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Podcast: How Mindfulness Can Help Reduce Burnout with Dr. Michelle C. Chatman

  • 40 MIN READ

Join us for episode 2 of our new podcast, where we discuss mindfulness and burnout with Dr. Michelle C. Chatman.

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Welcome to Episode 2 of Teach & Learn: A podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. Hosted by Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L, the show features candid conversations with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 education space. We discuss trending educational topics, teaching strategies and delve into the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Episode Description

In today’s episode, we talk mindfulness and mindset and how both can help students, teachers and educational administrators manage and reduce burnout. We welcomed Dr. Michelle C. Chatman, a cultural anthropologist who teaches undergraduate courses on African Spirituality, Culture and Social Justice, and Urban Ethnography, at the University of the District of Columbia. Dr. Chatman and Dr. Ford discussed:

  • How a trip to Africa acted as a catalyst for change in Michelle’s career
  • The differences between mindfulness, mindset and contemplative approaches
  • The creation of the Youth Mindfulness Integration for Nonviolence Development (M.I.N.D) program
  • Challenging internalized racism, biases and sexism in underrepresented student communities
  • Why teachers shouldn’t underestimate what was lost during the pandemic
  • A short, practical mindfulness exercise

Show Notes

  • 02:10: Dr. Michelle C. Chatman’s background
  • 05:30: A primer on mindfulness, mindset and contemplative approaches
  • 09:45: How traveling to The Gambia, West Africa impacted Dr. Chatman’s career path
  • 14:34: The juxtaposition of mindfulness vs. mindset: how are they similar and how are they different?
  • 18:35: The creation of the Youth M.I.N.D program and how it has impacted educators and administrators
  • 23:23: How Youth M.I.N.D helped challenge internalized racism, biases and sexism toward marginalized students
  • 33:38: How educational professionals can address burnout
  • 41:20: Get started with a short mindfulness practice
  • 48:05: What’s next for Michelle and the MICA Lab at UDC
  • 50:45: What’s next for Michelle

Resources Discussed in the Episode

Watch Michelle’s TEDx talk on contemplative pedagogy

See why Michelle was named one of the Top 10 Women in the Mindfulness Movement by Mindful.org

Learn more about Michelle’s work with Project Youth M.I.N.D

Listen to Michelle’s restorative mindfulness song

Learn more about Dr. Michelle C. Chatman

Learn more about Dr. Cristi Ford and the Teaching and Learning Studio

Sign up for D2L’s Master Class on Mindset and Mindfulness

About the Speakers

Dr. Michelle C. Chatman is a tenured Associate Professor in the Crime, Justice, and Security Studies program at The University of the District of Columbia where her scholarship centers on urban inequality, youth resilience, contemplative and decolonial pedagogy, and Black family wellbeing. As a contemplative educator and vocalist, she weaves meditation, music, and introspective practices into her instruction to help facilitate liberated learning environments of authenticity and connection. She is a former fellow with the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program, one of the signature health leadership programs of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Transformative Educational Leadership (TEL) program.

Dr. Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training and student services to her role. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.

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Full Transcript

Cristi Ford (00:00):

Welcome to Teach and Learn a podcast for curious educators brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of academic affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K through 20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s edtech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils—class is about to begin.

So thank you so much for joining us for Teach and Learn listeners. And thank you so much Dr. Michelle Chatman for being our guest today. We are so excited to talk with you today, as we’ve just produced a masterclass discussing mindset and mindfulness. And knowing you and your history and your work and your expertise, you have such a rich history and legacy around this work. And so we knew you were the perfect person to talk to us, so thank you for making the time to do that today.

Michelle C. Chatman (01:04):

Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be here with you and your listeners.

Cristi Ford (01:10):

So let me just give our listeners a bit of context around your work before you jump in. Colleagues and educators, Dr. Michelle Chatman is a tenured associate professor in crime, justice and security studies at the University of the District of Columbia. Her research and scholarship at UDC focuses around urban inequalities, youth resilience, contemplative, and decolonial pedagogy and black family wellbeing. Michelle also serves as a founding director of the UDC mindfulness and contemplative action lab referred to as MICA and we’ll a little bit more about that later. And she is a native Washingtonian. She completed her undergraduate degree at UDC and her master’s in doctorate, in cultural anthropology at American University. And so Michelle given your history and all the great work that you have done, I’d really love to hear you share with our lessons a little bit about your journey.

