Betsy Hanger

The Double Rainbow of Restorative Justice and Mindfulness

Christine Klaassen-St. Pierre is enjoying her 27th year as an educator and 13th as a Vice-Principal in a school of seven hundred students in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Her school has been using restorative justice practices for four years; it’s a trilingual program with high First Nation (Native American), New Canadian and French Immersion populations. The indigenous school population is significantly impacted by the residential school system, for which the Canadian Prime Minister officially apologized in 2008. 

Christine Klaassen St. Pierre finishes a joyful snowshoe race on top of a snowy Canadian mountain. It is 9am, the final bell has rung 20 minutes ago and I am cruising the halls, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. I see a student out of class. Three years ago, before beginning my own mindfulness practice I would have asked in a scolding tone: Why aren’t you in class?

Now, I find myself being less judgmental and more curious. My new mantra is: Is everything OK?  We have minimal daylight at this time of year and cold temperatures are sending a chill into even the most well resourced, well-heated homes. Adding to that, there are lots of intergenerational effects of residential schools among our First Nations (Native American) population. It is highly possible that everything is not OK. Here is my chance to find out and help. Conversely, if everything is OK and the student is just late or resisting going to class, I can send the message that something is out of the ordinary, we should be in class now, but this time, with a tone of caring. This also aligns with our work in restorative practices where staff aim to create connection instead of separation with our language and tone.

It turns out, he has been asked to go to the office because he swore at and pushed another student. We turn around and head to my office for more privacy. As we walk, I begin to ask questions. What happened? What were you thinking then? How do you feel about it now? Who did your actions impact? What might you do to repair the harm? Before integrating mindfulness and restorative practices, I would have been annoyed at this behavior, relied on some consequence like a time out, and moved on to dealing with the next incident.

Funny, how when a student gets a math problem wrong we sit down beside them and help them see how to get it right. But when a student misbehaves, loses their temper, and lashes out, we punish and often separate them from ourselves and our community. In the restorative approach, when things go sideways with a student’s social emotional learning, we sit down beside them and help them get it right—just like in Math.

So we talked about what went sideways in class.

“He flicked water at me, and I failed to see the spark before the fire. I didn’t take a mindful breath and ended up being physically and verbally violent.”

Who may it have impacted?

“Cory, the rest of the class, the teacher, and my parents when they find out.”

What can we do to clean up the mess?

“I can apologize to Cory and the class, bring my art teacher her favorite banana chocolate chip muffin from the cafeteria, and tell my parents what I can do differently next time.”

My new approach can take more time, but it will pay off in the long run because relationships have been restored and this student now has some tools to deal with his anger the next time he meets up with it.

When his mother and father arrive to talk about the incident, they bring Grandma in too. She was a residential school survivor, so I can appreciate the courage it takes to step back into this institution called School. She really wants to support her grandson in being a successful learner. I notice all of their shoulders relax as they see the circle of chairs in my office, around a small peace table in the middle holding some talking pieces. Restorative practices stem from their traditional First Nations’ justice system. We are not doing a formal restorative conference today, but when I facilitate this type of circle, I am grateful for my personal mindfulness practice. It helps me be present and grounded during a process needing neutrality and equanimity. What a pleasure it has been to experience the double rainbow of social emotional learning that can be had when mindfulness meets restorative practices.

Christine is a Mindful Schools’ Certified Instructor who graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2014. She can be contacted at christine.klaassenstpierre@gov.yk.ca.

Betsy Hanger

My Homecoming

Meet Cheen Tan, whose journey from juggling too many demands to finding health and balance in his work and home life led him directly to a mindfulness practice.

I come from a family of teachers: my parents, younger brother and sister-in-law are all teachers. I was the odd one out, spending the last twenty years in the IT industry. When I decided to become a mindfulness teacher, it felt like coming home, returning to my family.

Cheen Tan teaches a group of teens in Singapore.I came to teach mindfulness rather serendipitously, through a chain of events: my father passed away; I was trying to juggle multiple business and personal demands; I was on an emotional roller coaster, with an unending list of things to do. Overwhelmed, within two weeks after my father’s death, I suffered a mental breakdown.

My doctor kept insisting that I learn meditation to cope with the many things on my mind. I finally attended a ten day meditation course, curious about how focussing on my breath could help me manage my stormy thoughts. It turned out to be hard work, as I battled to attain moments of focus. The retreat also offered something unexpected: my arthritic-like food allergies disappeared! I am pain-free now.

