“How’s it going?” I asked Susan, a second-grade teacher participating in the federally funded research project being conducted by the University of Virginia. Susan had completed the first session of the CARE for Teachers mindfulness-based teacher professional development program, and I had called her for a phone coaching session to see how she was doing as she practiced bringing a more mindful approach to her teaching.
“Wow!” she said, “I was amazed this week. Instead of raising my voice, I tried taking a deep breath and calming myself down. I can’t believe how well this worked. The kids actually began to calm down too.” For the past eight years since we developed CARE, we’ve heard similar stories of teachers successfully applying skills they learned in CARE to their interactions with their students.
With budget cuts and the increasing demands of high-stake testing, teachers’ stress is at an all time high. When you add growing numbers of students with emotion and behavior problems, you can see why teachers are having a rough time. A mindfulness-based approach may be exactly what we need to help us manage the emotional stress and to be better teachers. Research has shown that increased levels of mindfulness are associated with improvements in psychological functioning across many domains. Mindfulness enhances self-regulatory processes that buffer against psychological distress and promote general well being and compassion for self and others. Teaching is an extremely emotionally demanding profession, and mindfulness-based interventions can promote resilience and reduce the emotional exhaustion that precedes burnout. This may promote enjoyment of teaching that may help us maintain our commitment to the profession and our care and compassion for our students.
The CARE NYC federally funded study involving 224 teachers work in 38 schools in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan is showing that CARE not only improves teachers’ well being, but also improves teaching. Teachers reported that CARE improved their awareness and acceptance of emotional states while teaching. This helped reduce work stress and helped them respond, rather than react to challenging student behavior improving classroom climate. Many reported improvements in the relationships with their students, parents, and co-workers.
Several past participants from the CARE for Teachers Retreat have called it “summer camp for teachers” because of how much fun it was. Teachers learn and practice a variety of mindfulness-based and compassion practices and learn how to apply them to their teaching through a variety of activities including reflection, discussion and role plays. Teachers learn important information about their emotions and the role they play in teaching and learning. There is plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful grounds of the Garrison Institute and to socialize with others.
Patricia (Tish) Jennings led the team that developed the CARE program and is leading the CARE NYC study. She is an associate professor Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia where she teaches a mindfulness-based approach to classroom management in the elementary education program. She has over 22 years of experience as a classroom teacher and is the author of Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, part of the Norton Series on the Social Neuroscience of Education.