Michelle C. Chatman (02:10):

Sure. Thank you. So I’ve been at UDC now for about 10 years, and as you mentioned, I am a graduate of UDC so you can perhaps imagine my excitement at the opportunity to come back and join the faculty first in a visiting professor role. But I was just so excited to be returning to UDC, because it was home for me. It was where I had been cultivated and supported as a scholar, as a critical thinker. And I’ll say, I don’t mean to brag a little bit, but I was a bit of a golden child when I was a student at UDC some years ago. I was campus queen, I was on the student government, I became board rep, student board rep. And so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to pour into students the way that I had been poured into. And I’ll tell you those first couple of years were rough.

They were really a challenge. I was not aware. I wasn’t aware. Just the faculty side of being at an institution and I was really surprised at the level of faculty conflicts and the sense of divisiveness and lack of support for junior faculty. I felt really isolated all these student grievances, I’m like, what’s going on here? Right? So I really was looking for some support. I loved teaching, but there are all these other dynamics that many of your listeners will be familiar with, that I wasn’t prepared for, and really didn’t have any support in navigating.

So I learned about the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and the membership arm of that organization, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. We have an annual conference. I say, we, because I’m now a really active member in that organization. And I chair the board for CMind, but I began to meet other higher Ed professionals who were having these same kinds of experiences, where they just saw a lot of pain in isolation and academia.

And faculty wanted to teach from a deeper place, they wanted to serve from a deeper place and teach their students, right? Another way of being in the world, their teaching, wasn’t just driven by, okay, get these skills, get the degree so you can get the high paying job, but they really wanted to teach them how to be full authentic beings in the world.

And that really was the beginning of my work around contemplative approaches and mindfulness at UDC and then at other institutions. I got some funding to do a contemplative speaker series and then started offering faculty retreats and professional development workshops on integrating contemplative approaches like mindfulness, like music, like reflection and deep listening into pedagogy, andragogy, as I should say, to help learners learn more deeply and form more authentic, connected, healthy communities.

Cristi Ford (05:30):

So one of the things that I know you won’t brag on about yourself, but I wanted to note here for our listeners that Dr. Chatman has been named as one of the 10 most powerful women of the mindfulness movement by mindful.org. And so as you talk about mindfulness and contemplative work, help me and help our listeners understand how do you define that? What’s the difference? How do we make sense of these two spaces and where they intersect and where they go in different directions? I’d love to hear you give us a little bit more insight on that.

Michelle C. Chatman (06:05):

Sure. So mindfulness generally is a way of paying attention and being present to the moments of our lives with kindness, with curiosity, and with openness. The way we talk about mindfulness now is really a secularized version of mindfulness, because of course it is a very deeply embedded component of the Buddhist tradition and many other indigenous traditions, but mostly from the east, right? In the us context, Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized mindfulness with his creation of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR. Which is a very specific kind of curriculum and way of approaching mindfulness that was initially used to support his patients who were in pain. So he found that through a series of exercises of attuning to the body and regulating the breath and really paying attention to, and sitting with pain, with gentleness and with openness, it sort of helps alleviate pain. So we can expand that and think about the many ways that there is suffering among us and justices and equity, people not having the very basic needs met.

And if we apply a mindful or a contemplative of perspective to that, we can understand that we first have to allow ourselves to be present to this awareness. This awareness of suffering on an individual level, on a collective and a social and a structural and systemic level. We first have to allow ourselves to be fully present to it before we can become active and disrupt systems and cycles of harm, whether on a personal level or a collective level. So contemplative practices are those that are introspective, reflective practices, mindfulness is one way of being contemplative telling deep stories, listening deeply to another human being, bearing witness to another human being, being in nature. These are also ways that we can cultivate a contemplative way of being. And that is something that is, I think very much missing from our broader culture and certainly from our corporations and institutions. I think we’re beginning to tap into it now more so because of what COVID has taught us about the need for wellbeing. But largely we have ignored this way of being that is very rich and prominent and many indigenous cultures.