A doctor friend explained that my autonomic nervous system (ANS) had been stabilized. The open, safe retreat environment encouraged my immune system to resume its healing functions. As soon as I returned, I offered to teach my immediate family what I’d just learnt, wanting to share this gift that I benefitted from. While my wife picked it up easily, my three children were super-bored from my instructions to sit still and focus on the breath. However, as a caring parent, I was determined that my kids learn this restorative life skill.

I realized I wanted to go deeper and learn how to teach mindfulness to youth. When I searched online for “teaching mindfulness to children,” there was Mindful Schools. I received my Mindful Schools Certified Instructor accreditation in 2015. Besides the science and techniques of mindfulness, I have also gained many practical class management skills to guide the bored and hyperactive kids during instructions. The one-year certification course has also highlighted the need to have empathy for our children during lessons.

Besides my own children, I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach mindfulness to youth across a range of backgrounds, from students at elite schools in Singapore to kids from underserved communities. Branching out beyond my Mindful Schools training, I have conducted several adult classes and corporate seminars. Every time I lead a class, the same feelings of groundedness and contentment swell within me, hinting that I am getting closer and closer to home.

Cheen Tan still works in the IT industry in Singapore, and is certified to teach mindfulness to youth as well. He graduated from our Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. You can read more about his work on his website and  Facebook page.

Betsy Hanger

At Home Where You Stand: Mindfulness in International Schools

Bora Rancic has worked as a teacher and administrator in both international and national schools around the world including in the UK, Barbados, Solomon Islands, Bahrain, Brunei, Thailand and Malawi. He currently works with grades 11 and 12 students and their teachers as the IB Diploma Coordinator at Luanda International School, Angola—an IB World School.

Bora teaches a group of high school studentsIn a recent TED talk called Where is home?, world traveler and author Pico Iyer reminds us that “it is only by stopping movement that we can see where to go, and that movement only has a meaning if we have a home to return to.” As an administrator at Luanda International School in Angola, I observe that many of us—both students and staff—always seem to be on the move. We’re a diverse and dynamic school populated by “global nomads” from fifty-three nations as well as students from Angola, our host nation. Our students have to get used to school friends coming and going with the unresolved grief that this brings. School staff and parents are under pressure as well: the scarcity of hard currency, diminishing job security in an oil-dependent national economy and a labyrinthine visa and work permit system can take their toll.

As an administrator, I wonder how to influence not only my specific context but also our ever more global, interdependent world. How can we learn to track these changes and stay calm? The average human attention span continues to decrease (in a recent study reduced from 26 seconds to 16 seconds) while we continue to have more than 50,000 thoughts a day! School-wide conversations on the tools we need to live well inspire my work in bringing mindfulness to our campus. And I’m not alone—I am supported by colleagues within the school, by the International Baccalaureate’s emphasis on student well-being as well as on academic achievement, and by colleagues in other member schools of the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA).

The practice and discipline of mindfulness has changed my life. Daily early morning mindfulness practice is an event I look forward to. I am developing resilience, starting to understand that although my life may seem to be a catastrophic story at times, the reality is much more liveable than the story. As mindfulness grows in the school, I feel more hopeful.

Monday to Friday, I start my school day with a one-minute practice with grade 11, one of our focus groups for this year. On Wednesdays, I’m joined by Nicola Warwick, my friend and fellow Year-Long colleague, for Mindful Schools curriculum work during the students’ Wellbeing block. Each lunchtime finds me back for a 10 minute practice with a small group of teachers and grade 11 students who opt in, a great boost for the afternoon ahead. While twenty percent of the faculty has taken the Mindfulness Fundamentals, embedding mindfulness in the school goes slowly. This is a process I’m learning, and being patient with the process IS the curriculum. All I need to do is to make room for it.

In his talk, Pico Iyer concludes that home is not where you sleep but where you stand. Before, I don’t think I would have been able to absorb that idea. Now, though, as an itinerant educator, my mindfulness practice is slowly letting me build a home within.

Bora is currently enrolled in our Year-Long Certification Program. You can reach Bora to ask more about mindfulness at Luanda International School and/or within AISA, at brancic@lisluanda.com, and tweets @borarancic. 

Betsy Hanger

Trust

Erica Marcus, yoga and mindfulness teacher, painter, blogger and former English teacher in a Washington DC public middle school, currently makes her home in Portland, Maine. This post originated as part of her ongoing series of reflections on her work with youth.

