The Aware Teacher: Bringing Reflection and Mindfulness to our Schools

A Collaboration between Courage & Renewal Northeast and The Center for Mindfulness

A teacher's vocational vitality, or capacity to be vital, present, and deeply connected to his or her students, is not a fixed, indelible condition, but a state that ebbs and flows with the context and challenges of the teaching life. In light of this, an emerging form of professional development programming explicitly devoted to nourishing the inner life or core dimensions of teachers is increasingly important for today's educators.

-- Sam Intrator and Robert Kunzman, The Educational Forum (Fall 2006)

Research points increasingly to the fact that the classroom teacher is the most important factor in shaping the experience and success of students in school.  In order to teach with vitality and engagement, and respond with skill and compassion to the complex demands of teaching, teachers need support in cultivating their innate capacity to pay attention to what is happening in the moment.  They need to develop and strengthen their ability to be aware of and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others, and to create a classroom environment where students can take risks that are a necessary part of learning and becoming engaged citizens and contributors to solutions to our social and global challenges.

Professional development programs for educators typically focus on what a teacher needs to acquire from the outside: theories, pedagogy, content knowledge.  While these are critically important, these programs often ignore a secret hidden in plain sight--that good teachers teach from the inside out. The Aware Teacher supports educators in cultivating mindfulness and reflection, and in trusting and accessing their inner wisdom and the resources that spring from their own identity and integrity.

The Aware Teacher is informed by the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Courage to Teach® developed by Parker J. Palmer, the Center for Courage & Renewal, and its regional affiliate, Courage & Renewal Northeast at Wellesley College.  It also draws on contemporary research in social and emotional learning, mindfulness meditation, and neuroscience.

The Aware Teacher helps teachers develop capacities that allow them to work with the complex teaching challenges they face each day and to hold the tensions and uncertainties of their work in ways that help them remain open to creative possibilities rather than become overwhelmed and discouraged.

The Aware Teacher introduces...

Reflective Practices focusing on:

  • connection to what animates commitment to teaching
  • purpose and values
  • recognizing personal gifts, strengths, and limitations
  • holding paradox and ambiguity
  • communication

Mindfulness Practices focusing on:

  • sitting meditation
  • body scan
  • movement
  • loving kindness practice
  • sound and musical expression
  • theory on stress, emotional intelligence, and neuroscience related to self-regulation

Through large group, small group and solitary activities, we will also explore reflective practices that make use of stories from our own experiences, and insights from poets, storytellers and diverse wisdom traditions.

There will also be time spent on experiencing specific practices that can be brought into the classroom, as well as on identifying times during the school day when these practices can be introduced.  Through group discussion, we will share and expand on ways that teachers are already bringing mindfulness and reflection into their classrooms.

Participants who continue to practice report increased:

  • calmness/reduced personal & professional stress
  • attentional strength and flexibility
  • energy, clarity & creativity
  • ability to respond more skillfully to challenges
  • understanding of reflective practice
  • personal and interpersonal mindfulness
  • potential for nourishment and sustainability in one's work life
  • experiences of compassion for oneself and others in the school environment

 To learn more, please contact us at 508-856-2656 or mindfulness@umassmed.edu