attention

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.  

(Albert Einstein)

As a teacher, I am well-acquainted with the terms of attention. I am first a magician who must mesmerize students with something that will keep their attention long enough to relay some information that is on my agenda. Then a salesperson who must demonstrate the value of acquiring attention as a beneficial life-long skill.  And finally an educator whose aim is to share a strong, passionate belief in the amazing power of attention.

But what can I say to students about the transformative power of attention in a world where they are constantly being called to attention and then shamed for not being able to pay attention long enough only to get an earful of seemingly useless information? To them, the word attention is loaded with expectation, compromise and perhaps even boredom.

 

The word “attend” means “to expect, wait for, pay attention,” and directly from Latin attendere “give heed to,” literally “to stretch toward”. 

 

With the intention of occasionally closing young mouths while not closing young minds, I begin each class with a few minutes of corporate silence as a way to ask my students, ‘in your actions and your words, to what are you attending? Stretching your mind toward? In this moment, what are you expecting?

The practice of intentional stillness and silence is a struggle for most of them but a welcome break for others.

 

After the silence, I ask:

  • Are you fixating on the details in the fabric? 
  • Measuring each moment with a hyper-vigilant awareness? 
  • Stretching your mind to some perceived perfect place? 
  • Or is your mind an aimless wanderer on a journey to nowhere? 
  • Or have you not even noticed where your attention has settled? 
  • Or quite possibly, are you not able to name the several dozen places your attention has quickly travelled before I have finished asking the question?

 

While there is no right answer to these questions, there is space for students to become of aware of their intuitive or learned style of attention.  And the impact of it.

With the intention of reducing the weightiness of paying attention, what about replacing the word ‘attention’ with observe? Or notice? And with learning to sit with experience with less scrutiny and more openness to what is?

Teachers and parents, can we take some of the weight off the word ‘attention’, add the invitation to observe and notice instead and see if it transforms the ability of our children to be present?  Let’s encourage them to genuinely and gently notice their world as opposed to mentally documenting it, passively disengaging or restless running from what is in front of them.  And more importantly, can we model that for them?

 

 

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle. (Paulo Coelho)

 

 

 

an introverted student’s guide to living and learning

 

Schools who thrive on intentional community-building depend on the engaged participation of administration, teachers, students and parents but may occasionally forget that some of their introverted community members may need to express their involvement differently based on their temperament.

For someone who regularly recharges their energetic batteries with solitude and quiet, restful activities, a full day of scheduled, often mandatory physical and social interaction can prove to be quite exhausting. Introverted students will generally need more space, more down time, less stimulation (noise, lights and conversation) and a slower pace just to take a deep breath.

 

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Since moments for these things are not easily found in schools, introverted students are expected to ‘come out of their shell’ and get overtly involved as if they were energized by the constant activity like their extroverted counterparts.

This is an injustice to introverted individuals!

And unfortunately, students who consciously choose to quietly read a book during their lunch break instead of engaging socially with their peers are seen as socially awkward or anti-social when they simply need a break in their day.

 

Introvert in Disco Hoodie

 

It’s not an easy task, but there are ways for the introverted student to walk calmly and confidently while successfully functioning in a system designed for extroverts.

 

Know yourself

Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment tool to confirm that you have, in fact, been blessed with an introverted temperament.

 

Accept yourself

Accept the fact that you are an introvert in an extroverted world. The feeling of ‘not fitting in’ may not change with this acceptance but can be more manageable.

 

Express yourself

Be proud of the introvert’s contribution to the world! You may not be school president, have a leading role in a school drama or head up student committees that promote social or environmental awareness but it doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Working behind the scenes on a committee to plan events, writing for the school newspaper, working at home alone on props or costumes for the next school dramatic production are all introvert-friendly ways to get involved.

 

School tour

 

Set your inner clock to Introvert Standard Time

As soon as you cross the threshold into the school, you may find yourself walking faster, engaged immediately in a conversation or feeling stressed in trying to avoid such interaction. Instead of trying to keep time with the activity around you, slow down, take a breath and walk more slowly on purpose. Set a pace for the day that won’t leave you exhausted by noon.

