Brenda Bradford is a math teacher at Male High School. Her main passions are teaching students how to become human beings by embracing mindfulness practices, sustaining and rebuilding species populations such as sea turtles and penguins, and reaching out with lovingkindness and compassion to all creatures in a tangible, helpful manner.
Bravely, confidently, and courageously I stand at the edge of the precipice. Surveying the vibrant array of beauty in this 360 degree expanse, I note the intense azure sky, the wispy white cotton-ball clouds, the verdant foliage, and the animated magnificence of the creatures below me. Then, with my hands clasped over my heart, I utter this passionate benediction with confident intention:
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I feel safeguarded from inner and outer harm.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May I touch fathomless, genuine peace.
May I know the artless joy of being alive.
May my spirit and psyche awaken myself and others.
Then, with a deep inhalation rushing through my innermost being from the bottom of my soles, upward through my legs and torso, and finally releasing itself as a mighty exhalation…..I jump from the cliff’s edge and freefall joyously downward….
Aspirations to Create Human Beings Instead of Human Doings
And plunge into the crystalline water below. It teems with a plethora of sentient schools of creatures. However, these are not a bevy of sea life—they are a group of high school students. I hunger to help these young people to become human beings who value themselves, each other, and the world to the utmost possible. Most of all, I yearn for all of them to be meaningfully interconnected…. with each other, and all other beings on the planet.
My aspiration grows even more urgent when I realize many of them hide behind a layer of loneliness, fear, and stress—and often perceive school more as a prison as they dwell on their community’s margins. Many of them purposely hide; others are pushed aside by peers, family, society, and sometimes teachers. I want all of these worthy youth to know they are important, that they all can attain freedom from anxiety, isolation, and heartache.
To understand my call-to-arms, it is important to journey back several years when I was transformed personally and professionally by this thing called “mindfulness.” After attending a daylong professional development session on this potent subject, I no longer felt that I needed to live as a robotic, numb “actor” going through the motions of living and teaching. I, in fact, had been given a new lease on living as a human being, not as a human doing. From that moment on, I immersed myself in studying mindfulness and learning how to guide my students into becoming mindful, compassionate, and selfless human beings.
Heightening Engagement in Meaningful Connectedness
To enable my students to connect with my vision, I recognized that I needed to implement ways for all of us to engage in meaningful interconnectedness. Therefore, I implemented the following measures:
- I consistently modeled my own mindfulness practice, focusing on lovingkindness, compassion, and selflessness. I recognized that students would respond to my sincerity.
- I conversed with my students about matters they are interested in—general “small talk” which bridges the gap between pupil and adult to strengthen our connectedness.
- After creating a lovingkindness, encouragement, and compassion bulletin board outside my classroom, my empowered students shared their own thoughts and feelings on sticky notes. These takeaway notes of encouragement and wisdom for their peers could be read or “claimed” by anyone. These practices (graphically shown in slideshow with title slide for link depicted to the right) ignited the students’ enthusiasm for creating meaningful interconnectedness with each other.
- Inside the classroom, I also replicated the lovingkindness and encouragement notes. However, each student wrote a sticky note message which remained on their desks. The room became filled with desks halfway covered with these colorful inspirations. I also rotated the notes, so that students can see what others have written. Once a month, I started anew with blank sticky notes for students to address a different positive prompt. By far, this created the most positive “buzz” amongst all the students—even the ones who appeared the wariest when I first introduced these practices.
- As part of this effort, I also recognized a “Student of the Week” on my door and presented each recipient with a certificate. Students received this award in each class based on their demonstration of mindfulness, compassion, and selflessness. My students eagerly anticipated the announcement each new week regarding whom I had selected from their respective classes.
Research Method Encapsulation
My original goal this semester was to increase my students’ overall mindfulness, compassion, and selflessness. Through utilizing much research from The Mind of the Leader (2018) by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, I developed some general guidelines by which to determine my students’ progress. Measuring students’ inner feelings is a messy business; therefore, the data I collect is based on meticulous empirical observations and daily reflections on each of my classes. I created my individual element sin my Measurement Checklist to monitor based on my overall vision and behaviors which I could discernibly assess. The fundamental components can be viewed in this checklist (thumbnail depiction seen to the right).
An Eye-Opening Surprise
Recently, one of my classes showed me how impactful my vision has become in their lives. They all remained mindful, compassionate, and selfless throughout the entire 90-minute block….and they directed their intentions almost entirely to sustain me after I had shared with them that I was undergoing a difficult, personal time.
I truly have never been as proud of a group of students as they followed all my guidance. They presented me with the best reward any class has bestowed upon me—their absolute trust, respect, and devotion as they tirelessly responded to my directions with cheerfulness, attention, and enthusiasm. Their selfless loyalty is reminiscent of the movie Dead Poet’s Society (1989) when several students stand on their desks in tribute to their teacher Mr. Keating as he leaves the classroom after being terminated for instilling within them the fervor to think for themselves. Just as Keating taught his students to find answers outside conventional norms, those are the very foci I am ardently laboring to inspire my students to transform into human beings.
Lessons Learned from My Model
The general culture and climate have improved in most of my classes by implementing this system. However, some noteworthy trends have emerged over time.
- Do not allow naiveté or personal zeal to “change the world” override common sense. Communicate with administrators, parents, and students about any major changes before they are enacted. This helps to avoid creating any major conflicts which could lead to distrust from supervisors, parents, and students.
- Larger classes (25+ students) take more time to “buy into” meaningful interconnectedness due to peer distractions and less time for me to personally engage with each student. Their compassion level growth (20%), however, emerges as outpacing mindfulness (10%) and selflessness (15%). I found this occurs because they genuinely care about others—however, they also need to maintain their laissez-faire exterior to maintain peer credibility.
- Smaller classes work together more homogeneously when setting up a mindful, compassionate, and selfless culture. Since they are able to interact with each other on a more personal level, students’ responses intuitively flow with higher levels of positive results. Therefore, bonding occurs more easily, and the students are more open to growth mindsets. My study found their growth outpaced the larger classes—mindfulness increased 30%, compassion skyrocketed to 48%, and selflessness surged 32%.
- Selflessness needs to be recognized and praised in class as often as possible. Even if they don’t express their desire for praise, students increase their selfless acts of kindness and compassion at a much higher rate whenever I make the time to show that I notice their positive actions.
- Even the most mindful, compassionate, or selfless students sometimes experience a difficult time during class. As human beings, none of us are perfect, so be mindful that any student will experience “off” times.
- Recording data requires shrewd resilience and diligence. By observing a different class each day, I am able to document each student’s progress twice a week.
Students need to be empowered without reducing their individuality. Building a compassionate, selfless, and mindful community is within their reach as long as we collectively strive together to remain resilient and uphold each other as wonderful, curious, and beautiful individuals. With this in mind, I stand once again at the precipice, but with my students alongside me. We each are able to utter the following with poignant intent:
May we be filled with lovingkindness.
May we feel safeguarded from inner and outer harm.
May we accept ourselves just as we are.
May we touch fathomless, genuine peace.
May we know the artless joy of being alive.
May our spirit and psyche awaken ourselves and others.
And we embark on a new meaningful interconnectedness, and jump….together.