5 Ways Meditating Makes me a Stronger Counselor

There are so many benefits of having a daily meditation practice:

Decreasing stress, anxiety, and loneliness.  

Increase in happiness, healthier friendships and relationships, better decision making and problem solving.  

An improved immune system, better sleep, and higher energy levels.  

The benefits of daily meditation are powerful and I do believe as a human, I am better for meditating.

Recently I began to reflect on all the ways that having a daily meditation practice benefits not only my personal self but also my professional self and my counseling practice.  Here are some of the awesome things I have noticed:

  1. I am a better listener.  As a counselor, I have always prided myself on being a strong listener.  However, since meditating I feel that this sense is even more heightened and tuned in.  In classroom lessons, teacher consultations, and 1:1 sessions I still notice what is being said but I also feel I have become more skilled in listening to more than just words.  I notice tones, the pace of speaking, and the breaths of my students.  This puts together a better picture of the story that is being shared and connects me with what might be omitted, as well.  As a counselor listening is key.  Meditation took my listening from an 8 to a 10.
  2. I am more generous with my time.  As I have explained before, as a counselor – time is not my own. However, there are still the daily pieces of work that need to get scheduled and done.  Sometimes it is hard to fit those pieces into a counseling schedule and so I resist face-to-face interactions when they come my way for the need of getting tasks completed.  Now through meditation I realize that nothing more matters than this moment we are in now.  Therefore, if someone needs to connect, chat, question for a few minutes I am happy to stop and let that process happen — even if I was “working on something.”  I realize that giving two minutes to someone does not negatively impact my schedule or get me off track.  Rather it creates a humanistic connection and helps build my approachability as a counselor.  Most importantly, it keeps me centered and present and in the now.
  3. I am more patient with students, staff, and parents.  Let’s be honest.  Even if I’m a counselor, I am still human.  My patience can wear thin and I can feel with an interaction before it even starts.  Now by meditating I realize that my patience > frustration. This isn’t just acting patient – it is true patience in action.  This means that the frustration that used to be present in certain conversations or situations – which made me want to “fix” the situation to get out of it – just doesn’t show up as much.  I find that even in the most challenging of situations I have a higher tolerance for things and I’m not looking for an escape like I did in the past. I am patient and willing to be open to whatever situation is coming my way.
  4. I forgive myself more.  In my professional life I can be pretty hard on myself.  I want to do things and do them well.  Most importantly, I never want to disappoint people.  Since meditating, I realize that I regularly and willingly forgive others but I don’t do the same for myself.  So, through meditation I have started to practice forgiveness toward myself especially when it comes to counseling.  If I missed something at work or did not support a situation in a way I wished I had, I forgive myself.  If I have an interaction that doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, I forgive myself.  If I forgot to do something, I apologize and then forgive myself.  It has been a beautiful and freeing thing to give myself the same grace that I daily give to others.
  5. I notice more.  At work I tend to work from the minute I walk in till the minute I leave.  I put my head down and get the tasks done.  This work-ethic and “busyness” causes me to miss out on amazing things going on around me.  Through meditation, I find I am more in tune with all my senses and this allows me to appreciate more throughout the day.  I now pick my head up and slow the pace down.  Due to this,  little things I would be too busy to notice during work no longer get left behind.  As I notice more I feel more grateful for the world in which I live and the environment in which I work.  So noticing leads to more gratitude.  We all need more gratitude.

I am just a true beginner when it comes to meditation and practicing mindfulness. However, I do believe the benefits are more than I ever could have hoped for.  If you are interested in developing a mindfulness practice of your own, here are some great resources to help you develop your understanding and practice.

Resources for Personal Practice:

Headspace

This is your brain on meditation

Types of Meditation

Guide to Start Meditating

Resources for Schools:

Calm

Meditation in Schools

Mindful Teachers

Do you meditate as an educator?  How has your meditation improved or impacted your education practice?  Do you think meditation matters as an educator?

 

On Finding Balance and Avoiding Burnout

I recently received a message from a fellow school counselor who was part of my Master of Education School Counseling cohort.  She sent a message to our entire graduating cohort to check and see how we were all feeling and faring as school counselors.

