Household chores such as doing the dishes, vacuuming, or washing the floors can hold the key to better academic, social, and emotional outcomes for our students. I know this sounds crazy but the connection is real, especially as more and more teachers and in some cases entire school communities turn to “mindfulness” (a secular meditation practice) to help cultivate a more centered and self-regulated presence in the classroom.
Recent studies have shown that teachers who engage in regular mindfulness practice develop an increased ability to stay present and open in the classroom, and exhibit a more grounded and authentic presence, one that students find easier to connect with and trust. And there is plenty of research that indicates the more trust present in a classroom, the better the outcomes for students. It turns out that mindfulness is a great way to build a ‘self’ that our students trust.
The most simple mindfulness practice is to sit quietly and bring our full attention to the breath flowing in and out of our bodies. When our attention wanders and we begin thinking about something we gently note it and bring our focus back to our breath. We do this without judgment and as often as we need to. It seems so simple but staying in the present moment focused on our breath can be very challenging. After all, our mind is like an untrained puppy that likes to wander playfully, and after a few breaths it’s likely we’ll find ourselves thinking about the past, the future, or just daydreaming.
But the question still looms, “What does mindfulness practice have to do with doing the dishes?”
It turns out one of the greatest obstacles for teachers who would like to try mindfulness is finding the time to practice. We have students to see before and after school, parents to call, meetings to attend, daily lessons to plan, professional development programs, and of course, there is the actual teaching itself. For overwhelmed educators, finding 15-30 minutes where we can be alone in a quiet space to meditate seems impossible. Our home lives are just as busy. So where does a busy educator find time to center themselves and meditate?
This is where household chores come in. It turns out we can practice being centered and present in the moment anytime. We can be present while we wash or dry the dishes, while we vacuum, or while we mop the floor. Sitting alone in a quiet room and concentrating on our breathing is extremely important and valuable and I would never advocate abandoning that practice, but it’s not the only way to be mindful.
In fact, I’d argue that practicing being centered and present in the moment as we do housework is similar to staying centered and present in our classrooms. When we practice being present while vacuuming we’re practicing in the midst of action. When our mind wanders we bring it back and reset ourselves. In the classroom it’s similar. A student disrupts the class and we get knocked off-center, we pause, notice what we’re feeling, and re-center ourselves. We stay present in the moment. We don’t let the disruption completely hijack us because when we’re off-center we simply react automatically, often defaulting, without thinking, to actions that may make a bigger mess of things.
So, the key to building trusting relationships with our students…relationships that lead to increased academic, social, and emotional outcomes…is to stay present with what we’re doing at all times…to really BE with our students, BE with our task. Multitasking is overrated. It takes away from being present.
There’s an old Zen saying, “Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”
Perhaps for those of us on the road to teaching mastery an update is in order, “Before teaching mastery do the dishes, vacuum the floor. After teaching mastery, do the dishes, vacuum the floor.”
Remember, it’s about being present in the moment…when vacuuming…and teaching.