S6 E5: Can Mindfulness Help Teachers Be Less Reactive, More Compassionate?

A conversation with Susan Dreyer Leon about mindfulness and how this practice can be a valuable approach for teachers to bring compassion and nonreactiveness into their classrooms.

Episode Notes

The practice of mindfulness is increasingly popular, even showing up in school curricula and employee wellness programs, where it’s often presented as a tool for managing stress. But Susan Dreyer Leon says that for teachers in particular, mindfulness offers much more than just a stress reduction. In this conversation, we discuss how mindfulness can offer a valuable approach to help us be less reactive, more compassionate, and better able to serve our students.

This conversation centers on mindfulness and Adult Social-Emotional Learning (Adult SEL). Don’t miss our conversation with Laura Thomas about Social-Emotional Learning for students, “S3E9: To Grow Emotional Literacy, a Classroom Must Become a Community.”

Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the Mindfulness for Educators concentration in the MEd for Experienced Educators and the Certificate in Mindfulness for Educators that Susan teaches in.

This episode was recorded on January 25, 2024, via Riverside.fm and released on February 7, 2024. 

The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University

Host: Jasper Nighthawk

Editor: Johanna Case

Digital Design: Mira Mead

Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont

Work-Study Interns: Sierra-Nicole E. DeBinion, Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham.  

A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland

To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.

Transcript – S6E5 – Susan Dreyer Leon

[00:03] Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seed Field podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. And today we’re joined by Susan Dreyer-Leon for a conversation about why many teachers today are practicing mindfulness and whether the benefits of mindfulness go beyond stress reduction to actually make us kinder, more aware of our reactions, and better able to educate young people. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. And that’s partly because my own experiences as both student and teacher have taught me again and again that classrooms can be highly reactive places. Things can go off the rails. I myself have vivid memories of countless times when I was a student in elementary, middle, and high school. And one of my teachers would run out of patience and yell at us or be mean to one of my classmates or might otherwise let the challenge of the job get under their skin. And those times were tough for the students, but also they were really obviously quite tough for the teacher. That’s not what anyone is dreaming of when they set foot in a classroom. As a teacher, as a student, that’s not what my parents were signing up for when they sent me in there, but things would get out of hand. Years later, in my 20s, I spent seven years working as a visiting poetry teacher. And for that job, I would take over classrooms for three or five or seven days of lessons. And this gave me the opposite perspective. I was the teacher and I got to learn firsthand just how challenging it is to be in charge of a classroom. And I remember certain days when I was struggling to hold it together myself. Especially, it was really hard when students were trying to get a rise out of me. I remember one kid who kept talking under his breath right when I would start talking. And it was really tough. Part of me was like, “I wanna send this kid to the principal.” Or you flashback to how kids were disciplined in my parents’ generation. You feel your own anger and frustration rise and it can sometimes feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m sure anyone listening to this, if you were ever a student, you probably have your own memories of how intense classrooms can be. And if you’ve spent any time at all teaching, you know that even more viscerally. And this is an important subject. Kids in our country spend at least 13 years in classrooms and teachers spend their whole careers navigating these challenges. This is why I’m so interested in the concept we’re talking about today. The idea that for many educators, it can be useful to cultivate the practice of mindfulness. This practice that can involve meditation, but really comes down to being present and aware and non-reactive and non-judgmental. It’s a muscle. These practices are based on meditation and ideas that are thousands of years old, but they offer a valuable approach for teachers today, going beyond simply the buzzwords of wellness to be something that helps us be the best teachers that we can be. To learn more about this, I’m happy to be joined today by Susan Dreyer-Leon. Susan is a long time core faculty member in our education programs. And she’s currently the chair of the Department of Education at our New England campus. Before coming to Antioch, she was an alternative public high school teacher and leader in New York City and in Vermont. And she’s a school reform initiative, national facilitator and consultant. Most relevant to this conversation, Susan helped found Antioch’s Mindfulness for Educators concentration, that is part of the Master of Education for Experienced Educators, as well as the Certificate in Mindfulness for Educators. She still coordinates those programs today. So Susan, with that big preamble, welcome to the Seed Field podcast.