At only 7 years in, I expected people to be talking about finally feeling established, making change (albeit slow), or realizing how much this career offered them personally and professionally.  What I read was the complete opposite — people are exhausted, people are frustrated, people are losing hope.  Some had already stopped with school counseling and moved into private counseling practice.  Some had decided to move back into the teaching classroom or go for an administrative certificate hoping it would be “easier.”  Some talked about declining funding, positions being on the chopping block, or being over dealing with combative parents.  From my cohort’s response it did not seem that any one individual was experiencing true joy in their counseling role.

I shut down the email chain and felt so deflated.  Why? I struggled to relate to my friends comments, complaints, or concerns.  Their words were not mirroring my experiences.

I love being a school counselor.

I enjoy going to work every day.

I find joy in my position, my role, and my interactions.

More importantly, I was deeply saddened by the fact that a group of powerful, caring, compassionate school counselors could be feeling so bad and so tired that they were considering giving up the trade.  

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what is different for me? What I kept coming back to was a  few established beliefs, norms, or practices that have helped me stay focused, achieve work-life balance, and maintain the joy of counseling.

In the hopes of maybe sparking a new practice for fellow school counselors who might be tired and questioning their choice to counsel — here are my tips and advice to staying bright and energized and not burning out.

  1. I leave work at work.  At the end of the day when I pack up and go home, my work is done for the night.  I get to school early and am happy to stay late(ish) to finish what I need to do.  I work hard all day to not waste time. Once I leave campus, though, I am done.  No work emails.  No work phone calls.  No real planning.  My phone is not hooked up to my work email so that I am not tempted to check and reply.  Granted, there are the occasional extenuating circumstances but these are few and far between.  Once I leave the physical space I try to …
  2. … Make time for me.  This ties into number 1.  Once I am done with work, I am focused on “me” time.  I workout.  I reconnect with my husband.  I read for pleasure. I meditate.  I connect with family.  I cook and consume healthy meals.  I try to not let work thoughts seep into this time which allows me to honor who I am with and what I am doing.  I don’t feel selfish.  I feel balanced and refreshed. More importantly, I feel renewed to counsel the next day.
  3. I recognize my limits.  I am one individual.  I have a huge caseload.  I realize that I am not a magician and that I am unable to make things better for every human.  I do what I can and celebrate the small victories.  I am honest with people about my time and my limits.  With this I don’t feel like I am letting people down or failing them.  I let go of false expectations of being a super-woman and just do what I can in a meaningful way.
  4. I surround myself by marigolds.  While it is important to vent, it is also important to stay positive.  The negative weighs on me and makes me feel gross. So, I choose to not put myself in that environment.  Rather, I celebrate with those who are like minded and find the joy.
  5. I do not search for extra.  I think it is a personality trait of many counselors to want to know everything going on in a school.  NOT ME.  I have always said as a counselor I hear a lot of things every day.  If I don’t have to hear/know more that is great with me.  In other words — I do not need to know the “gossip.”  If someone chooses to not share with me I am okay with that.  I don’t feel like I am missing out.  If a student goes to another adult and is supported and doing well, beautiful.  I don’t need to insert myself in just to feel like I have the inside scoop. I carry enough and am not hurt by not knowing something that really I do not need to know in the first place.
  6. I take joy in my daily interactions.  I love working with students.  There is something good in everyday.  I recognize it.  I notice it.  I celebrate it.  When you experience joy it really is hard to feel weighed down or burnt out.
  7. I try to not personalize things. Like a duck, I let things roll off my back.  When students, parents, or teachers are hurtful I acknowledge they are not attacking me. There is something that is hurting them and I just happen to be on the receiving end of that misdirected anger/sadness/frustration.  It’s not me.  It is bigger than me.  I can support but I will not absorb.
  8. I refuse to be stagnant. I am always developing and trying new things. I think burnout occurs when we are stagnant.  So I take risks, develop new learning opportunities for students and staff, grow as a professional, learn from those around me, create, innovate, and then reflect.  It keeps me on my toes and keeps me focused on how things could be (and how I can get them there).
  9. I seek feedback.  I ask parents, students, and staff to help me grow as a professional. I want to hear what I could do different to support students and develop authentic learning opportunities for students.  By asking and putting myself out there, I have found that people are willing to offer areas for growth and development.  In this way I am constantly aware of how I am doing and how to improve.  I feel noticed and like what I do really matters.  I also get the occasional recognition of something I have done well which is always a confidence booster in itself.
  10. I live by the South African Proverb: “How do you eat an elephant?  Bite by bite.”  I recognize I am a small cog in a large machine.  I do what I can, when I can, with meaning and intention behind it.  Bite by bite I do believe that I — as a school counselor — makes a difference.

