Taking Risks Thanks to Self-Compassion – Greg Brooks-English

I believe everyone we meet impacts our life’s path. Some people, however, create a substantial shift in its trajectory. When I heard Greg Brooks-English talk about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at a KOTESOL workshop in Daegu over eight years ago, I felt this type of shift. From that day forward I have felt compelled to learn more about this approach to communication, and have dedicated a large portion of my life to this learning. It is through NVC that I first learned about the concept of self-compassion. I am grateful to Greg for his passion in sharing what he learns about making the world a gentler place. I am also grateful that he was willing to share once again for the Teachers Talking about Self-compassion series.

[See below for more information about the upcoming (October 24-25) NVC workshop in Seoul, South Korea.]

Greg's NVC Giraffe

Greg’s giraffe – In NVC, the giraffe is a symbol for speaking and listening from the heart. Read “Compassionate Communication” to learn more.

Tell us a bit about your life as a teacher. In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught?

I teach at Yonsei University’s International Campus in Seoul, South Korea as an English Residential Fellow. My primary courses are freshman English, and nightly activities. The courses are Listening and Speaking at intermediate and advanced levels, as well as Reading and Writing. I also teach a freshman seminar called Meditation in Daily Life. In the past I have taught Communication for Human Society which is an introductory three credit course in Nonviolent Communication, as well as a freshman seminar called Democratic Capitalism. I also taught another three-credit course titled, World Issues and the Media. The activities I lead are Speaking “Terrible” English Night and Women’s Sports.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

One strategy is a professional inventory in which every few years, or as needed, I check in with my colleagues and ask them to offer me feedback by answering two questions: A) What have you observed me say or do in the past several months or years that you didn’t like or would do differently?; B) What have you observed me say or do in the past several months or years that you really appreciated and liked that you’d like me do more of? This inventory really gives me a sense for how I’m perceived by those I value, and clarify anything by our staff who might have developed a story that was inaccurate and started believing it.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher? 

Self-compassion is essential as a teacher to me in that if I don’t have a measure of it I can’t take risks in the classroom and experiment. Also, it strengthens me to grow and develop and change into the teacher I really want to be. If I’m judging myself with moralistic judgements like “you’ll never be a good teacher” or “you sucked!” or “you really F-ed up that one”, then it doesn’t give me any space to connect with the living human energy I was trying to meet by attempting such an action. Instead, self-compassion gives me space to notice, “I regret having done that and next time I’ll do this instead”, or “that didn’t go the way I was hoping”, or “I’m feeling really disappointed about how that went and really am longing for a better outcome next time…what can I do to make that happen now?”

———————–

In addition to his work at Yonsei University, Greg has played a pivotal role in bringing NVC to the expat community in South Korea. One of these roles involved organizing a practice group at the Korean Centre for Nonviolent Communication. Next weekend (October 24-25) there will be an introductory workshop here. I have the honour of teaching one session alongside my first NVC teacher, Katherine Singer. If you are interested in joining, please sign up here: NVC introductory workshop registration.

Advertisements

Emotional & Physical Fitness – Rupa Mehta Talks about Self-Compassion

Rupa Mehta is a teacher, entrepreneur, fitness expert, creator of the Nalini Method and founder of the non profit NaliniKIDS. Her wellness philosophy – rooted in an understanding that true health comes from being emotionally and physically fit – was developed after years of working with clients in her New York City fitness studios. In her career, Rupa has helped thousands of adults and youth on their journey to physical and emotional wellness. Learn more about Nalini Method at nalinimethod.com and NaliniKIDS at nalinikids.org.

I first learned about Rupa’s work via one of my favorite YouTube channels, Wanderlust. The title of her talk, Connect to Your One Word, had me fully intrigued. If you read my blog, Throwing Back Tokens, you know my interest in compassionate communication and the idea of teachers developing emotional literacy. Well, by the end of Rupa’s talk I knew I was about to embark on a new approach to my long-held curiosity.