Erica Marcus sits on top of a snowy hill

The room of high school students practicing that day seemed particularly squirrelly. Though most students were silent, one boy gently poked himself in the cheek, two girls repressed giggles as they looked towards one another, and a third flipped over her cell phone and surreptitiously checked her mail. When I called out one of the giggling ladies, she responded, “Well, I couldn’t help it. When I opened my eyes and looked around, everyone was doing something totally insane.” She was right. If you asked me as I walked out of that classroom if mindfulness classes were working, I would probably have sounded discouraged. On that day, I didn’t see anything that suggested the majority of students were interested or engaged in the practice.

Indeed, if I judged my practice by my “bad” days, or even my “bad” months, the same could be said for me. I check the timer incessantly. I fidget and wiggle. Sometimes I even cut my formal sit off short with a desperate need to accomplish something RIGHT NOW. I don’t always want to sit, to pay attention, to put everything aside to make time for it.

But I keep coming back, to my own practice and to the students. I know that I experience my life differently when I make space for sitting with an anchor, whether it be my breath, my body, or the sounds around me. A formal sitting practice creates space around my struggles with myself and the world. It helps me catch the moments I’d otherwise miss and see bad choices before I make them.

I keep coming back to the students because Dina has stayed and participated a number of times during the mindfulness period, even though she often leaves. I keep coming back because Dylan admitted in private that he uses the anchoring practices at night when he has trouble sleeping, even though he needs a reminder to remove his earbuds when we practice in class. I keep coming back because I believe that students are connecting to and using mindfulness in ways that may not be obvious to us.

For me, doing the work of mindfulness requires trust: trust that continuing my practice, even when it’s hard, ultimately provides clarity in my life, and trust that my students will find what they need from the practice I provide, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

Erica offers mindfulness at schools throughout New England, and is a Certified Instructor from our Year-Long Certification Program. Learn more about her work on her blog

Betsy Hanger

Harnessing the Storm

Meet Debbie Rice, a specialist in autistic education in the Cambrian School District, San Jose, CA. A master teacher, Debbie believes that her students are “talented unique thinkers who can and will contribute to our world and anyone who knows them in positive ways.”

In a funny way, panic attacks saved me and my career.

I have always been an energized person, even driven. But I never really felt like the driver. Until my panic attacks started, I certainly wouldn’t have labeled myself with general anxiety disorder. Always busy, seldom quiet, I pushed through my adult life. That was my normal.

Debbie Rice thumbs up autocorrectedBeing a special ed teacher is infamously demanding which added to my stress levels. I knew special ed teachers left education because of burnout, more than any other sector of educators. As my anxiety became more severe, I was prescribed medications—a lot of them. They helped me find some relief, so I was able to continue teaching but I didn’t want to be dependent on medications.

You may have heard someone say that teachers are “the weather in the class.” My efforts to heal started a wonderful rainstorm of change in my classroom. Experimenting for myself with a hand-held biofeedback device called “Emwaves,” I realized my anxious students with autism could benefit as well.

The tool displays color and light that are associated with students’ physical states. The visual stimulation holds the children’s attention and provides real time information about their ability to self-regulate by soothing themselves. They can see and hear their efforts, noticing how “calm” feels. We learn to communicate about feelings and sensations as I point to the color and light created by their biofeedback. The “Emwaves” become their anchors, enabling them to practice self-awareness. The classroom climate changes as we practice daily.

I was down to only four medications when I began meditating alone on a regular basis, following my breath and my instincts. After hearing an inspiring speech by Megan Cowan, Co-Founder and Program Director of Mindful Schools, I enrolled immediately in Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials.

The prospect of taking the Year-Long Certification Program, with two retreats, terrified me, but I was determined to apply. The program was rich with learning, and slowly, a calmer space grew within me. I learned to sense what hooked me and threw me into anxiety. My anxiety continued to whirl on top of painful beliefs and anxious thoughts, but now, in a bigger “space,” I could sense the edges of my anxiety rather than be completely consumed by it. I could be with the chaos but not react to it. With the help of the teachers, I sat through storms of pain, cultivating the new skill of kindness towards myself.

Debbie Rice group autocorrectedPracticing mindfulness translated slowly, organically into my classroom. I was noticing, responding, and teaching while being taught. Leaving behind my anxious beliefs, holding space for the children, slowing down and letting go—these practices were interwoven. Everything was connected. This year, I was not “crawling to the last day” as I had for so many years before.

