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.
At 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. For 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.