The life of a faculty member is filled with noisy busyness—planning class sessions, grading, meeting with students, advising, committee work, research, scholarship, and publications. We are consumed by the swirl of activities and the need to juggle all these responsibilities without dropping one of the balls!
In her book Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership (2014), Janice Marturano offers techniques for practicing mindful leadership that can keep us focused in our distraction-filled world. Although the title of her book suggests these mindfulness techniques are for leaders, we are all leaders in our classrooms. The book is filled with numerous techniques, but I'd like to focus on two: the purposeful pause and mindful communication.
Marturano compares our chaotic lives to walking on a treadmill. She suggests we “step off the treadmill” and take a purposeful pause, which she defines as “a moment in the day when you notice the swirl and choose to intentionally pay attention.” (p. 57) When you settle your mind and focus only on the present moment, this pause heightens your awareness of what is all around you and what you feel inside and lets you “see more clearly what is here in this moment and then choose what to pursue next with greater awareness.” (p. 58) It basically reboots your brain and body, allowing you to see things more clearly, enabling you to respond rather than react.
To develop the habit of taking a purposeful pause, Marturano suggests you begin by finding two times in the day to integrate first one pause, and then a second, whenever you catch yourself in the midst of the “swirl.” The beauty of these mini-meditations is that you can do them anywhere, anytime—eyes open or closed. All you need is the awareness to intentionally interrupt your racing mind and direct your attention to the moment. As faculty, this can help us be more intentional about how we spend our time, especially our teaching time.
Practicing a purposeful pause can make communication more mindful. Marturano contends that taking a purposeful pause before your next meeting (think class session, student appointment, or conversation with a colleague) can lead to better results. She describes a four-step process for engaging in mindful communication that was adapted from the work of Gregory Kramer, author of Insight Dialogue. (pp. 68-69)
Stop the noise. Ground yourself in the moment so you can give your complete attention to the communication.
2. Open to what is here
Abandon your expectations. Don't let your hopes, prejudices, or expectations interfere with hearing exactly what is being said.
3. Listen deeply
Don't just hear—actually listen. If your attention starts to wander, redirect it to the moment. Your full attention is needed to feel the connection and take in what is being communicated—the words, the body language, and the emotions.
4. Speak the truth with the intention to do no harm
Be honest without being hurtful. The purpose of speaking the truth is to benefit those involved, not to insult or degrade.
Here's an example of how I've used these two mindful leadership techniques. Consider the Monday morning swirl (which can happen on Tuesday, or really any day, but is a regular for me on Mondays). Almost immediately you're back on the treadmill. A mountain of emails has accumulated as you devoted time to grading over the weekend. You've got an article you must get out this week and a luncheon for 25 people to organize. The swirl begins to feel like a cyclone once you get into those emails.
It's a perfect time for a purposeful pause. You take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and your mind, and stop the madness. Once calm, you imagine mindfully communicating with the student who will soon be at your door. You will give him your complete attention. You will abandon your negative thoughts of his behavior and really listen to what he has to say. You will respond as your policies dictate, but that message will be communicated with compassion, even if he has been demanding and rude. When he leaves, you may need another purposeful pause, but your communication will have been mindful.
Constant running on a treadmill takes its toll in all aspects of our lives. Regularly incorporating the purposeful pause and mindful communication can help us slow down and redirect our scattered attention to meet personal and professional responsibilities in a more attentive and compassionate way.