Being Present “Here and Now” Instead of Preparing for the Future Then, There, and Everywhere!

“Being Present …”

“Staying in the moment …”

“Keeping calm ….”

“Being in the here and now.”

 

Likely, these Yoga-like phrases are familiar to you.  They are helpful when we need mental reminders leading to a form of relaxation and stress reduction.  However, in my thirty-plus years working in the school environment, I don’t recall ever taking a workshop or a professional development course which clearly highlighted any of these statements.  In fact, every class I have ever attended featured the exact opposite; it’s all about “doing” rather than being, and taking on a new set of “best practices” toward irmprovement, transformation, and student achievement.  There has NEVER been a workshop which simply stated, “It’s time to be present with yourself and your students; allow the unspoken truth and wisdom to unfold”.  Seriously, the general theme working within America’s education system is the following: “We are already behind, and for our children to compete in a global economy, we need to employ these changes NOW to prepare them for the future!”.   Such urgency.  And fueled by an underlying sense of fear. As a result, the stress levels experienced by teachers and students are at all time high levels.  This is the wrong framework to develop an appropriate platform for learning!  Whatever happened to inspiration, potential, and the promise within?

So I am calling this out for the notion of “being present” is what our children need first and foremost from teachers and parents.  Our kids also do best within an environment which is highly structured, predictable, and consistent.  And most notably, they tend to thrive within a learning environment which is guided by relationship and a heart-felt connection rather than task, activity, and an endless list of “to-dos”.

In a recent article in SCHOLASTIC for TEACHERS, Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the foremost leaders in child development, trauma, and brain development, writes: “The most important learning “tool” is the teacher. And it is the teacher who creates the safe “home base” from which the child will explore.  A sense of safety comes from consistent, attentive, nurturing, and sensitive attention to each child’s needs. Safety is created by predictability, and predictability is created by consistent behaviors. And the consistency that leads to predictability does not come from rigidity in the timing of activities it comes from the consistency of interaction from the teacher. If a schedule is consistent, but the teacher is not, there is no predictability for the child. Predictability in time means less to a young child than predictability in people.  How can a teacher provide this? Use your most powerful teaching tool, your personality. Your smile, your voice, and your touch make a child feel safe. Face-to-face, “on the floor time,” and eye contact are essential in this process. Be predictable in your interactions with the child and not in the number of minutes spent in each activity. Be attuned to each child’s overload point. Let children find some space and solitude when they seem to be overwhelmed. In these quiet moments the child can find pleasure in reviewing the discoveries of the day.”

Simply, his recommendations all point to the same place; being present with our students, by being “attuned” to each child. Taking time to just “be” within ourselves and others,  establishing a relationship and developing an emotional connection between teacher and student are essential to today’s classroom.

This is important when we address our children’s needs.  In the work I do, as an education advocate, every day I hear stories about children, whether they are identified as “On the Spectrum”, diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, or feeling overwhelmed and anxious, the one thing that rings as truth is the notion that most kids today have the ability to respond positively to authenticity, genuine compassion, and to teachers and adults who connect through relationship as their primary instructional tool.  Given the fact that more children today are coming to school impacted by stress, trauma, neurological conditions, and often feeling over-whelmed, it makes sense our relationships take on more meaning than the content itself.  For its simply part of the human condition to want to feel safe, secure, and belonging {See Abraham Maslow].

Within an ASCD article by Boynton and Boynton (2005), the author’s state, “The most powerful weapon available to secondary teachers who want to foster a favorable learning climate is a positive relationship with our students”.  They continue to share research on the topic of relationship-building as follows: Marzano (2003) states that students will resist rules and procedures along with the consequent disciplinary actions if the foundation of a good relationship is lacking … And according to Zehm and Kottler (1993), students will never trust us or open themselves up to hear what we have to say unless they sense that we value and respect them”.

As I reflect upon the week which passed, I am astounded by the general tone in so many of today’s classrooms: “We are so behind … we don’t have time for things other than preparing for the upcoming tests … with the Common Core guiding us, we only could do so much”.   And these comments were stated by teachers all across the country.

However, I did hear about a school in the Pacific Northwest that is making extraordinary efforts to connect with their students.  Most recently, a parent wrote me and shared, “My son’s school has embraced him (and all his autistic quirks) from day one.  He is doing so well, in contrast to what he experienced for so many years.  The success is a result of good communication with the staff and their willingness to listen to us and his therapists.  But most notably, they have taken to time to know him, like him, and appreciate him for who he is rather than focus on his short-comings and the inconvenient behaviors he may bring to the classroom.”  In addition, this parent shared an exceptional resource, Steven Glasser’s Nurtured Heart Approach, as an effective tool for schools.   She has been using this technique with her son successfully but she stated, “I believe my son’s school is also using this strategy, though they may not know this”.

The Natured Heart Approach is self-described as follows: “ …  a relationship-focused methodology … for helping children (and adults) build their Inner Wealth® and use their intensity in successful ways. It has become a powerful way of awakening the inherent greatness in all children while facilitating parenting and classroom success.”  Sounds very encouraging!

Within the context of developing relationships at the core and relationship-centered classrooms, there are many programs available for guidance.  In WA State, for example, the Compassionate Schools Project addresses the need for relationship building within the schools.  It can be found at: http://www.compassionschools.org/.  Furthermore, mindfulness and other relationship related resources are easily accessed through the internet and there are endless programs, books, and professional / personal development opportunities found.  In fact, there is a wide-range of systems, approaches, and philosophies available highlighting the need to slow things down, and bring a more mindful approach to our relationships; especially, between child and adult.  I would recommend exploring the work of Dr. Gabor Mate; he provides many insights related to relationships, child development, and shares thoughts about being present with one another and the  “myth of normal”.  Check him out at http://theunboundedspirit.com/myth-of-normal/.

Nevertheless, there a couple of caveats to this undertaking, especially, moving toward a relationship-centered approach within the classroom:

If the process itself creates on another “to do” like activity, one may lose the authenticity and genuine intent required to make a true connection between students and staff.  It has to be an organic process as an extension of one’s beliefs and daily practices.  Certainly, it takes time to truly “let go” and be present within one self.  But it’s a goal worth taking for the rewards are extraordinary.

Also, there is a balance that needs to be achieved in this process; for teachers and educators work within the context of Common Core curriculum, standards-based learning, testing, and high stakes assessments.  So one would best move into a relationship-centered approach as the foundation but not throw out the other areas of responsibility in the process.  Think of this framework similar to the development of a new home; mindfulness and relationship as the foundation, whereas the walls are the curriculum, instructional methodology, and other core essentials associated with teaching,  And the roof would be the desired outcomes, highlighting student wellness, achievement, and success supporting the promise and potential within each.

As the late 20th century philospher Ferris Bueller once stated, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it“.  In light of our children, before we know it, they grow up and move on.  So it’s imperative for us all, teachers and parents, to make a conscious effort to slow things down and focus on our relationships in contrast to the never-ending tasks and distractions on our minds.  It’s what they need and in many cases, it’s what they are crying out for.  So are we.

For more information related to slowing it all down, HeartMath self-regulation strategies, and advocacy, please contact Larry @ www.specialeducationadvocacy.org

 

 

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