Cristi Ford (09:09):

I appreciate that framing and context, as you talked about the pandemic and as I’ve started to talk to educate K through 20, not just in the higher education space, but even in the K12 space around mindfulness, it’s really important how you frame that for us in terms of the connection points. And so you’ve talked a little bit about your work and your contextualizing that at UDC and you’re work in higher education. But I also know that you’re the creator of Youth M.I.N.D a mindful based SEL program for teens. And so I would love to also have you share with our listeners where your work began in K through 12 and how it started and the framing of mindfulness in that setting?

Michelle C. Chatman (09:54):

Absolutely. So after completing UDC, I had the great fortune of traveling to The Gambia, West Africa in Senegal to work with young people. And it was just the most amazing education for me, traveling to different parts of The Gambia and working with youth through a national award program, it was called the president’s award scheme. And I really just got an incredible enlightening about what helps young people develop and thrive the kinds of community connections, connections to the environment, to one another. So that was just a very rich foundation for me.

When I returned from The Gambia in, I think around 1993, from that initial visit, I was looking forward to spending time with a brother whom I had honestly just learned about because we grew up in separate households. And unfortunately he was lost to gun violence in the district of Columbia. And we didn’t really get to develop that deep relationship that we both were so looking forward to, in fact, the last time I saw him, it was at a bus stop in DC.

And he said, “I want to hear all about your trip to Africa.” And I’m like, “I want to tell you, I can’t wait. We’re looking forward to it. And just a couple of weeks later, my dear brother Abdullah was gone. And that impacted me profoundly because I started to really look at the ecosystems that our young people are living in and asking questions about how can we really ensure their safety, their thriving, their wellbeing, what can we do?

So I started focusing more on youth development in my career and doing more with youth in DC. And I became a fellow with the interdisciplinary research leaders program, which is one of the signature leadership development program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and this is run out of the University of Minnesota. And with two researchers over the course of three years, we focused on mindfulness, restorative justice, social justice education.

How do these things come together to help create a framework for supporting young people’s development? And so I designed Youth M.I.N.D using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory to think about the communities that young people grow up in, their homes, the interactions between homes and schools, the interactions between policy and the availability of resources, just to help us think more broadly about our young people’s lives and how we can help them be healthier.

So Youth M.I.N.D is a program that integrates mindfulness, restorative justice, social justice education, and the arts to help young people understand themselves differently, to equip them with tools around social, emotional wellbeing and decision making and conflict resolution so that they can respond to conflicts and also understand this very interesting stage of development that they’re in called adolescent. When the brain is rapidly changing and growing and the emotions and all of that are just sort of interesting.

So that’s what Youth M.I.N.D aspires to do, it aspires to serve young people, to sort awaken them to their own inner wellbeing, to equip them with tools, but it also seeks to help educators and counselors and parents understand this period of adolescent development in the brain. And the ways, unfortunately, in which our society has criminalized certain young people, youth of color. The ways in which many of our young people from urban communities and black and brown communities do not receive the kinds of support and guidance that they need and their families don’t, right? So it’s aspirational right now, we’re mostly working with young people in DC in the summertime, because I’m working full time as a professor. But I’m really looking forward to growing the program and welcoming other partners so we can see where it can really have more impact.

Cristi Ford (14:34):

So one of the things that I think is important that we talk about just a bit, because we cover this in our masterclass is the juxtaposition of mindset versus mindfulness. I think that when you look at Carol Dweck’s work on mindset and the ways in which you cultivate a growth mindset versus mindfulness, I think I’d really love to hear your take on that. So that listeners, as they go through the masterclass might have a little bit more of an image of how those two are connected or how they’re different.

Michelle C. Chatman (15:09):

I think they’re deeply connected, because our mindset determines what we will approach, what we won’t and to what degree or with how much vigor might we approach something. I think mindset can also move us towards examining deeply held beliefs about ourselves and about the world that perhaps we have not taken the time to examine.

