Early in my teaching career, I worked for a principal who was on the mindfulness and meditation bandwagon before there was a bandwagon. He wrote and shared poetry with the staff and student body, encouraged everyone to take a true lunch break rather than shoveling food into our mouths while grading papers and making copies, and even designated an unused office space as a “quiet room” sanctuary away from the bustling hallways of an urban high school. Needless to say, he wasn’t your typical urban school leader.
I have a particularly fond and vivid memory of a professional development session where he distributed mandarin oranges to the staff and talked us through a very deliberate and lengthy process of observing, peeling, and eating them. We touched the skin and felt its bumps and imperfections, stopped to inhale a burst of fresh citrus as we pierced the peel for the first time, very carefully pulled individual segments apart without disturbing the membranes between each piece, and focused on the complexities of its flavor and texture as we bit into the first juicy portion.
In the moment, I thought he might be nuts. It was August and students would arrive in a matter of days. There were bulletin boards to put up and files to organize and huge piles of furniture to be redistributed among the rooms of the school. There was work to be done, and we were sitting in a circle eating oranges.
But looking back, I realize that this principal’s unorthodox PD plan was aimed at helping us do something we were somehow unable to do for ourselves: prioritizing wellness and mindfulness – living in the moment rather than constantly anticipating and planning for the next. And it’s not just about making ourselves happier or healthier. As educators, we miss out on important connections with our students, on the beauty of epiphany as lightbulbs go off in kids’ heads, of laughing with them, on rooting our school life in real life if we never slow down to experience the moment as it happens. And we model anxiety rather than thoughtfulness from the front of the room.
The challenge I’m thinking about today is how to slow down, to notice the details and appreciate them. To savor each bite of the orange, so to speak.
Looking for some inspiration? Check out the amazing Victoria Yoffie and her post on three simple commitments you can consider to make mindfulness a priority and routine.
She recommends identifying a task or routine you perform on “auto pilot” and slowing yourself down to notice exactly what your body and mind are doing at that time. And we can boost the effects of this mindful moment by focusing on the positive, joyful nature of the experience. Dwelling a bit on the vibrant colors, smiling faces, sweet scents or smoothness of a fresh Expo marker (let’s be real) can help us overcome our brain’s “negativity bias.” Be sure to check out more of her practical, research-backed wellness advice — it’s a treasure trove!