Valuing Ourselves

Soar above
Soar above the opinions of others…

I hit a bit of a rough patch this week. I felt rushed and a bit anxious. I could feel my blood pressure rise when I had numerous interruptions to my mathematics lesson and then my interactive whiteboard stopped working. I heard myself say “I shouldn’t have even got out of bed this morning”. On the same day a good friend posted on The Centred Teacher Facebook page about the struggles she was facing, juggling the demands of the classroom (and the 25 or so souls she is nurturing there) with her own family and health needs.

We have both been teachers for 13 years. We are both compassionate and dedicated. We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We are both deserving of and in fact NEED to have downtime, time with our own children, time to do what makes our heart sing – to recalibrate so that we can keep on giving.

But this week (and possibly the weeks prior) we weren’t giving that to ourselves. We are the only ones who can change that.

What finally lifted me out of this 24 hour state of “blahness” was the following:

  • A new perspective: at the time, the whiteboard pen not working was a major catastrophe but in the scheme of things going on in the world it was insignificant. My lesson changed but the kids still learnt what they needed to (or maybe didn’t). Try and see the challenges of your day within a bigger picture and maybe even with some humour.
  • Gratitude: I went home and wrote down 5 things I was grateful for. If we focus on the negative we start to only see negativity as it keeps showing up in our life. By focusing on the beauty of my life that I sometimes take for granted I tend to see more beauty.
  • Making chicken noises with my class: this was done to imitate a character in a book we were reading – it made us all laugh and we ALL loved it.
  • Meditation – silence and breathing calm the nervous system and bring us back to a state of centredness where we can connect with what we know to be true.
  • This insight from Dr Wayne Dyer:

 ‘It’s crucial to remain independent of both the positive and negative opinions of others. Regardless of whether they love us or despise us, if we make their assessments more important than our own we will be greatly afflicted.’

We worry what people will think if we leave at 3:30pm some days to go for a surf or swim. We worry that others will consider us slacking off if we voice our concerns about how much is being asked of us. We are boosted and love it when a parent or another teacher praise or affirm what we are doing. But how often do we praise and affirm ourselves?

We want to be seen to be doing our best and giving 100% to the students in our care but giving 100% leaves nothing left for ourselves. Maybe this week we can give 10% to ourselves – it’s not selfish. We are just as deserving as all the beautiful children in our lives of receiving our care.

It’s time to start making your own opinions of yourself more important than anyone else’s. Boost yourself with positive feedback. Tell yourself you are worthy of that nap or walk along the beach without feeling guilty. That does not mean you won’t listen to the opinions and feedback of others, it just means that no matter what they say you will stay true to your own inner voice knowing that you are doing a brilliant job.

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NB: When all else fails… chicken noises ALWAYS help.

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Keys to Survival in the Teaching Profession

survival

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

If you substitute “teachers” for “species”, Darwin’s wisdom applies seamlessly to current educational circumstances in which our brute strength and intelligence perhaps need to take a back seat. In a climate of unrelenting and at times uncomfortable educational change on a national, state, systemic, school, classroom and personal level it is not easy to survive!

In yoga we are urged to breathe through the discomfort of a pose in order to find an ease – an acceptance of that moment as it is – to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I like to think that the teachers who last in this profession have found a way to “rest in the pose”.

But what does being responsive to change mean in a practical sense? How can we “rest” in the variety of poses that we find ourselves in in teaching day to day?

To respond to something is very different to reacting to something. Can you become aware of situations in which you are reacting in an explosive way rather than responding with awareness and compassion? Reacting is closely related to overreacting (which never ends well).

Any change inevitably calls into question our current practice. I know that I find this incredibly unpleasant as I have a tendency to become defensive and self-righteous (a fine example of reacting rather than responding).

Wayne Dyer in his commentary on the Tao Te Ching (81 verses on the nature of our existence written by Lao Tzu in ancient China) asks us to notice an opportunity to defend or explain ourselves and choose not to. He says:

“Just be with what is…don’t get caught up with being right or wrong.”

I have been putting this into practice of late and while it’s difficult, in choosing not to defend I have found a more peaceful approach and am able to consider my response from a place of awareness and calm. If you are finding that certain changes in your workplace are making you uneasy or restless, try to feel the subtlety of this in your body. As in yoga, breathe your way through the initial discomfort and be aware that these signals may be out of proportion to what is actually happening. These changes are not all taking place in this very moment. Remind yourself of the changes that are now a normal part of your practice that you reacted to similarly in their initial stages.