[04:08] Susan Dreyer Leon: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here and to have this conversation.

[04:12] Jasper: I am too. So before we get into kind of the meat of this conversation, I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so I say that advisedly. We always like to ask our guests and myself to disclose where we’re coming to this conversation from. This kind of positionality is especially important when we’re talking about where things intersect with race, power in our society. And I think the conversation we’re gonna have about education, public school classrooms, these are places where race, power, class all come to bear. So I will start off. I am a white cisgendered man. I personally attended public schools through high school and then had the experience of going to a very fancy private college on a lot of financial aid. Today, I have steady housing and income, though like almost everybody, these are precarious. I’m not currently living with a physical disability, though I do experience anxiety and depression. And I think it’s also relevant to mention that I’m the parent of an 18-month-old child. So when I talk about schooling and public schools, I have an extra vested interest right now. So Susan, as much as you’re comfortable, I invite you to share your own position.

[05:28] Susan: Sure, thanks, Jasper. So I’m a white cisgendered woman, and I’m financially secure. I have advanced degrees. I’m also a parent and a foster parent. And I’m also a parent of a child with significant disabilities and medical conditions and a foster child with mental health issues. So I feel like I also have a real vested interest in how the educational system is serving students at all who are bringing all kinds of different needs into the classroom.

[06:03] Jasper: Thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, so I wanted to start off by actually talking about mindfulness and what that is. So I was curious how you define mindfulness.

[06:16] Susan: Yeah, so the word doesn’t originate in English. It comes to us from the Pali language, which was the language spoken in the time of the Buddha and the subcontinent. And the word is sati, and S-A-T-I, and it doesn’t have a direct translation. And so this has actually been important in the migration of these ideas from the Asian contexts in which they were developed into Western vocabulary. And I think that probably the most impactful definition in modern education and psychology settings comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn. He’s the founder and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, which started at UMass Medical School. And he calls it paying attention in a particular way on purpose without judgment. And so it’s complicated, but it definitely involves at least the components of directed attention and purposeful awareness of our internal and external states.

[07:31] Jasper: I’m kind of chewing on that, paying attention on purpose without judgment.

[07:36] Susan: Right.

[07:37] Jasper: And I know that it often gets called a practice as opposed to, I think we can just say to anybody, all right, now pay attention on purpose without judgment. And you could make an attempt at that. But what does it mean that it’s a practice?

[07:52] Susan: Yeah, I feel like one of the things that I love about our moment in history with this idea is that we have the coming together over the last, well, it’s like my lifetime, right, starting in the late 60s through now of a really dramatic improvement in our understanding of neuroscience and the brain and these 2,600 year old teachings and also all the contemplative traditions throughout human cultures and to see like, why does this work? What is this? What they can see in the brain is that it is a combination of increasing capacity for paying attention and activating certain other sets of structures in the brain that do things like regulate emotion or activate compassion. And we can see that what happens just like with exercise, if you do more of it, the brain structures and connectivity that foster these features grow and they can measure that now.

[09:04] Jasper: That’s so cool.

[09:05] Susan: Yeah, so it’s really not just anecdotal, it’s now measurable. And I will say that these measurements are small and the science is young, but it’s not insignificant. It’s powerful enough that we came to believe early on that mindfulness was gonna be an enduring field in education in the same way that it is already an enduring field in psychology.

[09:32] Jasper: Yeah, so I wanted to pivot to that. There definitely is a school within psychotherapy that uses mindfulness in a therapeutic context, but I think people are less familiar with how this comes into the practice of teaching. So can you tell us why mindfulness can be an important approach and practice for teachers?