I immediately looked for her on Twitter (@RupaCONNECT), and when a member of her organization (@NaliniMethod) tweeted back, I took the chance of asking if Rupa might be interested in writing for the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series. Now, thanks to the magic of the internet, and her wonderful team, Jenny Caruso and Nidhi Thapar, I am honoured to share Rupa’s story and strategies for self-compassion and self-care.

Tell us a bit about your life as a teacher. In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught?

I teach adults and youth in the US physical fitness and emotional literacy skills. I’ve been teaching adult fitness classes since 2003 and youth, primarily middle schoolers, for the last 6 years.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

I exercise self-care by being artistic and creative, it energizes me. Whether it’s painting something for my own living space or helping someone else with a creative passion of theirs, I love tapping into my inner 12 year old who loved arts and crafts. Getting out of my comfort zone is also another way I exercise self-care. I love this place, Brooklyn Brainery, when I’m in the mood to switch it up and fall in love with randomness and learning.

The way I practice self-compassion is truly through teaching. Teaching connects me to people in a very intimate and eye-opening way and I feel less alone in the world. Teaching helps me trust the world. The experience connecting with a student is the best mirror I’ve ever had. The student always ends up teaching me, so I luckily become a perpetual student.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher? 

My goal is to help people learn to become their own teachers – to recognize when they are out of balance (physically or emotionally) and make active choices that will lead to them restoring their balance. This is self-care and learning to do this enables people to focus and achieve their goals whether they are personal or professional. To be able to go from feeling unbalanced to balanced, you must forgive and be compassionate towards the choices and actions that got you to that unbalanced feeling. Both self-care and self-compassion are baked into the work I do every day as a teacher.

Is self-care taboo for teachers in the UK? – Natalie Cotterill

Four in 10 new teachers quit within a year

If there ever was a reason to look into the necessity of self-care for teachers, the numbers in that article make a pretty damn good case. I was aware it was rough for teachers in the United Kingdom, but I didn’t realize it went this far.

I first learned about the stressful conditions from my dear friend, Natalie Cotterill, when she thanked me on a few occasions for adding links and blog posts to the Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page. In need of support, she even added the inspiring picture you see below to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. After reading the above linked article, I wondered how Natalie was still teaching!

I knew we had a lot to learn from her, and I am thankful she graciously offered to answer the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series’ questions about her teaching history, her strategies for self-care, and why self-care is important to her as a teacher.

——————————-

I have taught in South Korea and the UK. I’ve taught English language as a foreign language and English literature and language in the UK. This is my sixth year of teaching in the UK, I’ve moved this year from Secondary School (11-18) to a Sixth Form College (16-19).

When I was training to be a teacher, I had one lecture in which we were given the advice to, ‘hold on to your own professionalism.’ This, to me, meant determining for myself what successful teaching and learning looked like. It meant finding my own way to work and holding true to that, whilst taking advice and honing my skills. This is impossible almost everywhere in state education in the UK at the moment. New initiatives (which are often, in fact, regressive) and course changes are now the norm and many teachers, myself included, have only ever known life under a Conservative government. Teachers are encouraged to compete to mark the books more than others, to work longer and longer hours and to relish more pointless administrative work such as data entry, all of which takes us away from our own and our students’ learning. The competitive environment leads to teachers and students punishing themselves and feeling that whatever they do is not enough. I know that feeling only too well. I’ve witnessed colleagues and friends become ill with stress as the pressure mounts to meet the ever-changing standards.

Natalie grading papers

Natalie grading papers

Earlier in the year, I started attending a Yoga group locally. We practice Yoga Nidra, which involves group meditation for around two hours at a time. There is no physical exercise involved as the focus is on connecting will, mind and body. I stopped attending when my workload became ‘too great’ in the summer term. Looking back, it was then that I needed Tuesday nights to myself the most. The busier I am, the more important I think it is to find time to meditate, even for one minute. This is my way of being self-compassionate, but I often forget to look after myself in this way.

