Steering the Cargo Ship: Thoughts on Schoolwide Implementation Amidst a Pandemic
This year, we are seeing the education system at large openly embracing the need for educator wellbeing. Yet it feels like a hard year to be focused on implementing mindfulness programs at the schoolwide level––as educators are feeling and managing the impacts of the pandemic and a tumultuous year.
In the Mindful Schools Schoolwide Implementation Program, we’ve been actively discussing this year’s challenges and the monumental load that educators and school leaders are carrying. We recently discussed the following thoughts in the hopes that they provide a helpful way to ground and reorient to the work we’re doing.
1. There’s always a lot going on.
Schools are inherently hectic places. We on the faculty have never worked at or with a school that doesn’t feel like it has more going on that it is resourced to keep up with. It is absolutely true that this school year is a year like no other and that every school feels like it’s in triage mode. But we suspect that even if there were no pandemic, our schools would not simply be calm, collected, and all stars would align and conditions would conspire to make every door open to schoolwide mindfulness right away.
Thinking that the pandemic is preventing steps toward schoolwide mindfulness is probably a red herring. More likely, the pandemic is preventing the steps we thought we would/could take. This doesn’t mean there are no steps to take, but it may require us to take a step back and investigate which doors are open.
We have never experienced a year in which the education system at large has so openly embraced the need for educator wellbeing.
2. There is always an open door.
We have never experienced a year in which the education system at large has so openly embraced the need for educator wellbeing. Our ability to meet the overwhelm of the many individuals in the system is a gesture that will resource the system itself. We need not be doing self-care PD sessions for the whole district, but offering short moments of self-care for even small groups of individuals in your school community is an extraordinarily worthwhile offering—and one that plants seeds.
Consider the four domains of the Mindful Schools Schoolwide Implementation Rubric:
1. How do people understand and practice mindfulness?
2. How does the mindfulness offering respect the culture/context of the school and people?
3. What skills do those who lead mindfulness practice demonstrate?
4. How is mindfulness integrated within the systems & structures of the school?
Remember that the foundation of any schoolwide mindfulness program—and question #1 in the rubric—is the extent to which it is grounded in practice. Following closely behind that—question #2—is the extent to which the mindfulness offering is context-specific. The 2020-2021 school year is a very specific context! So let yourself trust that if you are genuinely providing mindfulness experiences that meet this moment, then you are helping to resource the system and to grow it’s long-term capacity for mindfulness at the institutional level.
Any seed planted in any of the above areas is worthwhile, especially if it is one that is accessible right now. We encourage you to go through the doors that are open (even if they feel small to you) rather than to spend time trying to unlock those that are decidedly shut right now.
3. You don’t have to move mountains to be growing a culture of mindfulness.
You might say that schools are more like cargo ships than speed boats, and we shouldn’t expect cargo ships to have the agility of speed boats! Turning a cargo ship requires lots more advance planning and incremental adjustments.
School cultures do not shift overnight; they take a great deal of time, and are the accumulated result of many smaller shifts made over time. This is not unlike our mindfulness practice, where we know that many short moments of awareness repeated over time can amount to very large shifts in our own wellbeing.
Let’s think of the systems in which we work in the same way: small shifts, accumulated over time. These are enough. And so are you. Which leads us to…
4. You are enough!
Time and time again, when the growth of a mindfulness program doesn’t go as quickly or smoothly as was expected or hoped for. We hear the voice of self-doubt or self-criticism arise from those leading the program—as if the organic growth of a whole system of people could rest on the shoulders of one person.
If this pattern of thoughts and emotions sounds familiar to you (“who am I to be doing this work anyway?” / “I’m not good (enough) at/for this” / “I need to know more or have more experience before I can/should do this”), then we are here to remind you that you are absolutely enough. Your showing up with your authentic presence and your mindfulness practice and humbly but persistently continuing to shine your light in your community is absolutely worthwhile.
Reflections from the Schoolwide Implementation Program:
“Thanks for this wonderful piece. I had been feeling somewhat uptight about what mindfulness offerings I was able to bring to the schools I work with this fall. I decided to just focus on a few things mindfulness-related that I’m doing that I really love and people are telling me are beneficial. (Like a 15-minute virtual guided practice two colleagues and I are leading every Wednesday afternoon for any staff in the district.) Now, suddenly, when I relaxed about it, I have several other open doors and invitations to offer mindfulness in different places. When I have tried to be in control and had a definite end point in sight, it wasn’t working for me. Now, there are opportunities that I hadn’t really considered.”