Doug Allen has been an educator for the past 26 years, the last 13 of these as Principal of several Edmonton schools in Alberta, Canada. He is currently the principal of Bessie Nichols School, where two years ago, he began implementing a school-wide mindfulness program for his K-9 students.
The work of a principal can be emotionally draining if one doesn’t have a thick skin, and my skin is very thin in places. I cannot resist feeling responsible for everyone else’s school problems or reacting defensively when others suggest my shortcomings. When it’s raining I feel that someone is sure to blame me.
I’m thankful for my personal meditation practice, which has given me some strength to move through a day packed with challenging interactions with students, teachers, and parents. Practicing has helped me to be aware of how my triggers incite me to react in ways I would rather not. I recognize my own emotions before they take hold of me, and remain calmer and more focused during situations that challenge me. I humbly admit that this is a work in progress.
While my personal practice has added much to my life, so has teaching mindfulness. Practicing with my classes of high performing, highly stressed adolescents makes my relationship with them more open and mutually respectful. Knowing that mindfulness practice is something the students may benefit from their entire lives gives me a sense of purpose beyond any I’ve ever had as a teacher, and truly makes me happier and more focused in my work.
As teachers of mindfulness, we all make the deliberate effort to be in the present and to model how mindfulness can be embedded into the moment to moment of the day to day. Having multiple opportunities to practice throughout the day and being purposefully mindful when leading mindfulness lessons, creates an enormously valuable feedback loop. As I approach a mindful walking lesson, I take the time to ground myself into the “now” of the classroom. I ensure that my connection to my thoughts, my feelings, and my body is solid. This grounding connects me more completely with my students and engages them more fully in the lesson. Without this mindful approach, the lesson simply would not work: we would not be practicing together. It’s the presence of the teacher, even more than the content of the lesson, that captures the students.
For the past two weeks I have been teaching the Mindful Schools program to a new cohort of students. After two lessons the students have already shifted from cynical to curious, from onlookers to participants. Their curiosity and engagement, in turn, enhances my enthusiasm for teaching them, and helps me to access the focus I need to be successful in all the other parts of my job. Working within this thin skin, I am energized to think that a mindful approach to teaching all curriculum could truly revolutionize the classroom.