As a teacher in a very large London school,  with constant government-led changes to policy and a culture of fear (with initiatives like Performance Related Pay, which means teachers’ salaries are now linked to examination results), it’s so easy to lose sight of why you got into teaching, and to lose sight of who you are as an individual. A frantic, fear-driven environment is not conducive to learning or, most importantly, happiness. Your health can become bottom of the To Do list. I would go from coffee to keep me awake all day to wine to help me sleep at night. This is a cycle that becomes self-perpetuating.

It’s no wonder that the average length of career for teachers in the UK has dropped to ten years and is dropping every year. Self-care has almost become a taboo in UK schools, with teachers feeling that they have to agree to do anything of Ofsted or Senior Management tell them to, lest they be accused of not putting the children first. We need to change this and recognise that a work-life balance is not a luxury, that looking after yourself is not an indulgence.  You have to put your own oxygen mask on first, or you can’t help anyone.

I’m about to start teaching in a new environment, at a Sixth Form College in West London. I’m feeling anxious about getting everything ready for the term ahead and also excited. I’m hoping I’ve found an environment where self-compassion can not only be possible for me, but central to my life. Fingers crossed.

We’re in the same boat: Hana Tichá

One of the joys of gathering stories for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series includes the opportunity to look back on how I met the teachers who accept my request or volunteer to answer the three questions. To date, I have only physically met one teacher, and “meet” with the other two (found here and here) regularly via our favourite social networks.

This is how I met Hana Tichá: through one of our favourite online venues, blogging. Her blog, “How I see it now” came to my attention when we both decided to join the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge set out by John Pfordresher. I quickly learned that Hana brings care, mindfulness, and love to each word she types. I’ve also learned that many people, including me, are very appreciative of these words. They expand our heart and mind, and make our days a bit brighter.

Keep reading. You’ll understand what I mean.

Hana with redthumbforlove and heart

Hana’s #RedThumbForLove

Note: This is Hana’s second #RedThumbForLove snapshot. You can find her first one here.

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 

To the online world, I like to introduce myself as an English as a foreign language teacher, but here in the Czech Republic I consider myself to be a subject teacher of English at a secondary school.

In the past, I worked freelance and had classes of very small kids as well as adults of all ages and occupations. Currently, I’m working in the state sector of education and teach children aged 11-19. I’m a homeroom teacher to a class of 14-year olds, which I’m extremely proud of. I’m also the head of the English Department at our institution, which, on the other hand, yields more responsibility than pleasure.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

When I’m emotionally shattered or worried about work, the first thing I do is go and talk to my friends and colleagues. As a rule, they are usually more compassionate than I am self-compassionate.

Reading blogs of like-minded educators has a particularly soothing effect, too. People like Zhenya PolosatovaAnne HendlerKevin SteinAnna LosevaRose Bard, you, Josette, and many more always lift my spirits when I feel I’m getting off the right track. Also, writing my own blog helps me see things from a different perspective. I’m particularly grateful for the comments I get from fellow bloggers, especially for their message: Don’t worry; we’re in the same boat.

But sometimes I just grab a book that is not education-related: a novel, even something esoteric. There’s a copy of Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness sitting on my bedside table and I read it whenever I need to take a break from the stressful, material world or when I need to remind myself of the importance of compassion and love in a human’s life.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

Although they look similar on paper, compassion and self-compassion produce very different emotions which don’t have the same healing effect. When my colleague expresses a deep feeling for my suffering and misfortune, it helps a lot, but only temporarily. Self-compassion, on the other hand, has a permanent remedial effect. I believe that self-compassion changes you gradually and completely while constant compassionate comments from your colleagues may sometimes result in your stagnation.

To be honest, I’m not a naturally self-compassionate person; I tend to mercilessly judge and criticize myself and then I like to revel in self-pity for a while. This is not very helpful if you are a full-time teacher. A lot happens during the day at school and especially the emotional part of it can be overwhelming. In such conditions, a minor incident easily becomes a terrible disaster in your eyes and it affects your mood and sense of self-worth for a couple of days.

To conclude, I would say that the hardest part of any reflection process, which, to me, is synonymous with self-care, is forgiving. I believe that we constantly need to learn to forgive ourselves for being imperfect. Actually, why should we strive for perfection at all given that perfection kills, but wisdom makes a mistake every day?

