Between starting my MinnCAN teacher policy fellowship, being with family, and tackling a never-ending reading list, the past few months have been busy. As summer winds down and I prepare to head back to the classroom next week, I’d like to reflect on my favorite part of the Educator’s Oath, which is hung in many teachers’ classrooms:

I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life to the science of teaching…
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
the well-being of my students will be my primary concern always…
and I will hold human caring and consideration as the fundamental value in the student-teacher relationship.

Have you ever contemplated the complexity of employing scientific instructional practices, research-based curriculum, and holding the well-being of students as a primary concern—always?

Consider the emotional weight of teaching. In my recent post about class size, I touched on just some of the challenges of teaching in urban classrooms, including poverty, mobility, and physical and learning disabilities among students.

In the face of all of this, how can a teacher teach, consciously and joyfully? How can we curb teacher turnover, increase teacher engagement and develop strong educators who excel in and enjoy their teaching—knowing that our work is the most significant in-school factor for student success?

The answer might be paradoxically simple yet difficult: teachers must be present. In every moment. Always. And as I enter my fourteenth year in the classroom, I want to share with you one fairly low-cost, low-effort, research-based reform opportunity that may help us teachers do just that: mindfulness in schools.

In order to cultivate some peace in our classrooms, some of my colleagues and I are exploring what it might mean to be mindful practitioners: to give a chance for students to pause for a breath in their daily lives.

Mindfulness simply means to deliberately focus on the present moment and to be aware of physical and emotional feelings that come and go. The purpose of mindfulness in schools is for teachers to increase our own self-awareness and self-regulation, ultimately modeling these strategies for students. Being mindful has proven to reduce cortisol levels and to actually change the way the brain works. Essentially, mindfulness can serve as a buffer from stress, especially in high-needs schools.

Part of what I love about my job at Ramsey Middle School is that we all—educators and kids alike—value teachers’ learning as much as students’, and we expect creativity and innovation from everyone.

That’s why, with the help of Ramsey community member and mindfulness expert Becca Voss, my colleagues and I recently started our journey into mindfulness. We watched the documentary Room to Breathe—which tells the story of a San Francisco public middle school that implemented mindful practices—and then gathered this summer to read Daniel Siegel’s new book Brainstorm: The Power and the Purpose of the Teenage Brain, discussing what it might mean for our classroom practices. We also reviewed research on how mindfulness can impact teachers and students.

Through all of this, my colleagues and I have developed our own personal mindfulness practices, and in a few weeks, we will begin to incorporate lessons learned—like brief and simple moments for pausing, breathing and being grateful—with our middle school students.

As thousands of Minnesota teachers get ready to go back to school, and recommit to the Educators’ Oath, I invite my fellow teachers, leaders and administrators to consider how we can be more present in our work this year. I look forward to reporting back on my own progress, as well as that of my students.

Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh-graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow and teacher policy fellow for MinnCAN.


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