Presenting CARE for Teachers to the Dalai Lama

By Patricia Jennings

Last week, I had the rare opportunity to participate in the Mind & Life Institute’s dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama entitled “Reimagining Human Flourishing,” which focused on bringing social and emotional learning and secular ethics to schools worldwide. As part of this event, I had the great privilege to present the results of the CARE for Teachers research to His Holiness.

This was particularly special because I was bringing good news about the flowering of a seed idea he planted 18 years ago. In 2000, Mind & Life held a dialogue entitled “Destructive Emotions.” During this meeting, emotion researcher Paul Ekman and contemplative teacher Alan Wallace collaborated on a program that combined emotion skills instruction and mindful awareness practices to address the problem of emotional reactivity. The program, called “Cultivating Emotional Balance (CEB),” was tested in a randomized controlled trial conducted at the University of California San Francisco under the direction of Margaret Kemeny. Teachers were chosen as participants because of their occupational stress and the effect their emotions has on their students. Excited about such a program and a study, I joined the research team and eventually became the project director.

CEB showed very positive impacts on the teachers’ well-being and emotional regulation. I became very familiar with the CEB program and I wanted to know whether or not it would improve teacher performance in the classroom. I was granted a Mind & Life Varela Award and funding from the Fetzer Institute to examine whether or not CEB would impact observable interactions in the classroom. After several years of research, I discovered that it did not. Around this time, I joined the Garrison Institute as Senior Director of Contemplative Teaching and Learning. In this role, I lead the team that developed CARE for Teachers. I collaborated with Christa Turksma from Penn State and Richard Brown from Naropa University to adapt CEB to more specifically target the stressors teachers experience in the classroom in order to positively impact the classroom interactions and student outcomes.

Over the past decade, we’ve been conducting research on CARE for Teachers to see if it worked. Our recent findings have shown that it does. CARE for Teachers has significant positive impacts on teachers’ adaptive emotion regulation, psychological distress, time urgency, and mindfulness. It also has significant positive impacts on observed classroom interactions, specifically emotional supportiveness, teacher sensitivity, positive emotional climate, and productivity. Finally, CARE for Teachers had significant positive impact on student engagement. This is what I had come to Dharamshala to tell His Holiness. His idea to help reduce destructive emotions as a means to improve educational environments and student outcomes worked! What a thrill to be able to tell him this after all these years. After I finished my presentation, he was asked if he had any questions or comments. He said, “Nothing other than to say thank you. It’s wonderful!”

Patricia (Tish) Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. She led the team that developed CARE for Teachers and is a Senior Fellow at the Garrison Institute. 

Join us July 30 – August 3, 2018 for the twelfth annual CARE for Teachers retreat at the Garrison Institute. There is an early registration discount of $150 if you register by June 1, 2018!

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