I NEED movement: Theodora Papapanagiotou

A few years ago, I learned about a teaching community started by Shelly Sanchez Terrell called, The 30 Goals Challenge, where teachers shared their plans, hopes, fears, and dreams. This is where I met Theodora Papapanagiotou. This summer she will be a keynote speaker for the 30 Goals E-conference which starts July 16 and ends July 19. The title of her talk is: Be Someone’s Hero.

Today, because of the important work she does as a teacher, and because she shares her story of self-care for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series, Theodora is my hero.

Theodora Yoga

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 

My hometown is Thessaloniki, Greece. Although I have been many times abroad or to other places in Greece, I have never thought about living or teaching in another country.  It is a peculiar situation in Greece when it comes to teaching. If you are in the public sector, you have a day job as if for example you worked at an office (as far as salary is concerned). It is also considered a secure job but it is very difficult to pass the exam to actually get hired. It is also a big problem due to the fact that you have to relocate. On the other hand, if you work in the private sector, the pay is terrible and there is always the native English speaking teacher (NEST) /non-native English speaking teacher (NNEST) discrimination*. Although I have kept most of my private students, I currently work as an educational consultant at a big educational company here in Greece, mostly performing office work and curriculum design, but also teaching and teacher training.  I love my job, although it can be really demanding sometimes. If you consider that I teach privately as well, it can be 13-14 hours of work!

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

For me it is very important to keep balance. This is really hard lately. Long hours at work, no time to eat properly, no time to go to the gym, which is really crucial to me since I am a very kinesthetic person. I NEED movement in my life in order to function properly.

What I am trying to do is go to the gym at least 3 times a week (what makes me let off steam is spinning and cross training, but also yoga, if I want to relax).

Another very important issue is nutrition… something I have not managed to achieve, yet, but fighting my way to it.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

Self Care and Self-compassion are both really important especially because if you want to work with people, mostly children, you need your sanity. You need to be ok with yourself first so that you can transmit the positivity to others. How can you pass on your enthusiasm to your subject, if you are not happy with what you do and with your own self? How can you be there for your kids if you cannot handle things in your own life?

All these years I thought that we should put the needs of others first…. but you know what? To be able to do this, we have to feel confident with ourselves! Be well first before you take care of others!

Hoping to continue this on my own blog sometime soon – My country lives very hard times at the moment and people are really pessimistic on what it is about to happen. Writing helps me a lot to keep my balance and my focus. When your work has to do with people, keeping your calm is the best thing you can do.

You can find me over here at my blog, Keep On Teaching.

No matter what, I just keep on teaching!

————

*I recommend visiting the TEFL Equity Advocates website to learn more about the discrimination Theodora refers to, and to also learn about the inspiring work they are doing bring awareness to this issue.

Pause, Recognize, Name: Chaz Burton

The Teachers Talking about Self-compassion series is a place to learn about self-compassion from teachers around the world. And today, I am excited to present the first guest, Chaz Burton.

I first met Chaz in 2009 at our Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice group where for a few treasured years, a group of dear friends used to meet once a month to practice this form of compassionate communication. I have learned a great deal from Chaz about empathy (a core teaching in NVC), and was grateful he agreed to answer the series’ three questions so you could learn from him as well.

Teaching photo

In what country or countries do you currently teach?  What subject or skills do you teach?

I currently teach high school English in Jinan, China. Living in China in many ways requires a lot of self-compassion, for it can be quite difficult to live here, due to language barriers, inconsistent and restricted internet, some of the worst pollution in the world, crazily crowded and noisy streets and the difficulty in finding healthy food.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care?

Through the teachings of many practitioners of NVC and other teachers, I have gained some specific attitudes and strategies that help me extend self-compassion when challenges arise. The main one is to pause for a moment, recognize and name that I am being challenged. The next step is to take a deep, conscious breath, and remind myself that I am a human being, that all human beings experience challenges, and virtually all go through cycles of self-criticism and blame. (which is most of the time then projected onto others) These strategies are very significant steps in offering myself compassion.

