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The Happiness Challenge

I meditated a little during my senior year of college, and I tried to infuse some emerging meditation practices with students while I taught, but I haven’t been consistent with it in years. I’ve been feeling increasingly anxious in the past few months. The political climate isn’t helping, but I think, more than anything else, worrying about my child has gotten the best of me. At the suggestion of a wonderful friend, I tried Sharon Salzberg’s Happiness Challenge, devoting a few minutes of each day of February to meditate.

I think a lot of the kind of worrying I’m experiencing is related to my teacher brain. I am a planner, and I pretty much always have been. I knew where I wanted to go to college in the third grade (that plan came to fruition) and had a thorough life-plan including when I’d get married and start having kids (I was a few years off on each of those, and I’m really glad for that now). It’s not that my plan has to happen exactly as I imagine it should; it’s more that I want to know what my options are so that I can pivot when something doesn’t happen in the “ideal” way. Though I’m a perpetual optimist, I’m often waiting for something to go wrong, so planning helps me think through what I’ll do when that happens. I’ve talked with many teachers who think similarly and have mental back-up plans.

Largely, I think this has served me well, which is why I’ve done it for so long in both my personal and professional life. When I was teaching, I don’t even think I was totally aware of how often my brain was thinking about my classes or upcoming lessons because it was happening so often. Knowing that I could try A, B, or C allowed me to be more responsive to what my class was showing me they needed. But it also took a toll on my time, energy level, and ability to put my work away. It’s only been with a little space that I can more accurately understand just how all-consuming teaching actually is. So, if you’re a teacher who thinks in circles about your classroom, you’re not alone.

I’ve talked about the importance of self-care before (See “Reflection & Care: Essential Elements in Teaching & Learning”), and I’d like to add meditation to my list of things teachers can do (even when strapped for time and other resources). Teachers spend their days worried about the emotions, achievements, and growth of many other people. Taking between five and fifteen minutes a day to gather yourself, hold your mind from wandering, and breathe might just be necessary.

In order to help, I’ve collected a list of potential meditation resources (though not too many, in case that makes it hard to know where to start!). - This is the website of Sharon Salzberg, who hosted the Happiness Challenge for February. She has a variety of meditations available here, with suggested donations. - There are a variety of guided meditations available here, including “Let Go of the Need to Control” and “Gratitude Meditation.” - Dr. Elisha Goldstein has some great videos (though I just use them for their audio) with guided meditations. - My college professor had us read some of Jack Kornfield’s work, so I appreciated some of these meditations. - This has just a few meditations with links to others, sorted by subject. -I’d also recommend the app, Calm (I haven’t tried Headspace). I’m working my way through a 30-day guest pass (they also have a free 7-day trial), and I find both the daily Calm and their Sleep Stories to be inviting and soothing. (Note: This has a $60/year membership, so this one might not be for you if you’re looking to stay with something purely free!) Teachers, administrators, planners of all sorts—I invite you to try this. I have been really struck by how powerful a few minutes of dedication each day have allowed me to see a different perspective and feel more compassion for myself and others. Images courtesy of


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