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Feed the Right Wolf

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  • You have 24 great parent-teacher conferences and one rough one.
  • Many students had “A-ha!” moments in math around a tough concept, but one just couldn’t get it and was near tears by the end of class.
  • At the end of a long day in which you were patient and calm with students’ many challenges, you snapped unprofessionally at a student who rolled her eyes at you.
  • The staff meeting was energetic and lively as you and your colleagues discuss moving toward standards-based assessment. At the end of the meeting, one colleague made a snide remark that felt pointed in your direction.

As you drive home, what do you dwell on–the day’s positive events or the ones that didn’t go so well? If you’re like most, you spend a disproportional amount of time ruminating and rehashing negative events while barely giving the positive ones a passing thought. We resent a colleague who slighted us. We beat ourselves up for snapping at Jane and not being able to find a way to help Marc understand ratios. We dwell on the negative conference, feeling a mixture of disappointment and anger. Though learning from mistakes and challenges can help us grow professionally, to overly focus on negatives isn’t healthy.

This past weekend I was at The Learning and the Brain Conference in Boston and keynote speaker Rick Hanson told a Native American story that beautifully emphasized the importance of focusing on positive thoughts: A young girl is sitting with her grandmother by the fire. “Grandmother,” she begins. “How did you become so loving? How did you become so kind? How did you become so generous of spirit?” The grandmother leans forward. “When I was young, I realized that I had two wolves inside me, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate, and I realized that I needed to feed the right one.”

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As teachers, it’s way too easy to feed the wrong wolf.

Rick then led us through an exercise, an adaptation of which I’d like to share with you—an exercise in recognizing and amplifying positive moments while keeping the negative ones in their place.

Step 1: Focus on a positive event from the day—a time of deep connection with a student, a moment when you felt proud of a great lesson, a sense of accomplishment at the completion of a challenging task. Think about that moment and hold on to it. Focus on it for at least 15-20 seconds. If your mind wanders, bring it back and refocus.

Step 2: Enrich this feeling. Amplify it. Turn up the volume. Make it powerful. Again, hold this feeling for at least 15-20 seconds.

Step 3: Absorb it. Feel it physically. Feel its warmth spread through your body. Can you keep holding on? How long? 30 seconds? 60 seconds?

Step 4: If you can, now allow a negative event from the day to enter your mind, but keep it in its proportional place. Keep the positive thought strong and steady. If the negative event starts to build, push it back down or dismiss it, focusing instead on the positive one.

That’s it! It sounds simple, yet it’s surprisingly powerful. Try it on your homeward commute and see how it works!

In The Well-Balanced Teacher, I make the case that our own well-being as teachers is critical for our students. After all, if we’re not balanced and healthy, how will we ever maintain the energy and passion needed to create positive and vibrant learning environments for our students? So, try this simple mindfulness exercise each day for the next week on your way home, and see if it helps refresh your spirit, even just a little. Your students will reap the benefits!

  • Mike Anderson

    Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.

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    Mike Anderson
    Leading Great Learning
    Durham, NH
    Phone: +1 413.658.7907
    leadinggreatlearning.com
    mike@leadinggreatlearning.com

    Leading Great Learning

    Mike Anderson is an energetic, experienced, and highly sought-after educational consultant who helps facilitate great learning in schools all over the United States and beyond. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, consultant, presenter, and developer and has authored many books and articles about great teaching and learning.