[09:55] Susan: Sure, I think one of the things that draws the students into our mindfulness program is often some early experience with meditation. It can be in a yoga class or it can be in a mindfulness class and they get a taste of something that they want to develop. And I think the thing that they’re getting a taste of is a fresh perspective on their own minds and on their students in their classroom. I think a lot of it has to do with seeing things in a new light and that that helps to peel away layers of self-judgment and frustration. And let’s see if I can think of a good example. Sometimes we get a student in our class who’s really frustrating. And over time, we build up a kind of reactivity, a resistance to that student so that we feel relief on days when the student is absent and we feel concern on days when they come to school. And what mindfulness practice has done for some of the teachers in our program is allow them to become much more aware, not of this monolithic bad feeling towards the student, but it helps them to kind of dissect that to see what’s going on. Like, oh, I’m feeling fear. I’m feeling confusion because I don’t know how to help this student. I’m feeling anger because I had a lesson plan that I can’t follow through on. And then developing on the other side of it, that compassionate response to the student where I know it seems kind of obvious, but teachers really can shift from like, why is this kid out to ruin my day to what is going on for this young person and how do I help them to navigate through this situation so that they can access their education?

[12:11] Jasper: Yeah, that’s such a great example of how you could take a reactive response and look at it non-judgmentally and start to see what it’s made up of rather than it just being, oh my God, they’re here again. Well, how’s today gonna go? I’m so concerned, I’m stressed out and going into that more panicky state.

[12:35] Susan: Yeah, I think one of the first things that happens for people when they start to practice mindful meditation and then begin bringing these practices into their classrooms, one of the first things people see is the separation between the part of the mind that’s thinking and the part of the mind that can observe our thoughts. That separation is huge. That first opening to realizing I am more than just the thoughts that pop into my head and that brains think that’s what they do. They throw out thoughts and it’s often conditioned, right? Our mind is conditioned in a certain pattern. And we often have a tendency to get engaged with those thoughts in an unconscious way. We don’t even know how it happens. It’s just we follow along the thought train and it often goes in well-worn groups. Everybody probably has their top 10 thought list or whatever. One of the first things that happens to people in mindfulness meditation is they’re like, oh my God, my mind never shuts up, right? It really is. They call it the monkey mind. It’s just like swinging from branch to branch and going along. And when we realize like, oh, we don’t have to go along for that ride. That’s the beginning of creating a space between a thought and our reaction to that thought. And in that space, we perceive choices that we didn’t have before. And it’s that capacity to make a choice about your action. Whereas before it was, you know, click boom. It’s like a thing happens, my mind reacts, I follow that reaction. With mindfulness, you get that space in there. Sometimes I refer to it as the whisker. If I could just get not even a foot in the door, just a whisker in the door between an event and my reaction to that event, then there can be a choice in how I respond. And in that choice can be so much important learning opportunity for a kid. It can be the difference between me getting ticked off and sending them to the office and me saying, come sit down and talk to me. Let’s figure this out because you really need to not miss another math class.

[14:54] Jasper: It sounds to me like you’re describing a kind of self-awareness and self-regulation that teachers are able to develop through mindfulness. And I guess I’m curious why this is specifically important for teachers, because what you’re describing about the benefits of mindfulness is available to anybody who takes on this practice or who undergoes mindfulness therapy. I’m curious why you have built out this whole program, specifically bringing it to classrooms.

[15:27] Susan: I have to just take a moment to acknowledge Claire Stanley and Jack Millet. They’re the curriculum designers of this program. And they started the School for International Training in the MAT program there, Masters of Teaching. And they were teaching people to teach English and they’ve taught in contexts all over the world, in Japan, in Tunisia, in South America, here in the States. And one of the things that they really developed along with some other colleagues like Carol Rogers, who’s a Dewey Scholar at SUNY Albany, is they really developed this understanding of how teachers learn. And so they brought with them these ideas of like teachers learn really well in community with other teachers, that teachers learn really well experientially, which means that you need to be able to give them an idea and let them take it into the classroom and try it, and then come back and dissect what happens for them and talk about it. And so while they were developing this teacher education program, they were also both training to be mindfulness teachers. This program at Antioch, the Mindfulness for Educators program, really brought together their two understandings, everything they had learned in their 20 or 25 years of mindfulness training, and everything they learned in 20 or 25 years of teacher education. And I feel like what they saw in the potential of mindfulness is that it’s really hard to go into somebody else’s classroom and help them be a better teacher. But if you give them the tools to cultivate awareness so that they can honestly reflect on their teaching practice without being debilitated by how bad that can feel, then they have a much better chance of being able to grow and change in ways that only they can see. And so I think that that’s one of the very hardest things about teaching, it’s super personal. And when things go wrong, you feel really bad, and it’s easy to feel bad about yourself. You’re working often in very oppressive circumstances where both you and your students are oppressed by a broken system. And if you layer in issues of class and race and gender, then I feel like the levels of the oppressiveness of the system can be really damaging. And so part of what mindfulness as an approach for working with teachers can do is help peel away some of that and really focus on, well, wait a minute, what’s within my realm of control and how can I create enough resilience in myself that I can look honestly at my practice and be willing to make changes?