…pause for a moment, recognize and name that I am being challenged. (click to tweet)

Beyond this, I remind myself, that I was, and am, doing the best that I could or can. This often takes some time, as the “jackal voices” – the voices of self-criticism – are trying to drag me down into the morass of self-blame and condemnation. At this point, if I am conscious (or maybe just lucky) the words of one or more of my “teachers of compassion” arise in my mind, such as “May I give myself the kindness and compassion I need right now,” or “I’m doing the best I can right now and I give myself full permission to really be with, without judgement, whatever I am feeling or need to feel.”

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

The axiom that actions speak louder than words is certainly true for my students; they learn as much or more from what I do than from what I say.

Just like me they make mistakes all the time in their struggle to identify and fulfill their potential. Having taught in Asia for six years, I find this particularly true of Asian kids; there is so much pressure for them to “perform” that it is easy for them to get caught in self-condemnation and lack of self-confidence.

The more I can model self-compassion, the more I can be compassionate with them, and the more they learn it, implicitly and explicitly.

————-

In addition to being a teacher, Chaz is also the founder of the Terra Promus project. Terra Promus helps him — and leads participants — to keep hope for a loving, just and sustainable world, which he admits is increasingly difficult to do. Follow the important work Chaz is doing by subscribing to the Terra Promus website, and following the Facebook page.

#redthumbforlove & in support: @KRISellaneous

This post has a few layers, but the main theme revolves around a dear friend of mine, Kristina Eisenhower. The layers relate to today being her 52nd birthday, and her red-painted thumb.

There is one birthday gift I would love to give her, but I can’t. This gift has to come from you. I’ll explain in a bit. It’ll become clear after I share the story of her #redthumbforlove.

Whenever I hear about teachers who have painted their thumb red (click here to learn why), I always ask them to send me a picture so I can add it to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. To my delight, Kristina enthusiastically sent a few shots along with an explanation. In pure Krisellaneous style (this name will also become clear), her explanation pointed to two beautiful layers of care:
redthumbforlovedarksquare-2-2

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am into painted nails and doing my own nail art. I love sporting designs that are meaningful to me, or project my passions or show support for other endeavors and individuals.  So, in this month of June, I am giving 2 thumbs up — one bright rainbow for Gay Pride Month, and one solid shiny red for #redthumbforlove support!  As for me personally, I am about to embark on a new manner of sharing information or knowledge that is very different from my traditional role as a classroom teacher.  So, not only did I paint my right thumb red for love, I painted 7 other fingernails and 8 toenails red to bring me 15 times more self-compassion! In case you’re doing the math here, I DO have all my fingers and toes. It’s just that my two big toenails are also waving the rainbow flag, as well as my right ring finger.  So, four digits are down for the LBGT community, and the rest are REDdy for LOVE!

This woman is all about support! For her birthday, I would love to support her right back. Here’s my idea.

Today Kristina begins her “new manner of sharing information or knowledge”, which she just unveiled as “The Experience Expedition”. I am very excited about her Expedition as it is a celebration of life and I think we can always use more celebration in our lives. You can read more about her project via her blog, KRISellaneous.

The name of her blog aptly points the miscellaneous experiences she describes for her audience. But there is another notable element about her blog: it is an example of self-care. Kristina writes about what matters to her and what brings her joy. Via her writing, she attends to her passions. I think one part of self-care is taking the time to honour and cherish our lives. KRISellaneous supports this idea.

And now for the birthday gift. I have a request for you, dear reader. And please know I have no expectations in making this request. I am grateful for whatever way you choose to respond. If it connects to you, the gift I would love to give Kristina is your subscription to her blog (sign up here). I am confident this will be a space for you to rest, and relax when you need a little break from the classroom. If you enjoy what you see there, you may also want to follow her self-care filled Instagram feedher Twitter account, or her Facebook page.

Thank you for taking my request into consideration. But most importantly, thank you for your support. :)

Happy Birthday Kristina!