As I write this post, I’m just back from a trip to Scotland over the holidays. The majesty of the coastlines, the wild beauty of the Highlands, and of course the amazing sweets, scones and shortbreads, are still lingering in my mind. With its history and traditions, the Kingdom of the Gaels offers a lot to inspire the imagination, and I began to think, as I reluctantly returned, about the challenge and opportunity of cultivating that same unbounded thinking when we first return to our classrooms in the New Year. For the benefit of ourselves and our students.
If you’re like me, you might be greeting 2019 with a desire to create some positive, moving transformations, keeping that sense of restorative energy and spirit of curiosity that the vacation time encourages. It’s possible to be reflective about the coming year, and intentional about setting up the mindful practices that make for soaring experiences for us and our students. Here are seven ways you can mindfully embrace the opportunity to live and teach more freely, each and every day:
We all love choices when we travel—a choice of where to stay, what to eat, and how to best enjoy the newness of an experience. Try embracing the same quality of choice-giving by opening up some student agency opportunities—perhaps in ways of expression of learning, too, with the flexibility of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in mind. Choices not only make us feel as if we’re empowered in the journey, they can also make the quality of the experience even more valuable.
Adopt a Wonder Mindset
You know how amazing it feels when students are “wowed” by something that happens in class, right? That energizing feeling, palpably present in the room when a discussion is going well, and new discoveries are made that elicit a feeling of wonder. We travel from one understanding to a greater one, widening our field of vision. To get ready for transcendence takes a certain openness of mind, bringing about the wonder of discovery. The same mindset helps us to appreciate travel, experiencing new things without fear or cynicism. Decide to embrace this mindset every day in the classroom, and students will take cues from you. Be ready to be wowed.
Stick to your Compass
When tempted to abandon start-of-the-year goals or original hopes, don’t change course. If those goals match your values, it’s a sign that your compass was set correctly, and you might just have to make some adjustments in timing and strategy to find ways to reach them. See what happens if you not only stick it out in January, but even double-down on your original intentions. Can you share those goals with others on your team? Can you document what you are doing and share it on a blog so that you create conversation around it? The more you enlist others in your mission, the more chances there are for a community of support.
Elevate Your Senses
Traveling is often so revelatory because it involves the heightening of sensory experience—and, everything becomes more memorable because our brain encodes it as something special; something extra-ordinary. Try designing your classroom and planning some lessons this way—how can you invigorate all the senses through the atmosphere you create? Think about the lighting and design of the classroom space, how it feels to be in the room, and what exercises you build in that add interactivity, play and vitality, even in midst of winter months that can often be deemed dark and dreary? Even consider VR (virtual reality) and other immersive learning tools as sensory-rich vehicles that can allow students to travel in their exposure to new places, sights and sounds, reveling in that feeling of free exploration. The more you spice it up in meaningful ways that link to your curriculum, the better.
Secure Your Safety Belt First
When we go on journeys by plane or car, we’re often instructed to make sure to strap ourselves in first, then taking care of others. How common is it for teachers to think of students’ needs first before themselves? It seems wise to put the learner as top priority, yet we all know that we can’t perform to our best abilities if our own needs aren’t met first. Doing this—prioritizing our personal well-being as the number one element—actually pays off in our ability to be reflective about our own needs and responsive to students’ needs as they emerge during the day. We become more flexible and adaptive, and students are able to sense this.
Savor Your Morning
When we wake up in a new place during our vacations, our morning rituals can be something that mindfully “grounds” us, bringing us back to self and allowing us to connect with a new experience in a way that gives it even more significance. For me, my morning cup of tea, my run around a new neighborhood, and a mindful pause to greet the sun by facing it (if there is sun out!), letting it rest on my face as I close my eyes, noticing how it warms my eyelid—these are some of my morning indulgences when I travel. The journey to appreciate something new can begin with a grounding first in these savor-rich morning practices, and you can develop your own. If you’d like to try a morning practice involving mindfulness, you could try a quick “3 Breaths” check-in at the beginning of each day, in which you take three deep mindful breaths. You can do this by inhaling through your nose, filling your lungs and abdomen area completely, and then releasing the air by exhaling slowly through the mouth. This type of deeper breathing has relaxation benefits.
Keep a Curiosity Journal
During my travels, I always keep a journal in my pocket or purse, to record thoughts and ideas that spring up in the moment. Maybe I want to remember the name of a certain food that I was served, or the name of a road. Maybe there will be lag time waiting for something during the travel schedule for the day, and I’ll have a chance to write a poem or record some thoughts. Try treating every day like this—keep a journal to catch all the quirks, all the little seeds of inspirations that pass by, so that you can return to it at different times you might need it. This journal will turn out to be your arsenal of inspiration, if you’re open to it. I once heard the writer John Irving give a keynote address in a packed New York City hotel ballroom. He said he never kept a journal, but he filled notebooks with odd scraps of details and information he would pick up in his daily life—things he would want to keep. Not a diary of the day’s events, but a filled up journal of curiosities, a space that served to record everything from musical notations and song lyrics to names of places and ideas that we want to save. Go for description, go for atmosphere. Make it lush. Your writing and your life will thank you for that, because it sharpens your observational skills, just like travel itself does. Every experience that involves the art of noticing is not only good for the brain, it offers us a chance to appreciate the present moment, making the most out of our current experience, which can be a remarkable thing.
Bonus: Be a Renegade
The following bonus tip is a bit of extra inspiration from Scotland: Some legends say that Scots got their name from being deemed “rebels” (“Scoti”) by the Romans. Teachers need to be rebels and renegades—much of our best strategies comes from pirating ideas (and openly sharing them!), unearthing treasures of knowledge, and taking daring steps that will shock some and awe others, acting on behalf of what we know to be the right course. We follow our mindful convictions, with students’ best interest at heart.