[18:23] Jasper: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense, especially around that piece of there’s only so much that I actually have control over that I can meaningfully affect, especially if the curriculum is being dictated by the state and there are all of these other roles that I’m being asked to do as a teacher. And I wonder, does mindfulness as a practice help you not only get really real about what you have control over, what you can affect, but also kind of come to see the ways that social conventions and other things that you’re teaching in the classroom are more or less constructed socially without us necessarily being explicit about that.

[19:12] Susan: Yeah, I think that I just came across a great article about mindfulness and racism in schools. And one of the things that the author talks about is how important it is that teachers can kind of peel off their blinders and see things with fresh eyes. For example, there’s a good piece where a teacher talks about how she was just unwilling to accept that the kids of color in her classroom were not learning to read at the same rate as her white students. And you could just see there were so many layers to why she did not want to accept that. And when she was finally able to open up to the possibility that there was something she could do about it, that there was something actually happening in her classroom that was beneficial to one group of students and not to another, and that there were strategies she could employ which might prove more universally beneficial, when she was able to really be open and see that and apply those strategies, the literal test scores of all her students went up.

[20:29] Jasper: Wow.

[20:29] Susan: But she had to first get to that place where she could be open to what was really happening without that kind of feeling of like, this is not my fault or this is not my classroom or this can’t be true or there’s something wrong with the test or there’s, and it’s not to say that there isn’t bias in testing and all those kinds of things, but to just be able to see what is really going on and be able to work from a rational basis with what that is, that takes a lot of courage and resilience.

[21:04] Jasper: Yeah, and like staying with it, staying present, looking at the thing.

[21:10] Susan: Yeah, looking at uncomfortable realities about ourselves. Mindfulness can really help us deal with defensiveness, which is a really major problem for teachers, again, because teaching is so personal. And so it’s really hard, like if I’m under a ton of pressure and I go in and I know I don’t have my best possible lesson plan because I didn’t have enough time to put something good together and things go badly with the kids, then I leave at the end of the day, I feel awful. It’s really learning ways for being able to look at these situations with a wider lens and then cultivating self-compassion. The heart practices of cultivating compassion and self-compassion for ourselves, for our circumstances, for our learners are really important also and really helpful.

[22:07] Jasper: In your definition, that wasn’t your own, but you said of looking without judgment. And I think that that gets towards that self-compassion rather than just saying, oh, I let everybody down to look at it and say, well, maybe, you know, this is what happened and maybe it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be, or maybe there were circumstances conspiring against me and being able to maybe make changes towards the way things happen in the future without getting stuck in a world of blame and recrimination.

[22:44] Susan: Right, or shutting down, you know? And I think that at the far end of the spectrum, we see teachers who it’s just become too painful. Like it’s just become too painful to engage authentically with themselves and with their students and they often burn out and quit. You know, the number of people who leave teaching in their first year is astronomical.

[23:10] Jasper: Yeah.

[23:11] Susan: Yeah, and a lot of that has to do with not being fully prepared. I’m gonna use the word emotionally, not being fully prepared emotionally for the rollercoaster that is the classroom and really being able to kind of keep your balance under those circumstances. – One of our most recent graduates, she had this really hard year and she did such a great job of like coming down to having this little mantra that helped her hang on where she was just like, I’m doing the best I can. I’m actually literally doing the best I can, which was true. And I thought doing way more than she was giving herself credit for, there’s so many variables and it can all go sideways so quickly. You can just feel the tension of that balance between can I look at what’s happening honestly enough to make changes where I really should be and honestly enough to not blame myself for everything when I’m doing the best I can. That is a tight balance.

