An Interview With Dr. Megan Sweet, Mindful Schools

Dr. Megan Sweet of Mindful Schools talks about mindfulness, being truly present in the moment, and stopping to smell the roses.

An expert shares how mindfulness benefits students and teachers

My morning commute consists of short walk, and a train ride. Usually I listen to music or a podcast, scroll Flipboard for the latest education news, check Instagram and Facebook, and send text messages.

This morning, I tried a new approach.

The previous day I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Megan Sweet, Director of Training at Mindful Schools. Dr. Sweet was a teacher, district administrator, and a leader in school transformation. Mindfulness isn’t just a practice that she trains teachers in; it is part of her daily life.

One of the most helpful pieces of information that Dr. Sweet shared with me was this: Mindfulness is a difficult practice to teach if you don’t practice it yourself. Now as teachers we might roll our eyes and say, “not one more thing I have to do,” but consider keeping an open mind.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean changing everything that you do. It means bringing awareness to the choices that you are making so that you are centered in the present moment.

This morning I didn’t listen to music while I walked to the train. The quiet allowed me to notice my thoughts. I didn’t judge my thoughts, and I didn’t try to change them. When I sat down on the train I did a body scan. How did I feel? What did I need? Finally, I set an intention for my day, rather than create a long to do list. My intention was inspired by one of my cycling instructors, Christine D’Ecole, who always says, “I am. I can. I will. I do.” To say I felt very different when I walked into work is an understatement.

Here’s more from Dr. Sweet. To learn more about her and the different courses and trainings she facilitates, visit Mindful Schools.

What is mindfulness?

Dr. Sweet: Mindfulness is being present in the present moment. When we are mindful we are connected with our bodies, our breath and our thoughts in the moment. Most of them time we are preoccupied with what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment, and in doing so, centers us.

Why is mindfulness important for teachers?

Dr. Sweet: Teachers are under a lot of pressure and stress all of the time. Classrooms and schools are busy places. There is a lot going on all at the same time. It can feel challenging to find your center, and be focused and calm with all that is going on in your classroom and in your school.

When you practice mindfulness, what do you do?

Dr. Sweet: A core proponent of mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness can be a simple as pausing and taking a few deep breaths. When you practice mindfulness you become aware of your body and your breath, and in doing so, connect with the present moment. Mindfulness can also be taking time to name what you are grateful for. Journaling. Slowing down. Noticing your thoughts. 

What are some of the benefits of mindfulness?

Dr. Sweet: Mindfulness helps us develop self-awareness, and have more empathy for others. When people practice mindfulness they can slow down, calm down, be less reactive in how they are showing up for themselves and others. When you start this practice, you experience quiet, and calm, and a deeper connection with yourself.

How do you respond to teachers who are skeptical or worry they won’t have time?

Dr. Sweet: There is always time for five deep breaths during the day. You don't have to sit down on a cushion for an hour a day and meditate to be mindful. If breathing doesn’t work for you, you can journal, you can do a walking meditation. Pause and connect back to your thoughts and your feelings.

What are the benefits for students?

Dr. Sweet: Mindfulness is a great skill for students to learn how to self-regulate, especially for students who have experienced trauma or have violence of unrest in their homes. Mindfulness empowers students because it gives them a tool. Breathing is will us all of the time. Students are also able to focus better when they are in the present moment.

How do you trainings work?

Dr. Sweet: We start with the teacher first. Mindfulness is a difficult practice to teach to others if you don’t practice it yourself. It helps teachers develop their own practice first before they take it into their classrooms. We start with a fundamental course on what mindfulness is so teachers can talk about it, and know some of the science behind it. We then share basic strategies for how to bring mindfulness to the classroom. For example, a Starfish Breath is when students trace their fingers on one hand while taking five deep breaths.

What are some of your recommendations for how to start a mindfulness practice?

Dr. Sweet: Sit in your car for a minute before you go into school. Try to slow down when you are walking down the hallway. Before a meeting do a 30 second check in, and set an intention. Whenever you can, stop and smell the roses.

How do you practice mindfulness? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Julie Mason is the Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision. She brings expertise in blended and personalized learning, instructional coaching, and curriculum design to the role. She was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and most recently taught at Dana Hall, an all-girls school in Wellesley, MA. She was a blended and personalized learning instructional coach for K-12 teachers at BetterLesson for two years, and she has presented at The National Principals Conference, ISTE, and ASCD where she shared her expertised on how instructional coaching builds teacher capacity in K-12 schools. She has extensive experience designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, and she oversees the TeacherVision advisory board.

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