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The Mindful Teacher by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley

Last year, I was in a challenging situation and sought a path to continue my teaching and learning journey. Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley wrote a book called The Mindful Teacher. I read the book during September 2011.

A thesis was teachers feel alienated working in a system where few “possibilities remain for ethical, caring teachers to hone their craft and to inspire their students with the sheer joy and delight that is found in learning” (p. 2). The authors used teacher stories and personal reflections obtained through The Mindful Teacher Project which involved public school teachers in Boston. MacDonald and Shirley cautioned this was not “a recipe that can be followed, or  a ‘silver bullet’ … it is a form of teaching that is informed by contemplative practices and inquiry that enables teachers to interrupt their harried lifestyles, come to themselves through participation in collegial community of inquiry and practice, and attend to aspects of their classroom instruction and pupils’ learning that ordinarily overlooked in the press of events” (p. 4).

As I read the book, I realized how inattentive I had grown in classroom instruction and about personal growth. Collegial mindfulness has not appeared in a conventional sense, but I discovered alternative spaces i.e. daily meditation, spiritual retreats, World Café Events, and blogging which filled some of the void. I try to pay closer attention to “Who is the self that teaches” advocated by Parker Palmer. I completed a guided study into mindfulness in daily life. Each aspect added mindfulness previously absent in my life.

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Gains: I  have slowed down, reflect more often, and try respond and not react. It is a journey and that is why we call it practice. Each school day, I spend 20-30 minutes meditating. When I am flustered in the classroom, and it happens, I try close my eyes, take a deep breath, and clear my mind before I respond. I refer to those successful moments as the new Ivon. An important gain was teaching is a calling, a vocation. As I read, I was reminded of that.

Questions: What do we do when adults do not trust between one another and that appears irreparable? I assume the authors wrote the book due to a perceived need by the authors. I imagine there are environments lacking trust. What do we do then?

Recommendation: This is short, easy read filled with stories and ideas. From a veteran teacher perspective, it helped me tend to long overdue internal work. A new teacher could use ideas to shape their career. I would recommend it for all teachers and, when done, find a group and have open, joyful, non-judgmental conversations. What brought you to teaching and learning?


About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

2 responses »

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Sounds excellent. I discovered ‘mindfulness’ only after the age of 30, so this sounds wonderful coming from a teacher.


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