Being Mindful of How we Begin our School Year

Mindful BeginningsAs the new school year approaches, educators from kindergarten through higher education (myself included) are in a transitional period that can be cause for both great excitement and a sense of dread.  These last few weeks before school are a time to re-think how we have done things in the past and create new plans and possibilities for our classrooms. It is a critical stage, and one that sets up how we launch our school year.

When we pay attention to the scripts that run though our heads during this time we become more mindful of how we frame our new year. Some scripts are hurtful, such as “you really made a bad choice teaching that way – how could you ever think that would work?” and “you’re not as good as you thought you were.” Others are more kind, “I’ve learned so much in the past year – I can’t wait to try them out in class this year.” Think for a moment about the scripts that you repeat to yourself when you are planning and how this shapes your teaching. When I reflect back on the launching of my favorite classes, I notice three important aspects that are consistent throughout:

1) I’m excited about new ideas

2) I’m kind to myself; I have faith in my ability to create and inspire, and

3) I put my thoughts into action; I am organized and prepared.

Yet, each year, this mindset is difficult to for me move into, and it takes time and persistent work on re-writing those negative scripts to get there. For one thing, it’s hard to say goodbye to summer – who wants that time with family and friends (and sleep) to end? However, even more difficult is looking back at prior work to prepare for the next year. When we take the time to review our previous years’ work, it is easy to focus in on what went wrong. Instead, what we should be looking for are what we learned from these challenges, and what we will change. This is difficult, gut-wrenching work. It can feel like digging though a pile of hay for a golden needle. It’s totally natural to want to forget about the needle and think about the hay. Yet, if we let negative self-critique frame our past experiences, that is what the rest of our new year will become –  negative (i.e. more hay).

A colleague of mine has a saying that we frequently repeat at meetings and conversations throughout our school: “What we focus on grows.” What will you focus on when in this transitional place in the year? What scripts will you allow to settle in your mind? How do you want to start your year? All the external factors that shape our experiences as teachers – bureaucracy, access to resources, school micro-politics, standardization – can sometimes feel like a paralyzing weight when we teach. It is now, in this transitional time, when we can allow ourselves to breathe, imagine, and set the stage for our best years of teaching to come (and a wealth of golden needles).

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