 

Invest in a comprehensive self-care plan

Strategically plan your down times. At lunch, during a spare period and especially after school, choose to create some distance from peers and give yourself a well-deserved break from having to navigate the social scene for a bit.  Ask teachers for permission to work alone instead of always in a group explaining that you demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively in other classes and groups but need a break this time.  If your introversion causes you a significant level of anxiety, invest in a professional who can help you develop strategies for your  benefit.

 

Simplify your day by planning ahead

The night before a school day, have your backpack at the front door, your lunch made and set your alarm early enough so that there is no need to rush first thing in the morning. Pacing is for your benefit, will reduce your stress levels and will honour the introvert within.

 

Stabilize yourself with a deep breathing practice

Start each day with simple exercises of deep, belly breathing for even just a few minutes. Once this becomes a habit, it can be used throughout the day for a calming yet energizing break.

 

Introverts unite

Find friends who have also inherited the introvert gene as well as extroverted friends who understand and will not take offense when you reduce your social schedule as a form of self-care.

 

Beyond all else, introversion is your gift.  Treasure it.  Unwrap it regularly for life of beauty and abundant learning.  You are not alone, even when you want to be!

 

 

repeat after me

Real learning happens most often and effectively in light of:

1)  Danger

2)  Personal relevance

3)  Repetition

I heard this years ago at a professional development day for teachers and it has helped me tremendously in supporting students with working memory challenges for whom repetition becomes a most dependable academic ally.

I guess it makes sense, doesn’t it?

A toddler who burns himself on something hot will most likely learn quickly not to touch. But what is learned in school is rarely dangerous enough to tattoo less-then-fascinating course content on even the most impressionable of minds.  Second only to that is how infrequently the course work is personally relevant to students from their viewpoint, at least.  Even as adults, we  learn more quickly when we are even vaguely interested in a subject.

That leaves repetition.  The broken record of life.

.broken.

How else did you first learn your phone number when you were old enough to travel further than your front yard?  Or memorize the multiplication tables?   Or cajole your parents into buying you something you wanted at the grocery store with an endless ‘please, please, pleeeeease!’?  Or be able to sing the theme song lyrics to every 70’s-80’s sitcom?  “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…” repetition.

But is that all there is?  Just repetition?  Where’s the passion?  Where’s the drama of learning in the theater of life?  Where’s the curiosity to explore unknown cognitive landscapes?  The getting high on vibrating cerebral connectors that are firing on all cylinders and that glorious ‘aha’ moment?  And how on earth do I inspire my students with the richness of being open to seeing things in a new way with the dull mantra of “shampoo, rinse, repeat“.

A few years back I tackled a physically, emotionally and mentally draining certification process to become a yoga instructor and I was amazed at how often repetition played a key role.  Besides making flash cards to memorize the Sanskrit names for all the poses, it was actually doing the yoga poses again and again and again that was beneficial on so many levels.  Most significantly, it was how the physical repetition ingrained the poses into our bodies’ memories.  It was as if our cells would know precisely what to do in Trikonasana even if the light of our brain was extinguished due to a middle-aged brain-freeze moment or an actual coma. Well, maybe not a coma!  It was a simple yet potent reminder of the power of repetition.

Flash-cards

As it is with work, relationships or our work-out routines so it is with even our greatest passions.  Sometimes it comes down to basic repetition.  Mastery of the moment. The practice of presence that happens in this moment, then this one, then the next and so on.

So even when repetition is the task, I can still inspire passionate learning in the young minds who have no choice but to listen to me go on and on repetitively about things that move me and that I think are monumentally important to them. Colour me relieved.

I have seen the power of intentional repetition and recognize its ability to build a more resilient memory and eventual mastery.  And, I have just discovered that this is precisely what I’ll share with my next batch of unsuspecting students.  Lucky them!

Cue the eye-rolling.

 

Eye Roll