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Back to Zen with Dan Tricarico

Over the past year Dan Tricarico and @K12ArtChat have been trading wonderful like-minded tweets and it’s been lovely getting to know a truly authentic educator such as him. As a teacher and author from southern California, Dan truly understands the importance of creativity and mindfulness in the art of teaching.

He also happens to be the host of #K12ArtChat this week and we wanted to take a few minutes to ask him a few questions about how he survives the back to school workload. So here it goes…

Dan, how do you prioritize the never-ending to do list that piles up as the dates count down to students entering the classroom?

You’re asking the question, of course, because it isn’t easy! I try to streamline my responsibilities and pare down my lessons, units, and on-campus commitments to their essence, while also being involved enough to be thought of as a team player. It also helps to remember what writer Anne Lamott says: that we need to remember that “saying no can be a complete sentence.” This means knowing your limits and not taking on more than you can handle. At my site, we’ve actually already started and within the first two weeks of the school year, I’ve said no to two or three committees, events, or activities. On the other hand, I did agree to be a club advisor to a group of kids who I know really need me. It’s about choice, priority, and knowing where you skills and passions lie. Subtract everything else.

What are your tips for finding balance in the midst of reviewing test scores, data points, academic and social needs of the incoming class of students?

First of all, understand that YOU know better what’s best for your kids than any bubble sheet ever invented. You’re there with them day in, day out and you have honed your professional judgment enough to be able to distinguish what they need. Secondly, remember the old saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” which is another way of saying take care of yourself first. Find what I call your Zen Practice (quilting, singing, woodworking, reading, gardening, etc.), whatever that thing is that renews your spirit and fills your soul, and carve time out to do it as often as possible. Finally, remember to slow down and search for silence and stillness. Only then will you be able to listen to your intuition and know which direction is best.

How do you define mindfulness in the classroom?

My focus is showing teachers how to use mindfulness to create focus, simplicity, and tranquility in the classroom and so, to me, mindfulness in the classroom means a few things: first of all, breathing (it all starts with the breath), being in the moment with your students, finding time for stillness, silence, and slowing down, listening to your intuition, showing compassion, and expressing gratitude. In other words, being present, decent, and human. But breathe first.

What are some techniques that you use for helping students find focus and calm in a busy and overly stimulating world?

Again, my focus tends to be teachers, but I will say this: For my sophomores (who are a beast unto themselves, unlike 9th, 11th, or 12th graders), I start every period with 10 minutes of silent reading in a book or magazine of their choice. Not only are they practicing their reading skills and enjoying a rare chance to read what they want, but the stillness and quiet time focuses them and helps them get to a more peaceful place, where their ready for the class. This is not conjecture; I’ve surveyed them, and they’ve told me so.

Do you have suggestions for managing the workload in the long periods between the much-needed breaks?

  1. Breathe.

  2. Streamline your obligations and responsibilities.(And never feel bad for doing this. You still work plenty hard. . .)

  3. Insist on white space on your calendar to do fun stuff (or NOTHING, if that’s your choice).

  4. Say no

  5. Love yourself

  6. Carve out time for your Zen Practice

  7. Meditate

  8. Express gratitude and compassion to those around you

  9. Practice self-compassion (forgive yourself for not being perfect, give yourself wiggle room, let go of thoughts of “failure.”

What are your parting thoughts as we head back into the full swing of the school year?

A couple years ago, our yearbook staff sent out a survey to teachers that said, “If my students only learned one thing from me this year, I hope it’s that _____________.” And I said, “That they’re okay the way they are”. So that’s my parting thought for your readers. Teaching is the the most noble and important profession I know. So I hope you all remember that we know you’re doing your best and that you are okay the way you are. Thank you.

Thank You, Dan for your wonderful words of wisdom. We’re taking them to heart and they are much needed following our first week of school. Here’s a link from Dan Tricarico blog,The Zen Teacher, to hear him give tips teacher self care.

Thanks again to Dan Tricarico for sharing with us and being a part of the K12 professional learning network.

Remember to take care of you this school year and enjoy the rollercoaster called teaching.

As always we wish you creativity but this time we are also wishing you a bit of Zen.

All the Best in ’16-’17,

Laura and Matt Grundler


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