I’ll give you a quick example. I remember when this movie Lean On Me, came out star Morgan Freeman, one of my favorites actors. And he was portraying a school principal, Joe Clark. And while I don’t agree with all of Mr. Clark’s techniques, there is one incredibly powerful line that was used in this movie and I hope it was something that Mr. Clark said himself. He’s working with the students, preparing them for, I think, a standardized test, a state test, and the student population at this school is predominantly African American, black students, Latino students.

And he says to them, with all of this powerful, loud energy, “You are not inferior. You are not inferior.” And I’ll tell you, I still get chills thinking about that today. Because that was me. I grew up in a two parent household, very supportive parents and family, and had wonderful experiences in my community and in my schools, but still I had somehow internalized this notion of inferiority as a black person. And we know that the accompanying idea is superiority by people in white bodies.

And neither of these things are true. Yet, it had been real for me in some ways, otherwise it would not have resonated in my body in the way that it did. And so that line from that movie allowed me to start thinking more deeply. What do I think about myself? What do I think about my capabilities? How do I approach new challenges or tasks? And this has to do with mindset.

And so I invite educators, students, everyone to really think about the mindset that we have now. I know Carol Dweck’s work doesn’t necessarily address race and our racial hierarchy, but I think it needs to. Because we know that this is a real factor when we talk about teacher expectations of students. It’s a real factor when we talk about resources made available or withheld from certain school districts and institutions. Well, so I think we really do need to interrogate our mindsets, not just on an individual level, but how has our history, how has inequity and the structures and systems within which we move, shape our mindset around ourselves and those that are not like us?

Cristi Ford (18:35):

I really appreciate that. Thank you. I love how you’ve talked about the creation of Youth M.I.N.D. And I’d like to kind of stay here for a minute and get a little bit deeper. I’d love to hear, maybe you share with us how Youth M.I.N.D has impacted a teacher, how you’ve seen impact and had conversation with administrators. Because I think that as our listeners are walking away, I’d really love to be able to paint the picture on the kinds of things Youth MIND is working to do and how it’s transforming spaces and educational spaces. And so could you share with us maybe an example from either one of those lenses?

Michelle C. Chatman (19:18):

Sure. So a couple of summers ago in partnership with Crittenton Youth Services located in DC, I offered an in person series of Youth M.I.N.D workshops with mostly black girls from the city. And in one of the sessions, there were youth workers and the teens themselves, we focused on the adultification of black girls. And Dr. Monique Morris has done lots of research in this area and others. And that research shows that as young as five and six years old, black girls are perceived as being older than they actually are, being more knowledgeable about sex and drugs and adult activities, and not only knowledgeable but engaged in those things. And so when it comes to the way black girls are often perceived and treated in our schools, they are disproportionately suspended from schools, disproportionately referred for punitive action by the principal or the behavioral team.

They are sort of seen as problematic, right? As bad girls in schools. Not just because of what they are doing, but also because of some of the inherited ways of perceiving their behavior. The bodies of black girls are surveilled and criminalized, girls who don’t wear uniforms or girls who wear uniforms in their bodies look a certain way in those uniforms. Girls who ask questions or perhaps challenge the opinions or thoughts of their teachers. Right? And it’s interesting because I was reading some of this research while in graduate school, the research of Signithia Fordham, who talks about these very same dynamics. Only, it’s a lot more pervasive now and much more concerning now because an encounter with a school resource officer today can result in a young girl having a record, if you will.

And we know that when young people have just one encounter with law enforcement or when they have one and they’ve experienced suspension from school, it significantly increases the chances that they will later on have interaction with law enforcement and may even drop out of school. So we have to look at the ways, we have to question the ways that we’re seeing our students. We have to have the courage and the bravery to challenge internalized racism and biases and sexism around our students. And I think mindfulness and contemplative approaches are a way that we can begin to cultivate that self-awareness and of course, bring in that systemic structural and historical awareness. So in this summer workshop, we talked about all of this with young girls.