Today I am off more medications—down to just one. The support of the Year-Long teaching team and my amazing cohort of peers inspires me to keep sitting day after day. The students and their parents notice how much has changed as well. We are grateful for one another. And I am anything but burnt out.

Debbie graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. Read how she introduces mindfulness lessons to the parent community on her class website.

Betsy Hanger

Sanctuary

Brian Cooper is the Assistant Principal at Life Academy for Health and Bioscience in Oakland Unified School District. The school serves a large immigrant population with more than 95% receiving free or reduced lunch.

Sitting on a cushion in my living room, I practice. Some mornings my mind roams free-range, grazing on chance memories and future possibilities. I can’t corral this grazing, aimless mind. Other mornings, my mind feels effortlessly focused. Grounded by gravity, I sense my body vibrantly awaken with a gentle awareness of breath. Regardless of which type of mindfulness experience may arise this morning, I welcome and accept it.

My morning practice is a life buoy—thirty minutes to unify my mind and body for the day’s good battles and to prepare an accessible sanctuary. Soon my two school-age sons will awaken and I want to be ready to greet them kindly before shifting gears to be an assistant principal in East Oakland. Later I’ll return home to my beautiful life-partner who will be waiting for me with expectations and loving companionship. I need to be present and available for all of these experiences.

Brian Cooper stands in a school hallway and allows a student to ring his mindfulness bowl.
(Photo by Rodrigo Sandoval-Perez) 

At school I practice with four classes weekly, two sixth grade and two tenth grade. Some students slip easily into moments of mindfulness and express gratitude for the opportunity. Others make weird noises and giggle. Kids have named that they use the practice to resolve sibling conflict, to keep focus on the soccer field, to help fall asleep. One girl says her mom downloaded a mindfulness audio recording and they listen to it together.

Recently I stood in a room of tenth graders to talk about the practice of mindfulness. “Yes,” I say. “I want you all to graduate from Life Academy prepared for college. I want you to live with dignity and be able to provide for yourself and your loved ones. Maybe these mindful minutes will help with that and also make it easier to show up for math during the last period of the day. I’m here because, based on my personal experience, practicing mindfulness helps with being alive this moment. It helps balance our stress and emotion, helps manage the high expectations placed on us, helps us meet the needs of friends and family.”

The work of social justice in Oakland public schools is challenging. Too many of these children have experienced the social inequities of poverty and the trauma of violence. Their faces and stories keep me working with humility, love and purpose. One beautiful girl didn’t say goodbye to her father before he was removed by customs enforcement, but wrote an exceptional 16-page research paper. A quiet boy was so embarrassed about a bad haircut that I bought him a Raider’s hat. His parents work multiple minimum wage jobs and he doesn’t see them much. Another boy makes me laugh every time we talk, but I know there’s another side to him still grieving for a brother lost to gun violence.

Due in part to my mindfulness practice, I’m able to engage in the work wholly and with equanimity. The movement of mindfulness in education invigorates me, strengthening my belief that within us all, individually and collectively, is the potential to live peaceful, fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Brian is currently in our 2015-2016 Year-Long Certification Program .  PBS News Hour did an excellent feature on Life Academy in 2015. 

Betsy Hanger

Waking Up To Life

Cory Muscara divides his time between teaching mindfulness to New York City youth and meditation and positive psychology to adult students (ages 23-72!) at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Cory relishes helping educators build from personal self-awareness to social-emotional pedagogy.

“I wish I learned about this when I was younger,” a school counselor in her fifties sighed. I was teaching mindfulness to a group of school leaders at Columbia’s Teachers College, and the whole class chuckled in agreement with the counselor’s sentiment. Cory teaching autocorrectedBuried in her whisper may have been deep pain, but what I saw was her soft, grateful smile.

I did learn mindfulness young—and I know it was an unusual privilege.  In the chaos of college, somehow this practice found me. My first mindfulness experience was lying on my dorm room bed, inspired by the ten-minute meditation described in Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living. That practice was a pivot point in my personal and professional life, taking me into mindfulness trainings, a six-month silent meditation retreat in Burma, and the Year-Long Certification with Mindful Schools.

