Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mindfulness and Teachers

Here's some food for thought for the readers - What is the biggest challenge for teachers today? Had the same question been asked about a decade and a half ago, the answers would have been simple and easy i.e more resources, tools for teaching, information on best practices in teaching and better informed learners. Come 21st century and all the above mentioned challenges have vanished. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has not only addressed the old issues that used to plague education and in particular teaching but also opened new vistas for innovation and creativity. All this has redefined the teaching-learning process and most importantly, the role of the teacher. Today, the biggest challenge for teachers is not any of the ones mentioned above but "FOCUS" i.e. an ability to put the entire attention on the task at hand. In this environment of information overload and availability of plenty, multi-tasking has become the mantra for teachers but this mantra has only resulted in becoming more susceptible to distraction and in developing shorter “attention span.”

With a plethora of tasks to accomplish ranging from preparing lesson, delivering lessons (teaching), managing classrooms and learners, performing administrative duties and collaborating with peers, teachers are expected to excel in all. With expectations set so high for them, teachers resort to operate with an unconscious “divided-attention” approach to manage this multi-tasking. The end result of this approach is
  • much action but little accomplishment
  • more quantity (in terms of multiple unfinished tasks) and less quality
  • less control over self and the process of teaching-learning
Given that a teacher impacts, influences and prepares an entire generation of learners, the above outcomes do not help positively grow the nation and society and therefore a need to equip teachers with tool(s) that help them combat the challenges posed to effective teaching and develops in them a focused approach towards teaching. "Mindfulness" is that simple tool which prepares the teachers to remain balanced and focused. Simply defined, mindfulness is all about "being fully present in the moment." Let’s explore Mindfulness a bit more in context of teachers and teaching

Why is Mindfulness important?
  • Getting specific about the need for mindfulness, the following are some of the key reasons that highlights the importance of Mindfulness
  • Develop focus and centeredness in teachers which is so important in ensuring that there is no digression from the main process of teaching-learning.
  • Enable teachers to get into the “flow” or “momentum” which is crucial for an effective and impactful teaching
  • Helps create balance by developing skills like patience, calmness and acceptance  
  • Makes teachers more creative and innovative by building up immersive approach
  • Results in quality teaching as the teachers spend desirable time on a topic/ lesson 
How can teachers practice Mindfulness?

The key to success is “Start Small” and then through practice get better at it (Mindfulness). Some simple ways are

  • Practice connecting with your breathing. Be aware of your breathing, practice deep breathing and try to feel it happening inside your body. 
  • Practice being non-judgemental with students whether dealing with learning based or behavior based issue. Accepting the situation as it is and not forming opinions about anything or anyone will be helpful
  • Align your teaching with your purpose and goal in life. This will make you more passionate about your teaching and put you in flow and momentum while delivering lessons or interacting with learners
  • Focus on delivering a life-long learning to the learners by building activities and approaches that encourage critical thinking and related skills in the learners
  • Be more emotionally aware to understand self. This will help identify your tipping point and trigger point
  • Prioritise things to put energy in the most important things first
The subject/ topic of Mindfulness is very vast and broad. I have just mentioned few very basic ideas for educators to get started with Mindfulness in their teaching.

Closing this post with an interesting article for teachers

Mindfulness in Education

What comprises an Education ecosystem? Simply put, it is 2 key things – lot of stakeholders and the delivery process. The list of stakeholders is long and keeps getting longer every session but if I have to identify few stakeholders that directly impact the education process then it would be the
Principal, the Teachers and the Learners. The policy makers are a notable exception to my
selection of key stakeholders but I have deliberately left them out to set the right context for the topic.

What is defining our education system in this age?  It is stress, anxiety, behavioral issues, aggression, depression, disrespect, high expectations, pressure to perform, barrage of information, redefining of roles for teacher and learners, decreased attention span, problem of plenty, … The list is long and can go on and on. 

Much of what I mentioned in the above paragraph is an outcome of our inability to pay attention to what lies in front of us. As educators and learners, we are constantly seeking more and more without realizing the limitations of human mind and body. The limitations in terms of our preparedness to deal with multi-tasking and with “more” in our lives. Talking education – in our bid to provide more and more (for reasons to do with quality or with fad), we are somehow losing on delivering the basic and the fundamental, both of which exist in the moment; in the present. The quantity seems to have overtaken quality in our approach and attitude. The result of all this is a haphazard and a half-hearted execution of the most crucial building block of our society i.e Education.    
courtesy: 7mindsets.com 
This is where Mindfulness comes to the rescue by teaching us to focus, pay attention, build self-control and live in the present moment. Mindfulness is a simple and easy technique (of course we need to practice it a bit J !) to get our attention and focus back to where it should be i.e. present moment, where we spend all our time. Education is all about humans and their attitude, actions, behavior and expectations so most of the issues mentioned earlier could be resolved by perceiving them and treating them at a human level. By enabling the concerned stakeholders to focus on the present (through mindfulness), we can make them more aware about the existing moment. Once we start operating in the present moment, most of the issues get resolved. Mindfulness could help resolve many of the fundamental challenges as mentioned below:

    • Issues pertaining to quality of lessons or effectiveness of teaching-learning process
    • Developing an efficient and productive teaching workforce
    • Building an organised workplace
    • Managing teachers, their expectations and their aspirations
    • Maintaining cooperative and collaborative work environment
    • Sustaining passion for teaching and deriving the best from the teachers
    • Creating proactive and quality mindset among the staff
    • Providing trusting leadership
    • Building classrooms conducive for learning
    • Managing all types learners, their behavior and their expectations
    • Delivering quality in institutional leadership and in teaching-learning practices
    • Maintaining the much needed professional – personal balance in all stakeholders
    • Delivering life-long learning to the learners and creating self-learning individuals 
The above checklist could is easily achievable by building a culture on Mindfulness which will build in the following skills within each stakeholder
  • Non-judgmental about events and people
  • Focused, Concentration, Fully present and paying undivided attention to the task at hand
  • Patience and Calmness to deal with any exigencies
  • Acceptance of thoughts and emotions within self and others
  • Ability to choose (prioritize), execute and close
  • Self-control
  • Giving the best to every moment and ensuring quality
  • Creative and innovative
A good resource on integrating mindfulness in education is available at the following link https://www.edutopia.org/article/mindfulness-resources 

I will be writing separate posts on how mindfulness impacts individual stakeholders like teachers and learners !    

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Teaching and the Importance of Questioning

QUESTIONING is as perennial as Teaching but not too much importance is accorded to Questioning when it comes to determining factors for effective learning. Today, Instruction precedes Questioning as a priority factor of success. Based on the feedback i received from participating teachers during my workshop on "Effective Questioning Skills" where we discussed approaches like Question Matrix, 5W & H and few others it  came to fore that the real premise for ineffectiveness of Questioning was not as much to do with the tools and techniques but the reason for using Questioning. The role of a good teacher is not to prepare learner for securing good marks in exams but to prepare him for life by instilling in him/ her the art of asking questions and asking the right ones. Somewhere we, as teachers, are unable to inculcate the skill of Questioning in the learner as we our self have fuzzy thoughts about the skill, our own conviction and trust in "Questioning" is lacking.

Given that the art of Questioning is as old as Teaching and all of us
are well versed with Socratic approach to Questioning, his interrogative ways of extracting knowledge still we are unable to implement Questioning effectively in our teaching. As teachers, we need to realise that Questioning has a much larger role to play in our teaching and education than just be a parameter for gauging pupil's success in exam. The need of the hour is to understand the principles of questioning and then integrate it in the teaching process.The fundamentals of Questioning are very well presented in the book titled "The Art of Questioning" by Joshua Girling Fitch. This all time classic book delves deep into the problem of why questioning is ineffective and then suggests ways to address those highlighted gaps. I am sharing here some of the key tenets of Questioning (derived from the mentioned book) that would help approach the subject in the right way. 
  • Questioning to be treated more as a process than an outcome, the focus being on ensuring that Questioning builds up the requisite knowledge in the learner.
  • Questioning is as much about understanding how much a person knows as about how less he/ she knows. This will make the learner inquisitive and take ownership for his/ her learning
  • Questioning serves 2 key purpose :
    • Questioning of Instruction while actually delivering a lesson
    • Questioning of Examination while testing the knowledge of the learner post delivery of lecture
  • Question posed to the learner should ensure an effort on part of the learner while answering. This effort could be in the form of memory, imagination, judgement, perception, and like. While answering the learner should feel challenged enough and should mentally exert himself/ herself and put thinking in action.
  • Framing questions which are vague, wide and indefinite to be avoided 
  • The language of the Question be as simple as possible and in as few words as possible. Further the question be adapted to the age and capacity of the learners.
  • Questions should say only that much which would elicit the learner to say as much as possible.
  • Facts should not be put in the question. Rather an attempt should be made to educe every fact from the learners
  • Questioning should not encourage guesswork as this will adversely affect the "thinking" process in learners and breed shallowness and deception in learners.
  • Questioning is more of an implicit trait rather than an explicit one. It's sole purpose is to trigger a mental activity in the learner to make him/ her aware about the level of ignorance and the effort required. 
The book describes many other principles also but even if the the above mentioned principles are remembered and put in practice by teachers, it will definitely ensure a well integrated approach towards Teaching and Questioning. A well balanced approach to Questioning would help the learner become not only a knowledge seeker but a self-reliant life-long learner as well.

All said and done, the implementation is as good as the implementor. Teacher being the key carrier and communicator of Questioning process, the passion to get the best out of every pupil will go a long way in ensuring success of Questioning as yet another effective Teaching approach.