After opening to these sensations, take a stand for yourself and resolve to deal with each change as it arises and makes itself present in your teaching life – you know you can handle it, one step at a time. Don’t think about every change all at once. Stay with what is occurring in the present.

In terms of ways to “rest” in the teaching profession some ideas are:

  • Keep tabs on your internal slave driver as well as perfectionistic tendencies and notice when they are trying to take the wheel. Accept imperfection as a normal occurrence.
  • Literally rest each day but particularly when there is increased stress or pressure.
  • Accept it when you don’t get through what you had planned rather than beating yourself up – there’s always tomorrow.
  • Switch off – your brain over the weekend as well as your phone, computer and TV regularly. Listen to music, read for pleasure, practice Yoga Nidra – to recalibrate and renew energy.

I posit then that responding with a positive and self-nurturing acceptance as well as “resting in the pose”, may just be the key to our survival as educators.

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Accepting Each Moment

accepting each momentMy last post was about accepting life in order to change. I would like to delve a little deeper into the practice of acceptance using some strategies and ideas developed by Rick Hanson whose ‘Foundations of Wellbeing’ course I am currently undertaking.

The first step towards accepting your life as it is in each moment is to identify or recognise what you are not accepting. Sometimes this is really challenging because we experience the world through a filter – our mind is conditioned in its interpretations, responses and reactions. It can take great courage and clarity to see things as they really are and to accept that you are responsible for where you find yourself today.

For me the first step towards this clarity was stillness. Sitting in stillness gave me the space to be honest – there was nowhere to hide.

A clue to identifying non-acceptance of something in your life is any kind of anger or righteousness. You will feel this in your body as a physiological response to a situation or person.

Once identified repeat to yourself:

“It’s true that…”

“I surrender to the fact that…”

Hanson suggests ‘lowering your standards for others while raising them for yourself. Not by being more critical of yourself but rather being less critical of others and more focussed on raising your own level of wellbeing and functioning.’

In a work environment that is largely based on human interactions this advice has massive implications for our inner peace and daily interactions with others. So often we default into blaming, judging or criticising others when they don’t live up to our lofty expectations. Collaboration is becoming all the more necessary and vital to student achievement and our teams are made up of diverse personalities and backgrounds. We often struggle against this wonderful mix when people are not exactly like us. If we shift the focus to improving our own functioning while accepting others as they are our wellbeing is raised. When you stop resisting colleagues, students, situations and emotions it starts feeling less difficult.

Accepting difficulties (while making plans to improve the situation) is a lot more peaceful than getting aggravated by them. We forget that we have a choice in how we respond. Can you identify one thing that you wish were different, that you may need to approach with greater acceptance?

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Accepting Life in Order to Change

acceptanceSpiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says that dissatisfaction is not a good starting point for changing your life. Our ego may tell us that it is but in fact it isn’t. Rather we need to find a place of acceptance of what is.

The basis for your life is the present moment. He says we must come to an acceptance of this moment as it is. If you are not friendly with life, life cannot support you.

I know that during the hardest and most stressful times of my life I have definitely been struggling against what was. It is this struggle that ultimately digs us in deeper – into the stress, the anxiety, the regret, the anger…

I have definitely experienced the truth of this:  Before we can begin to change we have to make peace with what is. Once I accepted the external circumstances I had created, my actions came from a different place and it was no longer one of resistance. An important point to make here is that acceptance is not the same as approval. I had to accept what was true even though I didn’t approve of it.

I had to accept that:

  • I didn’t get the promotion I wanted for a job I knew I could do given the opportunity (in hindsight it was not the right position for me and my boss made the right call).
  • I had no money and was struggling to pay bills.
  • My self-belief was almost zero.
  • I was exhausted and needed to rest.
  • I had challenging students in my class who I was not coping with.
  • The demountable classroom I was in was not an acceptable learning space but that was where I was going to be for the year – like it or not.
  • I was depressed and had anxiety – maybe the hardest to accept as I couldn’t just “soldier on”.

(I had a lot to accept – this is just a snippet!)

Once I did accept these things (remember I didn’t have to approve of them) and got the rest I needed, I could act to change – with a different type of energy. The acceptance was the change that allowed life to support me in ways that I could not have envisaged (e.g. soon after this radical acceptance, I got the permanent job I desired and so did my husband – on the same day!).

What do you need to accept about your life, personality, family, class, job or colleagues in order to stop the resistance, struggle and suffering to create the change you desire?

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