I work as an Outside Provider in schools, and as a result, I wish I had more dedicated time with my students. They benefit far more when mindfulness is integrated throughout their school culture. So when I received a call from Columbia Teachers College to create and teach a curriculum on mindfulness for over one hundred school leaders and principals, I nearly lost my breath: “Mindfulness for school leaders? I get a full hour each day with them? Five days a week? For SIX WEEKS?“ Wow, I thought.  If I can get principals on board, imagine the trickle down effect.

Mindfulness was the first class of their nine-hour day, every morning at 8 AM. Some came in energized. Others were half-asleep. We stuck to the plan: a half hour practice, then a new topic related to mindfulness with time for discussion. I wanted them to taste the practice in many forms: sitting meditation, mindful movement, body scans.

Perhaps the most impactful practice we did was a walking meditation on the streets of Manhattan. My instructions were simple. Walk around as you normally would, but see if you can notice something new. They came back a half hour later, as excited as children. “NYC is amazing! I never knew I could be so peaceful walking in Manhattan! I can’t believe how mindless I usually am!”

There is nothing more rewarding than watching people wake up to their lives.

The group was never instructed to bring mindfulness back into their schools; the practice was always discussed in the context of leadership. However, once they tasted a daily practice for themselves, they found ways to bring it to their students.

On the last day, I heard the most rewarding comment of all. “So much of my life was spent on automatic pilot,  I didn’t even know who I was. And now, for the first time, I feel like I’m actually living my life. All I want to do now is bring this back to my school, so the kids don’t have to say: ‘I wish I learned about this when I was younger.’”

Cory graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. He founded the Long Island Center for Mindfulness.

Betsy Hanger

Mindfulness Momentum

Meet Tina Carstensen, the Early Childhood Principal at The American School Foundation of Guadalajara, A.C., Mexico. After introducing her school to mindfulness, she has seen it spread organically and fundamentally change the school’s culture.

higher res Tina laughingAt the first retreat for the Year-Long Certification program, Chris McKenna, the Program Director, said casually, “Teaching is really all about relationships but it seems like some teachers didn’t get that memo.” That hit home for me. As a principal working in an International School in Mexico’s second largest city, I agree that establishing close and caring relationships with students, families and teachers is one of my most important jobs. These relationships have made my job meaningful for the last 27 years.

But caring relationships are not always easy. The Year-Long gave me new skills for how I approach students, classrooms, teachers, and parents. To listen better, I now take a second to acknowledge where I’m listening “from.” Intellectually I knew this. But I began to notice how it feels in my body to be judging a person, to be preoccupied with preparing a response. In contrast, if I focus my attention on the person and the moment we are sharing, I become a little more patient, maybe a little nicer, and sometimes even more hopeful. Before entering a class to give a mindfulness lesson, before a parent meeting, I now check in with how I’m feeling: a little nervous? excited? wary about the boy in the back who likes to call out? Once I acknowledge these feelings, I can decide to take a breath, enjoy the time we have together, and send kind glances to my friend, the boy in the back.

I also have much stronger respect and appreciation for my students. When children share a practice of mindful seeing, mindful listening, or noticing their emotions’ effect on their bodies, a classroom environment emerges that is exciting and fresh. higher res Tina leads an older groupFor example, during a lesson on gratitude, a quiet seventh-grade girl shared that she was grateful when she woke in the middle of the night, checked the clock, and realized she still had two or three more hours to sleep before her alarm. Everybody in the class shared that feeling of relief. Sharing simple examples of what we mean by mindfulness strengthens our group because we see—teacher and students alike—how much we have in common.

Mindfulness is spreading at our school. Three mindfulness sessions scheduled throughout the week for faculty, older students, and parents encourage people to gather. The Middle School faculty now start their monthly staff meetings with five minutes of mindfulness. Parents in our Early Childhood section performed a play for the students featuring a comic scene where friends remind a character to breathe to calm down. Our teachers are sharing many articles about mindfulness online—so many that mindfulness now has its own hashtag on our site. My studies in the Year-Long helped me trust that mindfulness practices grow organically. Now I see that mindfulness instruction for teachers and students has a sustainable future; thanks to the Year-Long Certification, I am part of the momentum.

Tina was certified by the Year-Long Program in 2015. Learn more about Tina’s school in this exuberant video.

Betsy Hanger

Building a Community of Self-Compassion

Certified Instructor Alison Cohen splits her time between working as a teacher coach in NYC public high schools and teaching mindfulness. Passionate about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, Alison is developing mindfulness-based bias awareness programming for educators. In this third installment of our Graduate Stories, Alison shares two moments that confirmed her zeal for teaching mindfulness.

