Book Review: Awakened by Angela Watson

     Schools tend to be spaces of conflict that arise between adults, between children, and between adults and children.  Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, everyday situations can quickly escalate if we don’t know how to respond to them in a productive manner.  Problems about who has power and what they want to over-power, are some of the most contentious conflicts that come up in schools.  At these times, some people move to the forefront as the popular ones in the pecking order, be they adults or students, and usually for the wrong reasons.  (We might even consider parents in this scenario, as well.)  However, teachers who are aware of the damaging potential of these situations, and who are true professionals, know that these issues get in the way of true teaching and learning.  Yet, happen they do, with or without our consent.  And, more often than not, we participate in these events, consciously or unconsciously.  In Awakened, Angela Watson tries to provide teachers with strategies and techniques for how to handle these situations with aplomb and “smarts”.  How can we take care of ourselves, be the professionals we know we are, and do the best job possible as teachers and learners in our school site?

  By becoming conscious of what we are doing and by being aware of our negative thoughts and feelings about a situation, we can control our reactions to, and the extent of our participation in, the conflicts that will emerge in schools whether or not we agree with the issue at hand.  In other words, we can transform negative thoughts to positive ones by changing our minds, literally and figuratively.  Letting go of negativity and employing mindful breathing techniques, for example, have a calming effect on our minds, allowing us to make better choices for ourselves and others.
  Often, the underlying issue has to do with fairness.  Is it fair that the same students always get picked to go to the office?  Is it fair that the teacher always selects the same table to get ready for work?  Is it fair that a teacher who is clearly (and publicly) insubordinate gets a “promotion”?  Is it fair that some people don’t get recognized for the work they do?
  And, it’s about recognition.  Why do certain people get publicly recognized (and sometimes rewarded) for doing their job?  Why do certain children always get a smile and a nod from their teachers while others rarely or never do?  What is this new mandate from the school board?  It doesn’t make sense.  Don’t I have enough work to do already?
  All of these situations create stress and conflict.  They wear teachers down.  And, in some ways, it happens with our permission. Our responses to what happens in schools, including planned and unplanned events, can be logical or, conversely, position us in a reactive mode.  Over time, these re-actions are what trigger stress and, eventually, burnout.  How can we change this mindset?
  If I’ve read Angela Watson’s book correctly, including some of the other spiritual reading I’ve been doing, then, as a first step, an awareness that this is happening is of utmost importance.  Then, we need to make a conscious effort to acknowledge that the other person or event is not in charge of our minds and how we react to challenging situations.  In fact, we are in charge of our world, to paraphrase a book with a similar title.  And, once we’ve settled on this simple truth, then we need to consciously work on recognizing that our reactions, thoughts, and feelings are of our own doing and can be our un-doing, as well.  This understanding facilitates acting appropriately to ensure that how we view and act in the world is consistent with a sense of compassion (understanding) and self-awareness:  by understanding our minds and taking care of ourselves we can extend this understanding and care to others.  This may sound simple in theory, but it is difficult to put into practice.  However, once we’re aware (or awakened), there is no turning back; while we may occasionally fall short of managing our reactions to thorny situations, we can try again the next time with the awareness that this is a healthier response for everyone involved.  A spiritual leader I know recently said, “what we’re called to do every day is create new beginnings,” or in the popular parlance of the day, “this is the first day of the rest of your life.”
     I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Awakened and try out some of the ideas put forth by Angela.  See for yourself how you can manage your reactions and, thereby, your life and health, today and beyond.

Just another kid on the playground…

        A couple of days ago, I listened to a spiritual leader talk about how we “terrorize” our minds by building up a case against people we don’t like or don’t see eye to eye with.  She said, “It’s not them but it’s our thoughts about them that terrorize us.”  It could be your next door neighbour, your local politician, a family member, or a colleague.  Plainly put, it’s the idea of the “other”, ie, anyone whom we consider to be our adversary, that she was referring to.  You may want to think of someone in your life that you think of as your adversary as you read the rest of this post, and see if you can change your relationship with that person by changing your mind. 
I know many of us work with people that, for one reason or another, we don’t get along with.  We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to justify this dislike or resentment and end up creating “terror” in our minds about that person.  Wouldn’t it be better if we recognized that the “other”, whomever she or he may be, is just “another kid on the playground”?  A kid who wants the same things I want:  to be respected, included, recognized, valued, and loved?  When the spiritual leader spoke these words I had a big aha moment.  I recognized myself as the “terrorist” of my own mind.  Unfortunately, I’ve been living this way for quite some time.  Although I’ve tried to change my thinking before, I realize now that I’ve gone about it the wrong way.  When I put the other person (I am thinking of someone specific here) in the perspective of just “another kid on the playground” who, like me, is looking for approval, my feelings towards that person soften; I realize I can change my mind, literally and figuratively, and let go of resentments and bad feelings.  What’s amazing about this is that once you start thinking in this way you feel liberated from your negative thoughts, which carry a lot of dead weight and energy.  They burden our minds and occupy our hearts and don’t do anybody, including ourselves, a bit of good.
       By the way, this doesn’t mean that you now have to “love” this person.  Rather, it is a recognition of the potential for good inherent in all people.  The fact that some people can achieve “good” and others can’t doesn’t mean the latter aren’t capable of it.  It simply means that they don’t know how to get what they want and need.  If it helps place this in a concrete perspective, think Maslow and the hierarchy of needs.  See’s_hierarchy_of_needs for more information.
       I have written this post in a very abstract way.  That is, I haven’t given any specific examples but I don’t feel I have to because I know we can all give a name to the “kid on the playground”.  Try it.  Think of someone you aren’t getting along with and try this simple exercise of thinking about him/her as just “another kid on the playground” who’s looking for the same things you are.  It’s amazing but it works!  If you try it out, please leave a comment about how it went.

If I were in charge…

Schools are funny places.

They are regulated by bells,
and separated by subject areas.  
Cubicles of varying sizes house 24 children and at least one adult, 
sometimes more of each.  
If you’re lucky there is a narrow window in each cubicle to let in some sunlight; 
we don’t want children to be distracted by the outdoors, now do we?  
If you’re a child, you can’t eat, drink, or go to the washroom without asking for permission.
If you are a teacher you may as well forget it.
And, yet we stay with it.
Keep at it.
Try again.
Take a deep breath and hope for the best.
Love the children.
Take extra classes.
Attend workshops, 
especially if they’re free;
we would have to pay out of our own pocket if they weren’t.
What other profession does that?
And, what other profession prepares everyone else to excel at theirs?
And, we do.
Excel I mean.
It’s time to shout it in the world.
I love being a teacher.
I don’t love the restrictions.
And, if I were in charge of the school…
you know what I would do.