Pay attention.

My favorite definition of mindfulness is this one by the pioneer (in the field of mindfulness, not on the Oregon Trail) Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Reading that quote helped me realize that I could be more mindful all the time, not just in the 10 minutes I was meditating in the car in the morning. [Yes, in the dark, and yes, multiple adults and kids did regularly think I was asleep.]

As my yoga teacher Baron Baptiste likes to say, "either you are now here, or you're nowhere." I wondered what would happen if I brought myself back to the task at hand as much as possible. So I started paying attention to how I was paying attention.

I realized pretty much right away that I was (almost) never fully in the present moment in my classroom. My mind was on a data spreadsheet, a student behavior from the day before, an interaction with another teacher, a parent call, or the next standard I was set to teach, instead of the one I was currently teaching.

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It's so easy to be nowhere. It's baked into our profession, as multi-tasking and having too many things to do is the norm.

Is it productive? No.

Did I make any major progress on any of those problems during my division lesson? No.

Was it distracting and/or exhausting? Yes.

So I put sticky notes on my computer, my desk, and my computer cart that just say "Pay attention." Every time I see one I notice where my thoughts have gone, and I come back to the lesson, topic, or student right in front of me.

A few benefits I consistently get from paying attention:

  1. My students feel heard. It is really obvious to kids whether you're really listening or not. When I'm fully engaged in their words and actions, they notice, our relationship stays strong, and they're often better listeners in return.
  2. I have superpowers. When I am fully in the room vs. not, I feel like I have superpowers. My spidey sense picks up so much more about students' response to the lesson, their work, and their misconceptions. I can also read minds, or at least tell a whole lot more about how students are feeling [and in the second semester of 5th grade, they're feeling ALL THE FEELINGS. #hormones].
  3. My room is cleaner. When my brain is in outer space for a class period, I look down at the end and find at least 95 pencils on the floor. If I'm here, now, I can remind students to gather them throughout class, and then there will only be 46 pencils on the floor.
  4. I remember how the day went. You know the phenomenon where you've driven from your house to somewhere familiar and you can't recall any part of the drive? That happens to me less and less in my classroom now, and I know that taking myself off autopilot is definitely better for my teaching and for my students.

What do your reminder sticky notes need to say? Have you been paying attention? Let me know in the comments.

All the best,

M.