THE BLOG
10/25/2010 11:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Teaching in Time: Mindfulness Techniques for Educators

Pressed for time? Always. But what does that really mean, and how can we experience the inexorable movement of time without a sense of relentless pressure and stress? One effective approach is to pause and take a conscious breath.

Schools compress time. Seriously. If you work in education, you know what I mean. First there are the bells, ringing out loud to mark the schedule or resounding silently in the mind as we attend to plans.

School bells wait for no one. It doesn't matter if students are engrossed in learning or teachers are in the midst of facilitating one of those precious "ah ha" moments. Time passes and everything moves.

It's easy to forget that the experience of time is within us. We come to believe that time is really there, outside us, pressing in. But this is confusion, because the experience of time is subjective even as the clock ticks objectively. A little shift in understanding can make all the difference, and help you see how the compression of time also provides a route beyond the constraints of time.

Once you realize that the school schedule has a life of its own and progresses without fail, you can focus on finding some freedom within it. Class starts and stops, breaks begin and end, meetings commence and adjourn. That's reality, and there's no need to fight it or worry or even rejoice. It just is.

If things are going well, the prescribed period frames the experience. If things are decomposing into chaos, well, whatever is happening will morph. The past passes, the future looms, and the present remains a continuous moment of awareness. And once you realize this basic observation and accept it, you'll have a lot more energy for everything else.

Mindfulness practice helps us redefine our relationship with time. It's about being right here, right now. Try it? Pause. Take a breath. Place all your attention on that breath. Grow your awareness of the breath. It's the most basic indication of being alive. The more you notice your own capacity for awareness, in this moment, the more alert you'll become as you live.

Breath is the process of life. It also offers a tool to help us experience life beyond biology. Here's what I mean:

  • During your next commute to school, especially if you're feeling rushed, pause and take a conscious breath. Notice where you are physically, and then notice your inner experience. You're here. Right now. Nowhere else. In this very moment, with this awareness, you'll see that time is keeping pace with you.
    • As your students pour into class tomorrow, bringing their frenetic energy into the space, pause and take a conscious breath. Notice their energy, and your own. See what's happening around you, and attend to what's happening in you. Find your center. Feel your feelings. Take another breath. Focus your attention. Teach.
      • While proctoring a test, attend to your expectations and emotions, pause and take a conscious breath. Is anyone nervous? Your students? You? What's their energy like? And yours? What happens when you switch your focus to your breath and calm your mind? Try it, and see. Then notice what happens to their energy, too.
        • In the midst of resolving a conflict among students, pause and take a conscious breath. Have emotions hijacked your students? How about you? Is the intense mental processing taking you nowhere? If so, switch you attention from feeling to breathing, just for a few seconds, and then return your focus to what's happening around you. By the clock, only a little time will pass, but experientially you'll see that time opens up. And in the space of that time, the energy may shift, and the situation may begin to diffuse.

        Mindfulness is not a panacea. It's a practice. And with practice, mindfulness helps us calm our minds and open our hearts. With mindfulness, we can cultivate greater compassion and empathy, kindness and generosity. Mindfulness and morality go hand in hand -- in fact, mindfulness without compassion lacks ethical orientation.

        As you develop mindfulness, you're likely to feel less reactive, less pressured, less driven by time. You're also more likely to see clearly when the objective demands of your schedule are simply too much. If so, it's time to change the structure of your day and remix your responsibilities.

        The point is living mindfully within a sane reality. Mindfulness can't make an insane schedule, bearable, but it will make the insanity noticeable and cue you to respond constructively.

        Feeling pressured by the clock, the day, your job, you life? Take a conscious breath, and pause. Look inside, and look around. You'll know where you as you move into what's next. You'll be in time.