They got to write poems, they got to talk about themselves, how they saw their bodies, what were their interactions in schools, how they were treated by teachers, counselors, administrators. And we have of their stories that speak to the reality of this. Right? So it was incredibly powerful and the youth workers, and we’ve done versions of this workshop virtually with young people in DC and partnership with the department of parks and recreation in DC. And many of the summer workers are just they’re floored, right? Some of the teachers are just amazed that this is a thing, and it really is a thing.

Cristi Ford (23:19):

So when you share with us the importance of the work you did in the summer with youth mind and these young women, I just wondered what resonated with those teachers. What resonated with the program, coordinated those who historically have been working with these young women and maybe what were their takeaways. And so, as you talk about how transformative it was for the young girls, I also wonder what did you observe from those teachers that were able to observe this process?

Michelle C. Chatman (23:49):

Great. So the teachers and youth workers, what they walked away with was an understanding of how essential it is that as educators, we examine ourselves, that we pay attention to our inner lives and we tend to our inner lives. And we unearth some of the biases that we all hold. And that can inadvertently come out in the ways that we teach and interact with young people. The ways that we speak to some students versus other students. The tone that we use with students, the assumptions that we make around their behavior and their being, the value that we assign to students. Now, of course, a teacher would say, “I love all of my students. I treat them equally.” But that is just not always accurate because we live in a society that has a history of racial hierarchy and classism and so forth. And all of us to some extent have internalized these messages around the value of our students, the abilities of our students. And we often are operating out of a deficit model when we interact with our students, particularly black and brown students and lower resourced students.

And so these teachers and youth workers, because of this content that we delivered, the research and the exercises, they were able to understand how damaging this can be and understand the need for systems and support to cultivate this awareness and interrogate the ways that we interact as systems and also as individual educators. I hope that answers that question.

Cristi Ford (25:52):

Yeah, it does. I think it’s really insightful. I just wanted to really kind of have a reflective opportunity, not only to hear how the young girls were impacted, but those who are left also to help support these young girls. Right? So as you leave and take all of your rich knowledge and expertise away, you’re leaving this legacy in a community to be able to pay it forward. Not only with this set of young girls, but to be able to learn and take something from that. And so I think when you’re talked about the importance of really reflecting on ourselves as teachers and thinking about our own implicit bias, the things that might be important for us to focus on, I think that’s really key. And I think I also heard in there where you challenged our deficit thinking in ways. So if there are communities that have been historically marginalized, how have we maybe developed narratives that are deficit in their approach and thinking as opposed to an asset based approach to really being able to celebrate the uniqueness of those communities?

And so I think that hearing that insight was really important for me. But I will say to you as the chief academic and VP of academic affairs for a global learning organization, I’m always thinking about what are the opportunities, and even in this mindfulness context to think about teaching and technology. And you hit it on the head when you talked about the pandemic in the ways, in which many, all of us around the globe had to really figure out very, very quickly what to do. And so, as you think about the work that you’re doing, how does that apply to you in the teaching and technology context?

Michelle C. Chatman (27:39):

Certainly. So I’m just so excited about the ways that technology can expand and deepen and help us refine our teaching. The pandemic helped us see the utility of technology and continuing to offer quality learning experiences for our learners across the age and ability spectrum. But I think what it also made us aware of is how powerfully important it is for us to know how to connect as human beings so that the technology can support that connection. So in the contemplative space, we talk about our inner technology, right? The social emotional skills that we have that enable us to practice patience and compassion and openness and collaboration with other human beings. And sometimes we haven’t done so well in cultivating those ways of being such that when we bring ourselves to a space where there’s lots of technology, and we’re asked to work on things together, or to explain concepts or to produce an outcome, the technology is ready to help us do those things.

But do we have the inner capacity to work together as people in a space of openness and sharing and curiosity. And not where one voice is, oh, we’re talking another or some ideas and we’re valuable than others and so forth, but can we really be together as a compassionate human community so that we can maximize the benefits of this incredible technology?

