Habit #1: Slowing Down

11/23/2011 03:17 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

In my last post, I promised that I'd share the 7 Habits of Effective Teaching. This is the first Habit. Caution: You may be underwhelmed if you read this from a mental perspective; this post is an offer to your body and spirit.

By now, it's become clear that we educators need to engender these qualities in our students and in ourselves:
• Resilience
• Self-directed learning,
• Cultural and Environment Awareness,
• Interdependence,
• Systems thinking,
• Intra- and Interpersonal skills
• Leadership capacity

These skills are the baseline for students and educators engaging effectively in the complexity of the 21st century. Obviously, it's not an exhaustive list -- just a snapshot of a few of the more obvious abilities needed.

What's the VERY first step to fostering these?

You may not like this. Are you ready? It's really simple.

Slow down.

That's right.

Slow down.

The opportunity for us as embodied leaders is to observe and experience our lives AS it's arising. JUST notice what you're experiencing. Take a deep breath, and then move into action.

Typically (and innocently), we tend to superimpose our thoughts, defense mechanisms, habits, and addictions to resist, try to change or argue with "What is."

Instead: Slow down. Breathe....

Try to observe reality as it is -- which is ALWAYS in response to our perception.

Sit down before the day begins and feel the sensations in your body. Just for a minute. Attune to your intention for the class, or the whole day. Ground yourself in your body.

Here's a tip: Locate your fullest attention anywhere below your neck. Pay attention to the sensations in your shoulders, chest, abdomen, and pelvic bowl. Feel the soles of your feet on the floor. Now ask yourself: Is it loud in here? Is there thinking? Find out if it's loud or silent

Do a brief meditation. Where you are -- in your car, the teacher's lounge, the bathroom, your classroom -- pause. Breathe naturally. Reach for the immediate connection with your sensation.

Simply seeing and sensing. Not reacting. Not moving away or toward in fear or expectation. Notice how the perceptual field opens up. Notice that you can see more. Really. Slowing down allows us to make a more creative response in the moment. That matters. We can then take actions from a space of deeper clarity and coherence, which have a much more positive effect on the class, or the moment.

The results of slowing down are always at your disposal. 24/7. A felt sense of fullness, rightness and clear direction. When we model a state of wellbeing, we offer that option to those around us. Kids and other adults need that message. On a subtler level: what we communicate when we're connected to ourselves tends to be more nourishing, or neutral.

When we come out of resistance to what is arising in the classroom or learning environment, we are able to perceive the next obvious move more clearly.

An easy way to slow down is to take a few minutes at the beginning of a day to prepare your being. Sit down and simply pay attention to the sensations in the body, become aware of feeling your body. Bring your full attention to the sensation of your breath for a few minutes. When we slow down, our perceptual field opens up, and as that occurs, there's an opening for us to be in more intimate contact with the nuanced aspects of what's occurring in our surroundings. For example, when we go to the woods and stay in one spot for as long as ten minutes, the smaller motion of the birds may resume. The squirrels' activity may be more apparent; we might even hear the bugs. Our capacity to be present to the smaller happenings in our field of awareness is heightened. The same practice holds true in the classroom. Slowing down allows us to make a more creative response to any given moment. The quality that fresh eyes can bring to a moment can shift the outcome in unexpected and wonderful ways.

In fact, greater precision and clarity of awareness allow us to respond to the elements of our experience that are ultimately more nourishing or effective. For example, those things we might ignore or miss when we're moving quickly are more obvious when seen with a soft, open gaze. The wider our perspective, the more easily we can see opportunities to connect, clean up that mess, initiate an activity, or handle a loose end.

Reality presents us with a constant invitation to be with what is. To bear witness to the territory from a place, which is simply seeing: not reacting, not moving away in fear, or overriding it with an agenda. You might be wondering why this would be important, and I would offer that when we slow down and become more grounded; we align with our greater purpose. There is a felt sense of connection with a deeper volition for coming to school that day. From there, greater potency and service is available in our teaching practice. A quality of fullness, rightness and clear direction often come along with deep alignment to our purpose.

Allowing ourselves the pleasure of preparing in this way can help us to access and bring greater presence to our students... thus having a greater impact on their well being and learning.