Transitions & Mindfulness

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Transitioning With Mindful Ease

The days are slowly getting longer, winter melts into spring, and we are reminded of the subtle ways we are constantly transitioning from one point to another. It’s an understatement to say that from last March to this one our educational community has experienced many changes. The last twelve months have seen a series of transitions, big and small, in how we teach and how our students learn.

If you’re feeling that your anxieties have increased over the last year, you’re not alone: an increasing number of adults report that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health (Koma et al., 2020), and students across the globe, especially ones who were already vulnerable to mental health challenges, are reporting increased stress and anxiety (Lee, 2020). Fear of the unknown can make transitions difficult, especially during a year where it may seem we’ve done nothing but transition. As educators, we worry: “What if my students aren’t making progress through all of this? How can I best help them?” Students may be worrying about how they will be heard in their virtual classroom via Zoom or dealing with other stressors in their personal lives.

Yet as we’ve moved between online and in-person learning, worked through hybrid models, and juggled personal and professional difficulties, our educational community has shown how resilient we truly are. And while it may be disheartening to read about how our students, colleagues, and friends are struggling, understanding the mental health implications of COVID-19 means we can face them head on, together. In the spirit of spring and the optimism that change can bring, we wanted to highlight the ways that mindfulness can be a tool for easing into transitions with a sense of acceptance and calm.

Mindfulness and Change

It’s easy to let expectations cloud our ability to remain present. Concerns about online learning could become self-fulfilling prophecies. Teachers may wonder if students will behave as they did in person. Students may expect online learning to be less fun. What’s important to remember, though, is that regardless of our anxieties or feelings about our circumstances, we still have to live through them. Teachers have to teach the class, even if they can’t stop thinking about what could go awry. Students need to attend class, even if they don’t have the best expectations. The hope is that we don’t just live through these experiences, but rather find a way to grow and thrive in them. Mindfulness can help us work more easily through the anxieties that transitions may cause.

When we practice mindfulness, we can better acknowledge our worries and process them in a constructive way. As we recognize, name, and process what’s keeping us up at night, we can begin to use our transitions between learning models as opportunities for more learning, creativity, and long-term success. Consider the following four of our Fly Five mindfulness principles that are particularly useful in working through transitions.

Reset experiences. Resetting our experiences activates our “response flexibility,” which helps us to “shift gears, shift perspectives, and see options that we wouldn’t see before,” and allows us to respond skillfully and with intention rather than automatically or habitually (Graham, 2017). This doesn’t mean past knowledge can’t be used to inform your decisions, but be mindful not to let past knowledge cloud your ability to respond to what’s happening in this moment.

Have faith. Remind yourself and your students that we have the ability to do difficult things. Think back to challenges you faced and overcame in the past. Are you experiencing similar anxieties? Then remember how you persevered to overcome that previous challenge. Practice self-compassion, and respond to yourself when you’re having a difficult time the same way you would to a friend. Acknowledge that this is difficult right now, and focus on how you can care for yourself rather than judging or criticizing yourself (Neff, n.d.). Model this for students and encourage them to use a calm and objective inner voice when they speak to themselves, the same voice they would use to encourage a friend.

Reality check. Be aware of when you feel hesitant about doing something. Are you thinking, “I don’t want to do another Zoom class”? Are you feeling that going back into the classroom is going to be too hard, so you’d rather not? These feelings are valid, but dwelling on them won’t change your circumstances. How can you embrace your reality? Identify where the resistance manifests in your body and focus on it. Then focus on something positive you’ll gain from the experience—for example, the chance to try a new Morning Meeting activity on Zoom—to help calm the resistance you’re feeling and reframe your perspective.

Suspend judgment. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you didn’t organize as well as you had intended. Maybe something a student said set you off in a way you hadn’t expected. How do you feel in those moments? Don’t judge yourself and the feelings that arise from being tired, disorganized, or irritated. Instead, notice them. Then ask, “What information is here?” Reflect on the feelings later and determine what actions you can take next time to avoid them. When we avoid judgment and get curious about our feelings and responses, we don’t expend our energy dwelling on these feelings. We instead take action to ensure we are set up for more positive reactions next time.

Practicing mindfulness opens our perspective and allows space for us to think differently. Where there is anxiety, there is information; where there is a challenge,
there is an opportunity. As the buds start to bloom and the weather warms up, remember that we are transitioning all the time. Our transitions over the past year were more pronounced and came with many unique challenges, but we have the tools to ease into changes and overcome obstacles with creativity and optimism. Be kind to yourself and others as together we navigate uncharted territory, and we’ll come out stronger for it.