My disciplinary training is in anthropology, which is all about people. And typically people in face to face interactions, but there are a lot of different ways we can interact nowadays. And when I switch to teaching online and I have to credit you Dr. Ford with even getting me here. Because I remember, right? When you were at UDC and you said, “Why don’t you do this program? So you could become certified to teach online.” And I was so resistant. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. But it was so much fun, and I’m really glad that I did it and I really needed it, but like two, three years ago. And I was ahead of the curve, I was one of the few people in my division who was actually certified to teach online. So I knew this language and I already had practice with modalities and exercises and ways of connecting with students in the virtual space that my colleagues did not have. So thank you Dr. Ford.

But what I had my students do, then we did this exercise, called the pass sale. And it’s an exercise that deals with identity. And of course in the classroom, this is very easy to do students ask each other questions about their educational experience. When have they felt seen and heard and so forth? Well, I tried this in my class when we were all teaching online by putting folks into breakout groups and having them really share with each other, some guided questions. And that remains one of the most powerful and impactful classes, that particular class students had so much to say about that because folks were at home managing families, managing jobs, managing COVID, feeling isolated and alone and stressed. And when they came online for class, so many of their classes focused solely and immediately on the content, learn this information, prepare for this exam, do this paper, improve your skills in this area.

And people were missing human connection, valuable human connection. And so this exercise allowed students to get to know each other a bit, to know their shared experiences around learning and their varied cultural experiences. And they just have some amazing things to say about this class. Now, this is the context for learning. We now know that social-emotional learning is also academic learning, but we don’t talk about that in the context of higher education. We mostly talk about that for K12. But college students, and I would even argue that college professors and administrators, we also need to tend to the social-emotional wellbeing as part of our work.

Cristi Ford (32:42):

I love that, I really do. And as you were talking, it made me think about, again, I’m so struck in terms of how we all had to bounce back and really become innovative very quickly during the pandemic. And I would argue that I call it, we’re in the post peak pandemic, that we’re not beyond the pandemic at this point, but as teachers are looking in the K-12 or the higher education space for new concepts and frameworks, as they get ready to go back to school this fall, I just wonder for you, what would you have as a takeaway for a teacher? And then I think and then also more importantly, what would you have as a takeaway for teachers for their students? And so if you could just tell us a little bit about what you would want teachers to do to think about, to share in those spaces for themselves and for their students.

Michelle C. Chatman (33:38):

Sure. I would want teachers to not underestimate what we have lived through. We have experienced a global trauma through this pandemic. The lives lost and the lives severely impacted by this crisis is not a small thing. And we are still reverberating from this pandemic. So we are still carrying this trauma in our bodies. We’re still trying to make sense of what this trauma means in terms of how we come together with our learners, with our own families in our communities. How we assemble safely, what is a priority for our students, for our learners? So with that, I would ask teachers to please practice some self-compassion to share that with their students, to allow themselves some moments of quiet and reflection and breath and grounding throughout the day, and to share practices with their students, to teach their students how to tend to their bodies by just breathing, by being in the moment, by inviting a bit of quiet throughout their day. Some may listen to this and say, “Well, what is that going to do?” But we’re all walking around with bodies and with nervous systems that respond to stimuli throughout the day. Right?

And with our use of phones and all the time that we spend on our computers, our bodies, our brains, our nervous system is just always being pulled on, always being pulled on. Right? We’re just going from thing to thing to thing to thing. And research is telling us now that this is really shaping our brains, it’s shaping our ability to pay attention, to be aware, to pay attention to what is important and to learn deeply. And so we all want our students to think very deeply and reflectively about the content that we’re sharing. We want to also be present to our students and to our colleagues, our fellow teachers and administrators, but we have to practice it. You have to practice being aware and being with one another. So I’d ask teachers to take some time to do that.

And I’d ask administrators to create time and space for collective wellbeing, if they can, for their school cultures. Right? We’re now paying a lot of attention to our wellbeing. This is one of the lessons from the pandemic. What does it mean to be well, to be healthy? What does it mean to self care? I would like us to think more about what does it mean to have a model for collective care? Where it’s not each individual on your own. If you can take a minute to breathe or go outside or engage in some sort of generative restorative activity. But what does it mean to create cultures of care in schools, in academia? What does that look like? I think administrators and teachers may have the power to begin to do this, even if it’s just taking three to five minutes in the morning to invite some quiet and some restorative breath and a gratitude practice or a sincere, hello, I think we can do that. And we need to.