[24:20] Jasper: Yeah, I was thinking about the roots of this practice in Buddhism and how that tradition has these concepts of compassion and extending compassion, not just to others, but to yourself. I wonder the place of kindness and compassion in the classroom.

[24:40] Susan: Yeah, it’s really everything, Jasper, it’s everything. And I don’t mean that facetiously. It’s like if we start at that basis, that the classroom is a place of human interaction, right? We’re people, they’re people, we’ve been assigned a role, they’ve been assigned a role. Most of us are trapped in an absurd system. You talked about the social structures of the classroom. Many of those are absurd. So being able to connect on the human level first is absolutely the secret magic that makes so many other things possible. And for a lot of us, you can just imagine if you’re a teacher who doesn’t like yourself very much, that is going to be a challenging situation to bring into the classroom.

[25:33] Jasper: For sure.

[25:34] Susan: Yeah, just kind of like in the therapist’s office, projection happens, reenactment of our childhood trauma and bad parenting happens. Like all these things happen at the human level in the classroom. This again is one area where neuroscience is just so interesting, right? So something comes in, it triggers a response like in the amygdala of the brain, which is where we do fight, flight, freeze. So it triggers that response. And then we’re off on our train of reactivity, right? So if we got yelled at a lot as a kid and something triggers us in the classroom, we might find ourselves yelling without ever having made a conscious choice, like, okay, I’m going to let this kid have it, right? It just happens. And so what they’re seeing in the brain of people who meditate, especially heart practices, like loving kindness and compassion, which are explicit practices that can be taught in these traditions, the activity of the amygdala gets dampened by the activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is where we do thinking, planning, processing, making sense of our experience. And so it’s not that the amygdala doesn’t get triggered, it’s that the prefrontal cortex comes online and calms it. And that is such an encouraging cycle of events because it really suggests that like, you can practice compassion by yourself on the meditation cushion and it translates, it actually goes with you into the classroom. Pretty amazing.

[27:19] Jasper: Yeah, that’s super amazing. And it’s great to hear the tools of neuroscience intersecting with these older traditions and not trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead trying to figure out how a wheel that people already have reported works, how it is working on a brain science level. It feels good to myself thinking this through to just think, okay, what I’m doing is I’m giving a one-second pause or a five-second pause on my fight, flight, freeze, reflex, and observing the situation and thinking, do I wanna go into that heightened state or can I take a breath?

[27:58] Susan: Right. And I think that these very simple, I’m gonna use the word technique for this or tools, these very simple techniques and tools that you can get people to practice in the classroom, like pausing, that’s one of the first things we teach in the Mindfulness for Educators program is we have people practice pausing and just really seeing what that feels like, taking three breaths. Those kinds of things seem like they couldn’t work. It’s too easy. They’re very easy to do. They’re harder to remember to do. But if you remember to do them, people report kind of astonishing results, like pretty surprising results. And if they’re practicing meditation and there are a lot of different forms of meditation that they can do, it can be mindful movement, it can be walking, it can be sitting meditation. There are lots of different forms and it’s important for people to pick the form that works well for them. But if they’re practicing meditation in their life outside the classroom and then bringing some of these conscious tools with them into the classroom, then these spaces with choices begin to open out and they begin to see like, oh, I can respond more compassionately and kinder. And sometimes the best part about that is you don’t feel like crap about yourself at the end of the day, right? ‘Cause some of why we feel bad about ourselves as teachers is because we feel like we’ve handled the situation badly or we’ve betrayed our intention to not lose our spadoinkle in class. When that can happen, when we’ve kind of been able to stay in our prefrontal cortex and not devolve to the amygdala, we feel much better.

[29:49] Jasper: That makes a ton of sense. From there, I kind of wanna jump over to thinking about this in the context of American classrooms here we’re talking in 2024. And I can imagine some teachers listening to this and thinking, wow, this is like asking me to do one more thing and I’m already super overworked and I’m not sure if there are benefits or that this in some way could be papering over some of the deficits in the workplace, in the educational system. And I’m being asked to do all of this. So I wonder how you navigate that.

