Educators are feeling time poor, overworked and stressed. This is the finding of repeated studies in Australia and overseas. Workload intensification is motivating many educators to make a career change or take early retirement. A Monash University study claimed even early career educators are at risk of burnout. Headlines in various media sources have described the current state of play in the teaching profession as a ‘crisis’. It is, for individuals and for society. It is a crisis that is insidiously masked by what has become a cultural norm.
Feeling like there’s never enough time is a sign of the times. For most of us, workload intensification is our reality and with it comes the stress and distress of overwork. In a timely article for The Conversation, Zoe Krupka points out that many of us, especially women, work too much to really be well and that the only antidote is to stop overworking. In a culture where busy has become the new normal, and busyness, like business, assumed the status of virtue and is worn as a badge of honour, stopping is easier said than done.
Inhabiting this culture of busyness is living a toxic paradox: the demands of work leave no time to live the life we are working for. Becoming aware of the paradoxes that are at work in our lives can help us to see more clearly how life is working for us, or not. Becoming aware of how this paradox was at work in my life as an early childhood teacher set me on the path of practicing mindfulness and bringing mindfulness to life at school.
Along the way I became aware that mindfulness is shot through with paradoxes such as: being less concerned about the result makes it easier to work effectively with the process, cultivating humility increases self-confidence, attending to our emotions helps regulate them. And, most pertinently: making time for mindfulness practice makes time.
For educators working with these paradoxes of mindful awareness, they can restore a sense of wellbeing and purpose that takes the pressure off classroom and collegial relationships and external demands. Educators and others who have attended mindfulness courses have testified that practicing mindfulness helps them at home and at work and the benefits for educators and children are being expounded in various forums.
Practicing mindfulness is not difficult but it does take practice and practice pays off in a variety of ways. A little practice often is better than a lot of practice occasionally. Daily is better than weekly, weekly better than monthly, monthly better than yearly. For me, making a mantra of ‘five minutes a day never goes astray’ helped me to remember to stop whatever I was doing and give myself five minutes to simply sit and pay attention to the sensations of breathing. When we have become addicted to doing, the first step towards breaking the habit of busyness is simply remembering to give yourself permission to stop. This might be for as long as a single breath or for several minutes.
If you’re curious and a bit keen to give practicing mindfulness a go, try simply practicing STOP. It’s a practice I learned when I first did the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and that I routinely use and incorporate into courses and retreats. STOP is an acronym. ‘S’ stands for stop, ‘T’ stands for take a breath, ‘O’ stands for open to awareness (of sensations – physical sensations, sound, touch, taste, smell, sight, as well as feeling tone and thinking), and ‘P’ stands for proceed. That’s it. All you need to do is remember to stop, take a breath and notice (with an attitude of friendly non-judgmental curiosity) what’s happening in and around you right now, then proceed with whatever you were doing. You can do this wherever you are, whenever you like several times a day if you want. You can do it alone or you can do it with the children in your class.
Start making time for mindfulness and mindfulness will start making time for you. To start, simply stop.