Cristi Ford (37:44):

I really resonate with that. One of the things that we’ve been talking about and our curating sessions around is thinking about burnout and just the level of burnout we’re finding in education today with our teachers. And as you’re talking, I’m really thinking that as you talk about a new way of doing things that really mindfulness as a practice really needs to be instituted not only in our classrooms, but by our administrators, to be able to think about what are the ways as you mentioned that wellbeing, what are some of the ways that we are concretely making sure to be intentional in our habits and our practices around making sure that we have space for that.

And so I don’t know if you’ve been contacted by schools or teachers to be able to do that, but I really, as I listen to you, I appreciate your call to action, even for administrators in that space. Because I think there is a story to be told in terms of how we can do that differently. And as leaders, how do we model that very differently? I think that piece of compassion and grace that you talked about for our students, we need to model for ourselves as teachers and educators and administrators. And so I thank you for bringing that to my attention.

Michelle C. Chatman (39:07):

Absolutely. Thank you. And I also just want to reiterate that, the mindfulness and the awareness and the care practices, it’s not just so that we can go back into the ring and work ourselves to death, right? And grind and grind and have these unrealistic expectations of teachers of students of administrators. But it’s really to fortify us so that we can then go back to our work and approach our work with a sense of renewal and a sense of courage around asking what is working and what is not working in this system? What are the policies or the practices? What are the things that we have on our plate? What have we made a part of education that really doesn’t need to be? How have we created systems and practices that really harm and are not life-affirming and generative? So it’s not to sustain inequity and burnout and oppression, right? And ego-driven competition. But it’s really to fortify us so that we can go back in and create systems that are life affirming, collaborative, generative, authentic. That’s why we’re doing the work of mindfulness and contemplative practices.

Cristi Ford (40:40):

I think that’s a perfect segue. I think one of the things that I’m thinking if I were a listener today, trying to figure out, well, how do I incorporate this practice into my life and into my work? How might we really encourage our listeners to be able to do it? Maybe we just start right now, Michelle, I don’t know. We could be impromptu in a moment and have a mindfulness moment on this podcast. I think maybe providing people the tools in a gateway and an opportunity to do. So I don’t know what you think about that.

Michelle C. Chatman (41:11):

I love that idea. Let’s go for it. Let’s go for it.

Cristi Ford (41:17):

All right. I’ll turn it over to you.

Michelle C. Chatman (41:20):

Thank you. So I’ll offer this really short practice that you can actually teach to your young, young learners, early learners or teens or adults. And if you have children in your environment, you are familiar with this song, Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes. So I’ve adapted that just slightly and expanded it to head shoulders, belly, bottom, knees, and toes. And so we’re going to do a quick scan of our bodies. And we’re going to bring some gentle awareness to our head, our shoulders, our belly, our bottom, our knees, and our toes, just to check in with our body. Because often our nervous systems are kind of hijacked, right? And as I said before, we are always responding to a ping, a prompt, a notification or something. And that pulls us away, that pulls us away.

So let’s sort of get in tune and in touch with just where we are, what we’re holding inside of our bodies right now and how aware we are. So I invite you to sit up tall if you are seated, right? And just sort of lift your head. If you’re seated and allow your back to be straight, you can do this also if you’re standing or if you’re lying down, just bring a sense of alertness to your posture. And inhale through your nose slowly, bringing the breath down to your belly, perhaps to the count of four. Hold the breath for a moment and exhale slowly through your mouth. And do that again, inhale slowly to a count of four.

And as you exhale this time, relax your shoulders, soften your face, see if you can make your body relaxed and soft. But still alert. And now with gentleness, bring your awareness to your head and your face, your eyes, your jaw, your mouth, your brow and soften the face. Continue to breathe intentionally and slowly. Bring your awareness down your neck to your shoulders. Notice if your shoulders are hitched up by your ears and if they are allow them to relax, drop them. Notice if there’s any tension or tightness in your shoulders or your chest area. And breathe into that area. Imagine that as you inhale that breath is coming into your shoulders, your chest, and allowing your chest to open up and have a sense of expansiveness. Now move that awareness down to your belly. This is also a way for us to check in and make sure we’re bringing that air all the way down to the belly. So when you inhale, the belly should expand just a tiny bit.

