Usable Knowledge is a trusted source of insight into what works in education — translating new research into easy-to-use stories and strategies for teachers, parents, K-12 leaders, higher ed professionals, and policymakers. Usable Knowledge is produced at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Bari Walsh (senior editor) and Leah Shafer (staff writer). Contact us at email@example.com.
Building Inner Strengths
Mindfulness as a catalyst for professional growth for educators
Mindfulness — a set of skills that helps us be more present, calm, and focused — can be a catalyst for social and emotional development and professional growth for educators. “There’s so much that educators want to give others that it can be hard to carve out the time to develop our own inner life and take care of yourself,” says Metta Karuna McGarvey, Ed.D.’10, an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on mindfulness.
Here, McGarvey offers five simple steps that any educator can take to increase wellbeing, navigate challenges, and cultivate inner strengths.
- Build focus. “For many of us, constant demands are deeply fatiguing and frustrating, making it hard to stay organized and get things done,” she says. To develop our ability to focus, McGarvey recommends taking one or two minutes several times a day to step away from our devices and get fully present. “Stretch, step outside, look out the window, concentrate on your breath — do just one thing, but do it with 100% of your attention.”
- Slow down. “This goes with building focus,” says McGarvey. “Take 10 or 15 minutes each day to just be. Meditate, do yoga, walk, make a cup of tea, take a hot bath, play with your kids or pet, or just sit and notice the beauty around you.”
- Take care of your body. “We all know it’s important, but many of us let this slide when busy. Adequate sleep is essential, as is limiting unhealthy food, caffeine, and alcohol, and eating fresh well prepared foods,” she says. These take discipline and time, but the benefits in energy and clarity are significant. Keep at it, urges McGarvey: “It takes a few months for your body to recover from poor habits and not enough sleep. And for many, exercise only becomes pleasurable after doing it regularly for three to four months.”
- Maintain perspective and lighten up. Keep difficulties in perspective when things get grim by remembering to look for the good, strive for a light touch, or find an alternate perspective. Looking for the humorous side that accompanies many challenges can be helpful. “But there is an important balance here,” says McGarvey. “Poking fun at our own shortcomings can be a great stress buster, but remember not to poke fun or make jokes at the expense of others.”
- Express gratitude. “Each night before you fall asleep, contemplate three good things about your day or your life,” recommends McGarvey. Savor each one for a minute or two and let yourself feel deep appreciation.
- Learn about mindfulness and career growth by exploring Building Inner Strengths of Leaders, a professional education institute that McGarvey chairs, guiding educators in the most effective practices in mindfulness.
- Listen to a Harvard EdCast with Rick Hanson on overcoming the stresses of education leadership. Hanson is a senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California–Berkeley and a faculty member at the Building Inner Strengths of Leaders institute.
- Listen to a Harvard EdCast with McGarvey and Professor Emeritus Jerome Murphy on the growing practice of mindful leadership.
- Read more about McGarvey’s simple practices that can lead to greater mindfulness.
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