week of classes, our school book club met to discuss our book ‘The Way of Mindful Education’. At this particular gathering, we focussed on the wellness of educators. What do we do for ourselves? What do we do to support one another? If we are not mindful of our own wellness, how can we genuinely teach kids to self regulate? We often ask children “What do you need to be ready to learn?” but we don’t often afford ourselves the same question. Personally I know that I am guilty of this… It’s unlikely that I will back out of a commitment with others, but I will easily forego a commitment to myself so I can ‘get work done’. Sometimes I really should ask “What do I need to be able to lead?” Doing so may justify the much needed workout in place of an additional meeting.

As our book club chat became more personal, we recognized that we were all feeling stretched. Teachers shared stories of stress, tears, lack of sleep and an inability to let go of work once they got home. Our teachers care deeply about their kids and sometimes it is hard to unwind in the evening when there is so much to wonder about. When the day ends, it’s not just marking and prep work our teachers take home… it’s the life stories of 20-30 children. While schools are full of the newest trends and decorative cupcakes, they are also full of stories that tug on your heart strings… students living in poverty, students awaiting adoption, students impacted by divorce or stress at home, etc. Children come to school with diverse learning needs, health needs, social needs, and more. What works one day, doesn’t always work the next. As educators we understand the importance of educating the heart and the mind. We understand that for children, the time is now. We know that the most powerful predictor of success is a strong connection to an adult who believes in them. Our teachers care so deeply that they empathize with their students, wishing desperately that they could help each and everyone of them thrive. As the year progresses, the multitude of needs in addition to professional responsibilities can take weight. From good intentions come new ideas, new programs, meetings to attend, school events, community events, and a constant whirlwind of communication between parents, staff and students.

Sometimes, as an educator, it feels like you are captive in an all you can eat buffet when you are craving a simple salad. Don’t get me wrong. I like lasagne. And chicken. And salmon. And fruit. And vegetables. And nainamo bars (especially nanaimo bars). But sometimes, too much good takes away from the pleasure of simplicity. Choosing between many great things, or trying to do a little of everything, stops you from being mindful and engaging fully in one meaningful moment. The buffet mindset leaves us feeling stuffed rather than nourished.

And so, as spring break winds to an end, I ask the classic question that all educators are feeling right now… How can we maintain a balanced lifestyle once school returns?

I don’t have all the answers – but would love to hear your ideas. Here are some ideas that I am trying, and some ideas our book club generated at our last meeting.

  • Taking time to be present. I just signed up for a free 21 day meditation series with Deepak Chopra.  I am 4 days in and committed to finding time over the next 17 days to continue.
  • The sun is rising earlier and so I will once again commit to boot camp at the ungodly hour of 5:45 AM.
  • Find the positives. The negatives can always weigh us down. it’s the positive stories and successes of children that build us up. Chris Wejr recently gave a great TEDx talk on starting with strengths.
  • Our bookclub group came up with the following ideas to try in the spring:
    • Bring in an after school yoga instructor to offer classes for staff at our school a few days per week
    • Start each staff meeting with celebrations where everyone is invited to share personal or professional moments they would like to celebrate
    • Just as each of our classes have ‘buddy classes’, we hope to invite our staff to identify at least one person on staff who they can go to when they need some support or ideas
    • Rolling our book club into a wellness club so we can continue to check in as a staff and find ways to promote wellness
    • Creating a clutter free, calm and inviting staff room that we can all enjoy.
    • Remembering that ‘fun’ is important.

Let’s hope that when April hits us at 1000 miles a hour we can resist the mindset of ‘all you can eat’ and make choices that value simplicity and nourishment.

Goodbye Guacamole. I’m heading back to reality.

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