Carlos could not sit still. When teaching mindfulness in his classroom, I’d get his attention for one moment and then literally within seconds he was turning around to talk to the person behind him. This happened continuously. I work with up to 300 kids at a school in a day. By this point, I’ve realized there’s no way I’m going to remember all of the students’ names. Yet somehow, I always seem to learn the names of the “challenging” students like Carlos right away. “Carlos, please don’t …..”. You get the picture.
Children long for attention, even if it’s “negative attention”. The Mindful Schools staff helped me become aware that “being seen” was what was at play, so why not give him attention when he was being “good” or for simply being Carlos. The next day as I walked into his class, instead of walking to the middle of the room and giving the mindfulness instructions like I always did, I first walked up to Carlos. I looked him straight in the eyes and with a big smile on my face I quietly said to him, “It’s so good to see you Carlos!” With rapt attention his eyes were on me and for the remainder of the class. I did this each day I came to his class, and Carlos became my most attentive student. I saw Carlos and Carlos felt seen.
On my last day at that same school, when I arrived at one of the other classrooms, I noticed that Christopher’s chair was upside down on his desk and he wasn’t there. Christopher was another “challenging student”, and I quickly found out that he’d been sent to “detention” during school that day. Since this was my last day at the school, I wanted to have some closure with him. As I was passing through the hallway during the break, there he was in the office. It was obvious he was going through a hard time. I walked in the office and said, “Christopher, I’ve been looking all over for you.” His response was, “You have? Why?” “I wanted to say good bye to you, today is my last day.” For 20 minutes I talked to him about what I did in his class, he couldn’t take his eyes off of me. When I got up to leave and went to my next class, there he was quietly following me like a sweet puppy dog. I saw Christopher, Christopher felt seen.
Mindfulness is about being present. When I am caught in expectations of how I want children to behave, it is difficult to be present and to stay with my highest intention and with what is actually going on in the moment. This can easily lead to frustration. Nothing works or feels right when I teach out of a frustrated state of mind. Mindfulness gives me the space to not take the situation personally and to see what is actually taking place and what is needed in that moment, instead of being frustrated and reactive. By being mindful myself as a teacher, I find students learn best; by example.
You can learn more about Michael Katz on his website.