So, here is to my friends and fellow counselors refocusing and refreshing and reigniting their joy.  Here is to an amazing group of thinkers, educators, and believers who I know do amazing work for students.  Here is to not giving up hope and not hanging up the towel. Here is to school counselors — around the world — with careers that are long, satisfying, healthy, and meaningful.  Be well.

For the days you feel like quitting

For the days you want to throw in the towel.  

For the days where you can’t seem to find your counseling/teaching rhythm and nothing seems to be going right.  

For the days where the lessons seem off, your behavior management is not quite hitting the mark, and you begin to doubt yourself as a counselor (teacher, coach,  coordinator, administrator …):

  1. Remember, this is about YOU not “these kids.”  Who is the only person you are in control of?  That’s right … YOU.  Therefore, instead of pointing the finger and blaming a group of 8 (11,13,16) year olds, look inwards.  The students might have been a factor but they are not the whole equation.  Instead, look at your actions and choices and change the parts of your day that you have the power to change.  Reflect. Don’t blame.
  2. Step back and ask yourself, “Is this the norm?”  Chances are the answer will be “no.”  Chances are that you are a strong educator and 99% of the time you have great days where you feel productive, proud, and like you connected with students and helped them make sense of their learning.  Chances are, days like this are the exception. Today might have been that 1% kind of day.  Acknowledge that it sucked but remind yourself that this is not your normal.
  3. Reflect on the times you feel like you are an educational-rockstar.  What did this look like?  What was happening?  What conversations were you having? What were you doing to support learning?  How were you growing as a professional? How were you pushing yourself and your students at the same time?  Ask yourself my magic counseling question, “What was different.”  Most likely when you reflect on the great times you will recognize what made today a little tougher, more challenging, or frustrating — like mentioned above — are not typical.
  4. Practice self-forgiveness.  Let’s be honest — maybe it was you.  Maybe your lesson was not engaging.  Maybe students were bored.  Maybe you were off your game. Beating yourself up over whatever you might have done to contribute to your off day can never change the day you had.  Instead, you can forgive yourself for whatever it is you felt you might have done “wrong” this day and then move forward.  Give yourself grace — like you would for students who might have been off their game.img_3097
  5. Find your marigold and share your honest feelings.   Tell them why your day sucked and how you are feeling at this point in time.  Share your thoughts of feeling unworthy as an educator.  Vent in a safe space without judgement.  Then, let it go.  Start focusing on what you can do to make the next day better instead of ruminating on how bad you may feel now.
  6. Push your “reset” button.  You give one to students, don’t you?  Imagine a student is “off” for the class, period, or day and you are feeling frustrated with their choices. The next day when they walk into class you give them a fresh start. They are not their behaviors or choices from the day before, right!?!  So, do the same for you. Walk in knowing that you a have a fresh start for the day ahead. Maybe you need to change some lessons, strategies, techniques, or conversations to fully reset but once again, wouldn’t you do the same for students to help them reach academic or behavioral success?
  7. Plan a lesson that you can guarantee will feel successful.  For at least one lesson, facilitate a lesson where you will teach from your heart and reaffirm your belief that you belong as an educator.  When a student is on a new academic or behavior success plan, educators set that student up to experience success right away so that they see how it feels to be successful and so that their self-efficacy increases.  By teaching a lesson you know will be engaging and meaningful for both you and students, you are like that student on the plan.  You will experience immediate success, feel confident and hopefully believe that you are a strong educator.
  8. If needed, ask for help and support.  As educators, we teach (and expect) students to advocate for themselves.  If a student needs additional support we encourage them to ask an adult they trust.  We teach this skill because we recognize that every learner (and every human) needs different things to feel successful.  This same sentiment is true for educators, as well.  You might need some support or help in figuring out what areas you need to tweak, develop, or grow in.  You might be feeling like you are having more off days than good.  Ask for help.  Go to someone you trust and who you could be vulnerable with.  Ask for assistance, mentoring, coaching, or support just like you would want a student to do.

Remember, we all have days when we question our value, skill-set, and expertise. Those days when it feels like all signs are pointing to “career change” are sometimes the best points of reflection and opportunities for self-awareness. Instead of quitting think about how you can turn the next day around. Treat yourself with kindness and be well.