[30:24] Susan: Yeah, a few years back, I got a call from the principal of the local elementary school. And she said, “I’m wondering if you can come down and do mindfulness with our teachers and help them figure out how to teach mindfulness to kids.” She’s like, “We really need it.” And this is a primary school building. So kindergarten, first and second grade, she said, “The kids are really struggling with attention and regulation and we need mindfulness.” And my response to her, since I live in town is, “I heard you canceled morning recess. So no, I’m not coming to teach mindfulness while you’re requiring five-year-olds to sit still for six hours a day.” It’s the wrong tool. It’s totally inappropriate. Mindfulness is not going to solve the problem of racial oppression in American schools. It is not going to create just working conditions for teachers. It’s not an appropriate ask for people if the goal is to try to get them to be less reactive about injustice. Like we need to be reactive towards injustice. Anger has a place. Especially mindful anger can be really powerful.

[31:34] Jasper: I love that term, mindful anger. I’ve never heard that before.

[31:37] Susan: Sometimes there’s a mistaken idea that being non-reactive means allowing whatever’s going to happen to happen. That’s not it at all. And in fact, often what mindfulness allows people to see is things that just are totally unacceptable and that it often is a catalyst for action. Like once you see, “Oh, we can’t do this. This is wrong.” Then you can actually be sometimes a more effective advocate for change.

[32:05] Jasper: I love that when I was thinking of potential objections that people would have, or if they were resistant to this, why would that be? I was also imagining somebody who’s thinking, “I have this very challenging job. And some of the things that I’m asked to do, like teaching to tests that I don’t agree with, or strictly following curriculum that I didn’t have any hand in creating, and that feels maybe a little bit robotic.” It’s actually good for me to be a little bit numb to that. Like, I don’t want to be super aware. I have to get through my day.

[32:40] Susan: Yes, I don’t know about that, Jasper. I feel like educators have a role to play in defending our profession. And particularly when the consequences for kids are catastrophic. So for example, in school systems that have employed standardized testing that prevents kids from moving from one grade to the next, and the results have been absolutely catastrophic, I think numbing out to be complicit with that system is a bad idea. I have to say, at the same time, I want to dig a little deeper into your question of mindfulness being sold as wellness, as one more thing. I don’t have a really good data set to go with this, but I think it can’t work if it isn’t voluntary. It has to be something that people seek for themselves. It has to be something they want to do. And I feel like in places where mindfulness practices are being imposed on teachers and students, it doesn’t go well. I think we have to make it something more like an offering that is connected to reflective teaching practice. And that healthy schools that have positive adult cultures and positive learning communities, where teachers are learning together and improving their practice and serving their students, in those settings, mindfulness can be a really helpful option for teachers who want to go in that direction. You know, we always want to take everything to scale and say, if this is such a great idea, everybody should be doing it. But I don’t know, it might not be everybody’s path. It might not be everybody’s path, but for those people who come across it, who feel resonant, and who want to develop mindfulness, I feel like they have a great impact on their colleagues, on their students, and for themselves. And so I guess I’m a little bit skeptical of saying like, this is fabulous and we must make everybody do it. There’s a disconnect there.

[34:52] Jasper: Yeah, that kind of one size fits all approach. Or I always think of consent as one of the highest virtues and telling somebody, you need to meditate without them necessarily consenting to that. Seems kind of the opposite of a thoughtful or mindful way of approaching somebody else’s mind.