At the Brooklyn public high school where I worked as an English and mindfulness teacher, the principal came in one afternoon during a guided practice on self-compassion. Alison sits cross legged smiling at her students.He quietly took a seat among my ninth grade students and closed his eyes. Though he’d encouraged me to start the school’s mindfulness program, he hadn’t witnessed our daily practice.

We were silently repeating short statements meant to cultivate self-compassion. “May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I experience joy in my life.” I offered students the option of putting a hand on their hearts. Maybe I imagined it, but I could have sworn that the principal joined us, slipping his palm under his tie.

At the end of the session, the two of us walked down the hallway together. “Alison,” he said, “what I realized is that those phrases represent exactly how I want every student in this school to feel: safe and protected, healthy, peaceful, and joyful. The day I do that, I will know I’ve been successful as a principal.”

Several months later, my students wrote anonymous evaluations of the mindfulness course they had just completed. I found myself reading and re-reading what one young man had written: “The other day I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I was about to cry, but then I stopped and sent myself some kind wishes.”

This is why I teach mindfulness. As a young adult, I didn’t know how to cope with an inner emotional landscape full of harsh self-judgment, confusion, and shame. I desperately wished I had an “owner’s manual for the heart and mind.” When I began to explore mindfulness, one truth arose early on: this compassionate, wise method of learning how to skillfully navigate the inner world, relationships, and life itself was what I needed from an early age. I could have never predicted how much mindfulness practice would soften my inner critic and would replace it, bit by bit, sit by sit, with deep compassion for myself and for other human beings. Each time I hear a comment like my principal’s, or read words like that honest young man’s, the healing continues, and my commitment to practicing and teaching mindfulness grows stronger.

Alison graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. Check out her page in our Certified Instructors Directory and her website. 

Betsy Hanger

Mindfully Intertwined

Emily Saunders, MSW, took a dramatic career step in moving from Brooklyn, New York, to Ajo, Arizona. Ajo is a very small town on the border between the United States and Mexico where many families have networks that span the border. Of her geographical migration, Emily observes,It’s normal for discomfort to arise when we approach a boundary, an edge, or a border. This is as true in the incredibly dense community of New York City as in the sprawling US-Mexico borderlands. I’m hopeful about the potential for mindfulness tools to soften our reactions to discomfort, allow us to acknowledge emotion in ourselves and one another, and prepare the ground for compassion.” Here’s Emily’s snapshot of one day’s lesson, learned the hard way, for both teacher and students.

Emily and three students giggle and hold each other up while balancing on one foot.
Emily and her students, balancing mindfully.

I might have noticed tightness in my jaw if I’d shifted my attention inward. Twenty-five wiggling second graders chatted on the rug in front of me.  The class had recently moved into a phase called: “We know you Ms. Emily and we know the routine and tomorrow is Friday so we’re going to start pushing boundaries a little bit.”

I had my own agenda, called: “I’m tired and it’s not even Friday so can you please just act the way I think you should?” Ideally, I would have noticed the gridlock ahead, climbed up the awareness ladder, gained a vantage point of the chaos below, and recognized that (rising blood pressure or not) the situation was actually NOT that serious.

Instead, I snapped.

“Girls, cut it out!” I blasted. Two unlucky students froze in their rug spots and the room got quiet. Just like I wanted. But now it contained 25 nervous second graders and a little less trust.

We continued through our mindfulness lesson, my chest growing heavy with regret. I recognized the bittersweet taste of control that can come with a position of authority. I recalled some of my privileges: white skin, US citizenship, English-speaking, literate, graduate degree, adult. I thought of the parents of these children, their siblings, their grandparents—all of them my neighbors. Chances were high that we had waited in line together at the grocery store, at the café, or even at the border crossing. We were all intertwined.

I took responsibility for the tension that filled the room. “I was angry and disappointed but it wasn’t okay to scare you or embarrass you,” I said, “I’ll try not to do it again.”

You shoulda seen them breathe.

Mindful teaching is many things. I think it can, and should, put our power and privilege to work in the service of our young people and local communities.  It should help us to hold, non-judgmentally, the ten thousand daily emotions, expectations, and wounds that enter a classroom. Complicated, yes. But what an incredible vantage point (if we choose it) from which to see the interdependent responsibility and restorative potential of our schools.

Emily graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2014. Learn more about Emily on her page in our Certified Instructors Directory, on her blog and @emilylsaunders