And as you exhale, that belly should contract. That’s the deep breathing we want to make sure we do throughout the day occasionally. So we’ve done head shoulders, belly, inhale, and pay attention to whatever your bottom is making contact with, the chair, the floor. And even if you’re standing, are you leaning up against something? Do you feel the air around the middle part of your body? Be sure to exhale. And then bring that awareness down to your knees. So past your thighs and your legs down to your knees. Inhaling and exhaling. And finally allow that gentle awareness to drift down to your toes. And just for fun, wiggle your toes in your shoes, or if they’re on the carpet or maybe even on the earth, maybe you’re outside. Wiggle your toes and just notice how it feels to be supported by the earth, by the floor. And let’s take another long, deep breath together, inhaling through the nose. Hold for a moment that air in the belly and exhale.

This is just a beginning practice, a really brief mindful exercise to bring awareness to the body. As you do this more often, you cultivate the ability to pay attention more closely, more deeply. From there, you can begin to pay attention to where your mind is going. What are the questions? What are the things you should be paying attention to? It’s almost like mental training if you will, but it is a practice. So I invite you to engage in that practice as often as you can. And I think Dr. Ford will also share that there’s a link to another practice that’s recorded. That’s available online, a restorative practice that I do using affirmations that you can apply to yourself and to a loved one and to your community. Thank you.

Cristi Ford (48:05):

Dr. Chatman, thank you so much for that. I appreciate the opportunity to provide our listeners with just one more thing to put in their toolkit as they think about their own practice. And so if this is just your starting point, you can start with this small moment that Dr. Chatman offered us here today or the link, which will make available to you. Dr. Chatman, thank you so much for your time today and being a part of the Teach and Learn podcast. As you’ve shared all of your experiences and history and knowledge around the topic and provided some great considerations for educators or cross K through 20, I guess I want to leave wondering and asking you what’s next for you?

Michelle C. Chatman (48:51):

Thank you. I am really excited about what is next for me. I’ve received some support from my institution and from an external funder to establish the mindfulness and contemplative action lab, the MICA lab at the University of the District of Columbia, which will launch this fall. And this lab is envisioned as an experiential learning and research space that will advance healing centered, culturally responsive, contemplative approaches for the purpose of maximizing teaching and learning, fostering wellbeing and community. Cultivating critical capacity and what I mean by that is critical awareness around the issues of justice and sustainability that we all need to be concerned about and advancing justice.
So we’ll be doing research at the MICA lab, we’ll be creating contemplative communities at the MICA lab and hopefully designing models that other institutions can replicate for their communities. Will be training student ambassadors to share mindfulness and contemplative practices in their communities and with their families. We’ll be partnering with nonprofits and local government agencies to share mindfulness and contemplative ways of being, because I really do believe that we can incorporate this way of being, and we need to incorporate these ways of being across all sectors in our society. We need to be more mindful, more just, more compassionate, more patient, more collaborative in the corporate sector in education, of course, in the medical field. So I really think that mindfulness and contemplation can serve as the basis of our action in the world, thus the MICA lab.

Cristi Ford (51:02):

Well, it sounds like you’re going to be busy. I really appreciate you taking the time and spending some of that time with us to be able to share your knowledge and expertise. And we will be watching and cheering from the sidelines as you move the MICA lab forward. And all the great work that you do there, but we really are appreciative of you just talking to our listeners today and really giving us a little bit greater sense of mindfulness. And so I thank you for the time, I thank you for the expertise and I thank you for your knowledge today. So thank you so much for joining us at Teach and Learn.

Michelle C. Chatman (51:39):

Oh, thank you so very much for having me. It has been a great pleasure.

Cristi Ford (51:46):

You’ve been listening to Teach and Learn a podcast for curious educators. This episode was produced by D2L a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of education and work to learn more about our solutions for both K through 20 and corporate institutions, please visit www.d2l.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us. And until next time, school’s out.

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