My “Zing” of Education

On my morning commute, my husband and I recently listened to a podcast from 21stCL Radio.  It featured Glenn Chickering — one of the founders and Upper School Principal at the Green School in Bali.  In the podcast Glenn begins talking about art and passion and how this relates to learning and education.  He shares that at Green School they ask students, “What is it that you focus on and are so into that the rest doesn’t matter” (Chickering, 2016).

Upon hearing this, I literally began to cry.

Tears.  Actual tears.  

Not sad tears, mind you.  Inspired tears.  Tears that reminded me to reflect.  Tears that reminded me that in the messiness of transitioning — to a new school, a new job, a new approach to counseling — I have not taken time to reflect and remember what it is that drives me in education.  I have been so lost in figuring out new systems and how I fit in them that I forgot to reclaim my passion and remember what drives me to education.  What is my focus?  What parts of my career can I get so lost in that “the rest doesn’t matter?”  

Instantly in my mind I asked myself, “In education, what makes me buzz?  What makes me zing?”

The rest of the commute was my husband and I sharing back and forth about reclaiming our zing — connecting with the parts of education where we often become so focused that the rest of the world falls away.  Or, as we call it in our house, the parts we can “geek out” on for hours and feel energized afterwards instead of exhausted.

And, when I arrived to work, I quickly jotted down my list of “Things that make me zing.”

Zing 1: Innovating and creating.  Looking at current ways things are done, taught, scheduled, planned, facilitated and always asking, “How could we make that better?” “How can we make things more student-centered?”  “How do we shift the educational paradigm and leave antiquated systems behind?”  “How can I, as an individual, innovate to make school a more meaningful, relevant, and modern system for all stakeholders?” The possibilities are endless, if we only let ourselves go down the path.  I am happiest on that path …

Zing 2: Facilitating student learning opportunities that allow students to do the heavy lifting and make their own meaning.  No worksheets.  No Pinterest.  No TPT.  No standing at the front of the class talking at.  Inquiry.  Visible Thinking.  Simulations.  Play and movement.  Mindfulness.  Being in nature.  These are more authentic learning opportunities for any learner.  I never get tired thinking of ways to help students unpack their own experiences for authentic learning.  It drives me.

Zing 3: Building  authentic relationships with students.  Getting to know each student and develop a unique relationship with her/him is why I love education and counseling.  Being able to play together, inquire together, learn together, and take risks together never gets old.  Sharing who I am and taking time to learn who the student is creates a lasting rapport.  I meet each child where he/she is at knowing that they will do the same for me.  The more challenging it is to build a relationship, the more I enjoy it.  It becomes like a puzzle to figure out exactly is what drives that individual and how to build mutual trust.  When the relationship breakthrough comes there is no better feeling.

Zing 4: Professional learning.  Designing it.  Facilitating it.  Doing it.  As a lifelong learner, to be able to get lost in learning opportunities is pure joy.  Being in a community of adult learners who are open and willing to learn new ways of doing or thinking is amazing.  Being in a community of learners who then takes their learning and puts it into action — even better.  I love nothing more than reading, sharing, and dialoguing about an educational text, idea, or philosophy.  My poor co-workers probably dread it when I start a sentence with, “I just read an article where…”  For me, though, it never gets old.

Zing 5: Giving students back their voice.  Students are knowledgeable, caring, conscientious individuals who, I believe, carry what they need within them.  They might need support, strategies, or practice in making sense of their needs, ideas, beliefs, and behaviors but they can do it.  I do not believe that students need adults who tell, direct, demand, or belittle students.  I believe students need adults who question, respect, guide, support, provide meaningful feedback, and listen.  That is why I try, at every opportunity, to turn the choices, decisions, and conversation back to the students.  Because the more we have to unpack our own thinking and actions, the more we understand who we are now and who we want to become.

As I thought about my zing list and the parts of education where I get so lost that I forget I am working, I cannot help but feel inspired.  I am inspired to reflect on my list daily as I move through a new job and figure out who I am in a new educational system.  As long as I am able to practice my passions daily and apply them in my new post, I know that I will be okay.  The rest won’t matter.

What would be on your “zing” list?

What parts of education can you get so lost in that the rest doesn’t matter?

How do you make time to get lost in your passions?

Boll, Michael (Producer). (2016, October 3). 2stCLRadio [Audio Podcast].  Retrieved from http://21clradio.com