Staying Connected – Fabiana Casella Talks About Self-Compassion

Have you ever wondered how some teachers seem to do it all? Not only do they care for their students, but they also put their heart and soul into their relationships with friends and families.  Fabiana Casella is this type of teacher. Seeing the work she does with her online teaching communities (visit her blog, The Goal-Minded, Globally Connected Educator, to see what I mean), I wondered how a teacher who gives so much also manages to give to herself. I am grateful that Fabiana generously offered to share her story and strategies on the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series for all of us to learn from.

Fabiana’s Red Thumb for Love

I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I´ve been teaching English as a foreign language for more than twenty years plus the six years I taught English as a second language and Spanish in the United States. I personally think there are no coincidences in life. I believe there is something superior to us that leads us to where we best fit, so I would like to share some aspects of how I moved between Argentina and the United States, and how this relates to my story of self-compassion.

In 2001 there was a big economical change in Argentina but my family and I, especially my husband,  had started to feel the transition a couple of years before that specific date. There are certain moments in your life when you have to make decisions and think what is best for you, so that was why I applied to teach at a high school in the United States and got accepted. My husband, my only son back then (Martín, 4), and I moved to North Carolina, USA. We lived there only for three years as I was an exchange teacher. Then, after the permit to work expired, we moved back to our country. But soon after that, I was offered the job again, and we moved back to the American South again! Hurray! We had had in mind to stay longer than the three years permitted by the exchange program to take advantage of the kind of life and benefit for our son, who was already bilingual and doing so well at school. I was so grateful to be able to offer him this life.

I have to admit that that was a turning point in our lives, especially in my own life as a person and as an educator. I have never realized that what I was experiencing was emotionally related to “self-compassion”. I had obviously felt it but never thought so deeply about the fact that being compassionate about others as well as myself would bring me so much self-reflection and inner peace. As an educator who had been trained in one country, and then to teach in another culture, I had to adapt my thinking, my way of teaching and… should I say almost everything as a world citizen and international educator to succeed? I am not so sure if success is the right word to describe my experience, but maybe victorious is more suitable. I made good friends and had wonderful students who taught me that although life is not the same around the world, living and dying happens everywhere. In this way my mind and my eyes were more ready to think and see beyond that very boundary that I had been immersed in before. Reflecting after my classes and talking to my fellow teachers, as well as administrators, was absolutely enriching to my heart.

Have I learned enough? Definitely not!  Have I changed my way of thinking and seeing things? Absolutely, yes!

Since then, I have been trying to make connections and keep in touch with the international community of the best educators and thanks to the Internet, I was able to do so. That was a blessing. That was what helped me overcome the isolation I felt when I came back to my life in my home country. Believe it or not, staying connected helped me to re-build myself and find another way of seeing my life as a teacher: I try to blog, interact and keep on learning on a daily basis. Moving out of the country had its purpose in my life and now I understand, thanks to the faith that guides me day and night, I am back for a different reason. I would have never started blogging and sharing if I had remained in the same place all my life.

By giving I feel I get more and more everyday. As I always say and fully believe (as a music lover the lyrics of this song always inspire me):

… in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

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Creating a Space for Self-compassion: Rose Bard

About three years ago, my concept of teacher development completely changed. This is when I became a member of the online community, International Teacher Development Institute (sign up here to become a member of iTDi). Here I met teachers from all around the globe with an immense passion to learn and to grow by sharing their ideas, fears, and hearts. One of these teachers is Rose Bard.

Rose’s generosity of heart comes through the words she writes for her blog ELT Diary. Among many thoughtful topics, she writes about global citizenship for language learners, and about creating a supportive dialogue of learning between her and her students. This dialogue also extends to her teaching community, and Rose’s desire to add her story to the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series is another examples of this big-heartedness.

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? 

A lot of people when they read my name assume I’m a foreigner, but I’m actually Brazilian. I lived in England for 5 years though and when I came back to Brazil, I was offered a job in a language school. After taking the proficiency test and going through an in-service training, I was hired full time. That was in 1998 and I’ve been teaching English ever since.

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

Being kind to myself is recognizing everyday that a human relationship is a complex one, and yet the most marvelous. Every interaction might be filled with assumptions about ourselves and others and I learned through the years that we need to be patient, but above all, love with all our heart, soul and mind. I’m a follower of Jesus and I take his words very seriously. Reading his words and the words of inspiring people helps me care for myself and exercise self-compassion. I know I can count on others to help in the way and that keeps me going.

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

Another struggle of human dimension is the fear of failure, and mistakes are often magnified by this fear. It’s common for someone learning a foreign language to feel odd trying to make new sounds, figuring out things they never heard or seen before. It’s hard to find a learner who doesn’t have this awful frustrating feeling of not knowing. Especially when we become more self-aware of things around us and about us, not knowing something leaves us with this uneasy feeling. Being aware of this as a language learner myself, I bring to class this topic and reflect with learners. Group work I feel my job nowadays is to support them more than anything by creating an environment where we focus on doing what is good for learning. Therefore, I want this space not to feel threatening so they can exercise self-compassion for themselves (click to tweet) and compassion to others. By creating this space, I’m also exercising self-compassion for myself because most of the struggles we have as teachers is related to the relationships we build inside the classroom while dealing with learners expectations and beliefs about themselves and others.

Making errors is an important part of the learning journey and we make many while trying out something until we can learn to do it well. Making sure that learners understand that is paramount for a fruitful life as lifelong learners. My goal becomes to inspire them while they learn from me, with me and others. And by being kind to their peers, they also learn to practice self-compassion and I see this as key for personal development as a language learner.

Kristin Neff’s definition of self-compassion is a perfect one for me.

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.

Seeking that for our own lives eventually becomes part of our own practice as a teacher. Knowing that others need it as much as we do, makes the whole world to be seen differently.

Link

The beginning of the #redthumbforlove project

“Teaching can be a lonely profession. Often, we don’t have anyone to turn to who understands the challenges we face. Self-care may be the only strategy we can turn to when the job gets too hard. When you feel overwhelmed, this little self-compassion reminder may just be the thing to bring you a little ease. Each time you look at your coloured nail, check your state of mind to see if you’re in your old pattern of blame or shame, and remember that you are doing the best you can at that moment. Acknowledge what you are feeling: don’t push it away and don’t dwell in it. Just feel it.”

Read the rest of the post, Teacher Self-Compassion #RedThumbForLove – Compassion Training 3, on my blog, Throwing Back Tokens.

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