Mindfulness in Teaching, T’filah, and Talking with Parent
By ISJL Education Fellow Margo Wagner
Mindfulness can manifest in many ways and can be implemented throughout synagogue life to create a comfortable environment for everyone. This article presents some ways to use mindful language when teaching, when leading or participating in t’filah, or prayer, and when talking with students’ guardians. Intentional practices help us lead meaningful lives and enhance Jewish education within the synagogue.
Bringing Mindfulness into the Classroom
A big part of being mindful in the classroom as a teacher is knowing how to react to different situations that come up without notice. It can be challenging to know how a student feels unless we ask them. One way to assess students each day is by devoting time every session to engage in intentional breathing and student check-ins.
There are many creative ways to make sharing feelings fun. For example, a silly mood chart, or emotion ‘weather report’—feeling sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.—are helpful tools that help children express themselves at the beginning of class. A breathing activity may also be valuable. As students inhale and exhale, teachers can encourage students to focus on their body parts such as the bend in a shoulder or softness of a cheek. Make sure students have a chance to relax if they notice any tension in their body.
The practice of setting an intention for the class establishes a welcoming tone for the day and may assist a teacher in understanding how to best approach a student. By using mindful strategies, teachers are better equipped to deal with certain students and situations throughout the lesson. This may feel weird and forced at first but if intentional activities are done consistently, they can be a great part of your normal routine. It is essential to note that these exercises are beneficial for the teacher just as much as they are healthy and stimulating for learners.
Mindfulness in T’filah
Sometimes sitting though t’filah can be a challenge or become a perfunctory exercise. However, t’filah does not have to be that way! Here are some tips on how to stay present and mindful during t’filah and, hopefully, enjoy a spiritual experience. Many songs and prayers are conducted solely in Hebrew, which poses a challenge to congregants unfamiliar with the language. However, many prayer books today, including the Mishkan T’filah and Lev Shalem, have translations and alternative readings in English. It may be helpful to step away from the traditional chanting and encourage people to peruse the prayer book on their own to find personal meaning in the sacred space. We are often more interested and present in prayer when we can make our own connections to the content.
Another way to become more mindful during t’filah is to think of the liturgical melodies as a musical midrash. Listening to this music and acknowledging how individual songs make us feel is an intimate exercise that positively contributes to prayer. Melodies convey a specific tone or energy that goes beyond a prayer’s written word. This is best illustrated when we listen to several different melodies of one prayer. The musical interpretations inspire us to consider the possible emotions and diverse messages evoked through prayer. These tools can help us stay more present in the moment and create a more interesting experience while praying.
Mindfulness When Talking to Parents
Having conversations with parents can be tricky when we need talk about their children or trying to get parents more involved in the religious school scene. But having mindful conversations and motives when talking with parents can help increase their involvement and benefit the students at home. One aspect of mindful conversations is active listening and getting to know the parents and their needs on a more personal level. Ask them for their input regarding what parents want for their students to get out of religious school experience. Good communication between educator and parent also allows learning opportunities to extend beyond the classroom for students.
Another aspect of being mindful is being aware of parents’ time, so be transparent and honest about your needs as a teacher. Exchanging schedule information and acknowledging expectations makes it easier to ask a parent for assistance weeks in advance. Hopefully, after these mindful conversations, teachers and parents can be on the same page. Teachers will know how to ask for help, and parents will be more inclined to help out and be a larger part of students' education.
Remember, being mindful in teaching, t'filah, and talking with parents takes practice, patience, and mutual acceptance. Breathing, slowing down our racing thoughts, and listening intently helps us absorb a different perspective than our own and develop special Jewish experiences.