[35:11] Susan: Absolutely. And one other little piece that I really feel is important to bring up is that, when these mindfulness programs have been pushed into schools by external entities, both on kids and students, with very little research, right, this is the American Ray, ready, fire, aim. So there’s not enough resources, not enough training, not enough research, and we’re gonna make everybody do it. And then like half the people are gonna hate it, right? So this is how we do school reform in this country always. And mindfulness is no different. It does a terrible disservice to mindfulness. People are getting bad practice, bad training. And what we’re learning is that particularly for people who suffer from traumatic stress or full-blown PTSD, certain types of meditation in particular are contraindicated. The other thing is we’re just at the beginning of understanding what is developmentally appropriate practice. What you do for encouraging mindful awareness for five-year-olds is really different than what you wanna do with 11-year-olds. And that’s different, again, from what you wanna do with 16-year-olds. Just like every other kind of teaching, there’s developmentally appropriate mindfulness practices. And for adults, like I’m a huge fan of Robert Keegan’s model of social development for adults. And I feel like I can often match up my students with where they are in Keegan’s adult development strategy.

[36:38] Jasper: Oh, how interesting.

[36:39] Susan: And help support their journey with the right mindfulness practices for where they’re at. As opposed to if you come in above or below where people are in their developmental journey, they can’t hear you. It’s a mismatch.

[36:55] Jasper: Yeah, well, that leads me into what I was saving up as my last question, which I would love to pick your brain about this more, but we are almost out of time.

[37:03] Susan: Gotcha.

[37:03] Jasper: There not being one size that fits all is useful to me because to disclose about myself, I have on various occasions attempted to cultivate a meditation practice for myself. And generally it hasn’t lasted like a week and I haven’t necessarily felt the benefits that a lot of people report. I’ve engaged with mindfulness in other ways through therapy, but talking to you, I feel enthusiasm to explore that again and to see if there is something more for me there that just in an unguided way, I wasn’t able to access. And so I’m curious if you could offer some guidance of where people be they teachers or other people on their journey might get started, might find traction.

[37:52] Susan: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. There’s never been more mindfulness available to people, which is sort of great. And it’s sort of scary because where do you begin? But I think one of the things we’re really learning has to do with fit. So if you’re saying to yourself, I really want to find a mindfulness practice that works well for me, you might have to try a bunch. There are some really good apps now where you can try some different guided meditations and see what works for you. You might try going to a couple of live classes and seeing like, how is it to be in a room with other people doing a practice? For some people, mindful movement is the only way. Yoga, Tai Chi, it can be any form of mindful movement, even mindful walking. I have some students for whom walking is their meditation. And so I think this idea that in order to practice mindfulness, you have to do seated silent meditation. I think we’ve kind of blown that out of the water now. And so it’s really a matter of experimenting with a few different ways to do it and finding your way. The other thing that’s intriguing to me is that small amounts of time seem to be having an impact on people. So just exploring how that is for you, it seems to be more beneficial to do five minutes every day than 30 minutes once a week or things like that. So just noticing like, well, what’s a small increment? I had a student who did his whole practicum last year on new mindfulness virtual reality apps that work with VR goggles and like drop you into a mindful world and it’s gamified so that you like get points and little prizes as you do different meditations. And the students he tried it with loved it. So I mean, who knows where it’s going?

[39:48] Jasper: That’s so funny you saying that. I was thinking about, I have an Apple watch and it has a mindfulness app built into it, which I don’t know if it would do something with my heart rate and play a guided meditation for me. And I have such a resistance to something like that or the idea of like a VR headset. I have like an innate Luddite feeling of like, no, I wanna be on like my special cushion under the banyan trees.

[40:17] Susan: Yeah.

[40:18] Jasper: But I appreciate your openness to it. It actually is making me reconsider this kind of knee jerk reaction that I have.

[40:25] Susan: Well, I’m with you on that and I say go to the trees. I think the benefits of time and nature and the benefits of mindfulness, there’s a lot of overlap there. And I think time in the natural world is authentically often mindful for people. So I’ll leave it with that.

[40:45] Jasper: Yeah, this is a great place to leave it. Thank you so much, Susan.

[40:49] Susan: Thanks Jasper, great to be here.


[40:52] Jasper: The Mindfulness for Educators concentration that Susan helped found is available as part of the Master of Education for Experienced Educators. We’ll have a link to more information about that program in our show notes. There’s also a certificate in Mindfulness for Educators, and we’ll link to that too. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more. The Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead. Jen Mont is our web content coordinator. Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Birmingham are our work study interns. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland. 


Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast.