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Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything Paperback – September 8, 2009
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"Education is an area that has been crying out for mindfulness. Schoeberlein's book makes a helpful contribution to a growing body of literature and curricula on how to bring secular contemplative practices, including cultivating kindness, into school systems. It's replete with techniques to help teachers ground themselves amid the chaos and tension of the classroom, and related techniques that teachers can use to guide students--helping them enjoy being at school, learn better, and get along well with others." (Shambhala Sun)
"Reflection can become the new basic "R" of education, promoting social and emotional learning while cultivating resilience and resourcefulness in students of all ages. In this wonderful book, the authors have provided a user-friendly guide to developing a teacher's own way of reflecting on the nature of the mind and on becoming open to present experience--of being "mindful"--that can help develop reflection as a way of living and of teaching. Consider this book an invitation to try on a research-proven focus of attention that nurtures emotional balance, promotes bodily health, supports empathic relationships, and even strengthens the brain. What more could we ask for ourselves as teachers and for our students who deserve to be taught in a way the prepares them for life from the inside out?" (Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. author, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation &The Mindful Brain: Reflection & Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being)
"A gift for educators, helpful in any classroom, for any teacher and with every student." (Goldie Hawn, children's advocate and founder of the Hawn Foundation)
"This timely volume brings the teaching of mindfulness from the sphere of spiritual traditions into the purview of general education. Devoid of jargon and deeply enriching to students and teachers alike, this contemplative approach promotes new skills that lead to gaining focus, balance, and enjoyment." (Dalia Judovitz, Ph.D., Contemplative Practice Fellow and NEH Professor at Emory University)
"A terrific contribution to understanding why mindfulness belongs in the classroom and a gentle guide on how to weave it into activities." (Gianni Faedda, M.D., author of Parenting a Bipolar Child)
"A wise and sensible guide, a generous gift to teachers and students alike." (Ara Guzelimian, provost and dean of The Juilliard School)
"A treasure-trove of practical strategies, and an exceptionally important contribution to the field!" (Richard C. Brown, chair of the Contemplative Education Department, Naropa University)
"Many teachers often sense there is a mysterious element to their teaching, something that impacted their effectiveness even more than the material they were offering. This book reveals that element, and offers many specific ways to cultivate, harness, and incorporate it. A must-read for those interested in the potential of education." (Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0)
"A rich resource for teachers, school counselors, and faculty involved in preparing the next generation of educators. I can't wait to share this book with my colleagues and students." (Susan Theberge, Ed.D., professor of education at Keene State College)
"Offers hands-on tools, exercises, and insights tempered by the voice of experience that help to build relationships with students and engage them in learning, and that will renew teachers' own energy, passion, and commitment." (Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, vice president of the Search Institute)
About the Author
Deborah Schoeberlein David, MEd, has more than twenty-five years’ experience teaching youth and adults, developing interactive curriculum, training teachers, providing parent education seminars and implementing sensitive programming, both in K-12 and professional settings. She is the author of Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything.
Suki Sheth, PhD, received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1999. While pursuing her studies, she worked as a teaching assistant with undergraduate and graduate school students. Since returning to her home in Mumbai, India, Suki has tutored teenagers in physics and math. In her spare time, she takes adult education classes in philosophy and hikes in the Himalayas, exploring the mountains of India, Nepal, and Tibet.
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Like many other contemplative approaches that have been piloted in educational contexts, Schoeberlein begins by addressing the foundational aspect of the work: the teacher or instructor must experience mindfulness practice. She frames the concept by reassuring skeptics that mindfulness practice for teachers is a version of professional development that doesn’t need approval from school administrators or funding from overburdened districts; she argues that “everyone accepts that patience, attentiveness, and responsiveness are desirable, even essential, qualities for teachers. How you cultivate them is secondary as long as you maintain a professional presence at school” (p.10). Schoeberlein also tackles the important question of how mindfulness can be beneficial by acknowledging that “school-based learning is complex, in part because teachers and students carry individual webs of knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors…learning is most effective when teachers initiate the process of weaving these varied webs together” (p.2). She clearly understands the fundamental mission of the teaching profession, whether the student body is learning multiplication tables or reading Shakespearean sonnets.
Schoeberlein continues in this vein in the substantive chapters that detail discrete practices. She provides descriptions that are practical as well as scalable for different audiences. For example, when she describes the “Take 5” practice for teachers, the entire description of mindful breathing is all of three sentences covering the foundation of this very common exercise: breathe normally, pay attention, notice when the mind drifts, and bring attention back to the breathing. There is no Buddhism referenced, no neuroscience cited, and no new age precedents explained for connecting with the unity of the world. For some, those might seem like weaknesses, but Schoeberlein deftly avoids many of the pitfalls that are common to other publications dealing with the same subject matter. She deliberately keeps her discussions general and accessible by motivating each exercise or practice with caveats for different age groups and anecdotes about her own experiences. This conscious choice to not exclude any portion of the reading audience is effective, making the text easy to digest, especially for those who have had limited previous exposure to mindfulness practice.
Where the text is strongest is also where other volumes are sometimes the weakest: where does the rubber meet the road in terms of incorporating actual exercises into an existing curriculum? Most teachers do not work in environments that are conducive to wholescale mindfulness efforts. The pressures of quantified outcomes and budget demands have forced education into unproductive and largely shortsighted directions. That being said, individual instructors have the ability to fashion classroom experiences that are uniquely embodied and personally meaningful regardless of the specific content in the curriculum. Schoeberlein writes that “students (like everyone else) are social beings who automatically check to see who is there and what is already happening as they enter a classroom… you set the tone and mark the transition…” (p. 40), and instructors who are cognizant of that influence can create a “welcoming classroom climate that implicitly nudges them [students] to shift their focus towards learning” (p. 40). Again, no special funding or expertise is needed to bring awareness to those small moments of impact. All a teacher needs is mindful attention focused on the intention of being authentically present in the classroom. Those intangible qualities of presence are what often separates a memorable and meaningful learning experience from one that is pedestrian and largely uninspiring.
Acknowledging the intangibles as being as valuable or even more valuable than more easily recognized barometers of achievement is vital to mindful teaching practice. According to Schoeberlein,
Intangible qualities are often valued even more, but they are so basic as to be overlooked. People want happiness. We don’t want to live in pain. We all crave kindness, empathy, and compassion. These qualities enhance the tangible measures of success, and in their absence even the greatest achievements can feel empty and unimportant (p. 79).
Even these basic assumptions about the human condition have been largely ignored by modern educational “reforms” designed to enhance the ease of quantitative assessment and subsequent evaluation across both the K-12 and higher education curricula. Echoing the call of educational innovators as diverse as John Dewey and Parker Palmer, Schoeberlein argues for classroom experiences that are universally enhanced by the increased focus and cognitive resetting that can be cultivated through mindfulness strategies. She is conscious of the difficulties of that underlying philosophy as well and proposes that the most effective method of bringing mindfulness into the classroom is for teachers “to integrate discrete and simple mindfulness techniques within your existing curricula or regular schedule” (p. 11). This balance of the idealistic and the imminently practical makes Schoeberlein’s advice magnificently digestible.
Those opposing dynamics are in evidence even in the collected reviews that are displayed on the front and back covers of the volume. Two stand out in particular: Richard Brown, a core faculty member at Naropa University, and Daniel Siegel, a prominent neuroscience researcher from UCLA. Those endorsements are noteworthy in that they come from folks who have drastically different backgrounds when it comes to mindfulness practice. Brown is a Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche disciple first and foremost; Naropa University, founded by Trungpa, presents a curriculum that is deeply infused with ideas from Vajrayana Buddhism. Siegel, on the other hand, has an equally extensive background in the neuroscience that underlies mindfulness practice, whether or not the context is religious or secular. For both to advocate for the text seems to indicate value for a diverse audience.
If one criticism could be levelled against Schoeberlein’s text, it would be the absence of any mention of Buddhist tradition. Clearly, she is positioning herself as a secular author presenting universally accessible ideas for educators of any religious affiliation, and in truth, the absence of the Buddhist presence in the work could be seen as a weakness or a strength depending on the audience. What is odd about the genre of texts on mindfulness, whether their focus in educational or personal, is that there seems to be a hypocritical reaction on the part of skeptical readers. When a known Buddhist writer (e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron) publishes a book, they may include some very Buddhist ideas, and they may also include some solid life wisdom that transcends religious traditions. Either way, nobody seems to make a fuss about it. On the other hand, if a writer seems more secular (e.g. with a “Dr.” in front of the name or a “PhD.” after), there is an expectation that any hidden, Buddhist agenda items need to be clearly identified and labelled as such so that skeptical readers are not inadvertently blindsided by something “religious.” Wisely, Schoeberlein avoids the entire issue by sticking to what she knows best: clear, simple ideas about mindfulness that can be understood and applied by anyone in any educational field.
While most educators who are deeply immersed in incorporating mindful practices in their teaching might find Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness too basic for their work, it does serve admirably as an introductory text for anyone who is curious about what the mindful education movement is about. The ideas and practices that are outlined by Schoeberlein are presented as baby steps, but they can also evolve into bold and confident strides. After reading the book, teachers can choose which way they want to walk.
Care about optimal learning and emotional balance for you and your students? Read this book.
Stress damages the brain and interferes with learning. Mindfulness is the antidote and this book contains the recipe