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I recently attended the Courageous Schools: Teaching & Leading in Tough Times workshop, part of the Mindfulness in Education Network Conference. I can’t say enough about the value of spending a day among colleagues who work so enthusiastically with children and families, but who also value the quiet time needed to go within in order to sustain the rich work executed on behalf of others.  In just a few short hours, the climate and format of the day allowed for some much-needed reflection and listening. It stressed the importance of taking care of oneself and of others, in both simplistic and complex ways.

Listening is one way to take care of others, but it’s both simple and challenging. To help practice for those challenging times, we practiced deliberate skills for better listening.  As we processed the challenges and feelings associated with true listening, a theme that came up.  Often, it seems, despite feelings of trust and congeniality among teaching staff and communities, the pace and demands of daily life often strip people of some very basic human skills like listening and taking care of one another. In the absence of these positive interactions, and true listening, uncertainty, fear, frustration emerge.  It makes us feel crummy. Or angry.  Or insecure. Whether or not we like to admit it, that impacts our work with children and families.  It’s essential that we listen and care about the adults, as well as the children, in our communities.

The day also allowed participants the opportunity to build trust in small groups and open up to some very deep sharing, if that suited their comfort level.  It reiterated the ideas articulated by  Marianne Williamson and Brene Brown about vulnerability and fear.  Once we accept that we are all vulnerable and that we all have the capacity to show compassion and empathy, it opens the door to risk taking and growth.  As teachers, we ask children to do this every day;  in our own busy adult lives, it can become extremely difficult – if not impossible – to be open to taking risks ourselves.  Without pushing ourselves to the edge of our comfort zone, how do we grow? How do we learn? How do we contribute? We must strive to set a climate of trust and compassion, so that we can work effectively, deliberately, passionately, and stretch beyond what we think is possible.

When I returned home, I was refreshed and able to get back to tackling a variety of projects that vexed me and forced me to Venn Diagrams. This clarity let me work more productively and with more creativity.  Here are four pieces of self-prescribed homework that I am committing to every day:

  • Smile more often. especially at people I don’t know.
  • Trying to be more present to listen and respond to others. And to know when not to respond.
  • Listening to others until they are finished, without interrupting, which is much harder than I expected. When you let a four-year old tell his w-h-o-l-e story, it can go on longer than a month of Sundays, but oh, what fun!
  • Not letting wireless devices enter actual face to face conversations. And secretly hoping my family will join in on this endeavor!

We all can use a little more time to be present with each other, so give someone you know that present.

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