Meena Srinivasan began teaching for the reasons many elect this difficult profession: to touch lives and help make the world a better place. But with the demands of covering curriculum and supervising children, she’d all but forgotten her aspiration. During a retreat for educators led by Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, Meena learned for the first time about mindfulness. The simple instructions on bringing awareness to breathing brought her a new and transformational sense of calm and peace. “Mindfulness helped reawaken the light inside myself and I came to see how mindfulness, this wholesome awareness of what’s happening in the present moment inside of us and around us, could be a powerful tool to promote wellbeing in my entire school community.”
In Teach, Breathe, Learn, Srinivasan highlights how mindfulness can be an effective tool for bringing kindness, virtue, and love into the classroom. “The unwritten curriculum in the classroom is the teacher’s presence,” writes Srinivasan. Before teaching content, teachers must begin by cultivating an inner sense of love and authenticity. What makes this book truly unique is Srinivasan’s perspective as a classroom teacher, wrestling daily with the conditions about which she writes.
Mindful Educator Guide
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.” – Haim Ginott
That’s the only time I had in between classes at my school in New Delhi, India. Like most teachers I barely had enough time to pee during the school day. In the rush to duck out and return before my next class began I used the girls’ bathroom instead of the staff bathroom. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, I quickly began going over my lesson for the next period while on the toilet. Suddenly, I heard the door bang open, “Watch out, Ms. Srinivasan is in a really bad mood today, class sucked!” It was a group of girls from my last period tenth grade history class. My heart sank as I intently listened to the girls detail my foul mood. Sure I was upset that my students were talking about me but I was even more upset because they were right, I was stressed out and miserable and had no idea what to do about it. It was my first month of teaching at a new school, my textbooks still hadn’t arrived, and I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted. In that moment on the toilet I realized that if I woke up grumpy I’d give that grumpiness to my students which really only made me more grumpy! But without any strategies to manage stress and work with my emotions in a skillful way the climate of my classroom suffered.
Fast-forward two years, after a long school day I traveled all the way across Delhi to Gandhi Darshan, the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s eternal flame, to hear this Yoda-like Vietnamese Zen Master named Thich Nhat Hanh speak about mindfulness. In a matter of minutes his simple instructions on bringing awareness to my breathing brought a sense of calm and peace inside of myself that I had never touched before and as a result I decided to attend a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of the Plum Village community. The retreat, “Towards a Compassionate and Healthy Society” was held in Northern India and more than 500 educators were trained in mindful awareness. The aim of the retreat was to help teachers transform their own lives using the energy of mindfulness as a step toward transforming classrooms into communities of peace and compassion.
This retreat was transformational—for both my teaching practice and my own personal, spiritual journey. I’ve always felt that teachers are a vital link in creating “the change we wish to see in the world” and must fundamentally embody this Gandhian vision; this is why I teach—to touch lives and help make the world a better place in some small way. For me, teaching began as a sacred task but with the demands of covering curriculum and supervising children I forgot my aspiration.
Mindfulness helped reawaken the light inside myself and I came to see how mindfulness, this wholesome awareness of what’s happening in the present moment inside of us and around us, could be a powerful tool to promote well-being in my entire school community. Seeing this potential for positive transformation I committed myself to integrating mindfulness into all aspects of my life and eventually after a few years of regular mindfulness practice I embarked on a year-long experiment in which I documented the sharing of mindfulness with my students in a popular blog: A Year of Mindfulness in the Classroom.
This Educator Guide includes the insights I discovered during this endeavor; this is my journey to mindfulness as a classroom teacher. And in this guide you hold lessons learned, lessons taught, and reflections from my students and teaching colleagues.