Parents and educators would generally agree that there is always room to become more calm, present, and connected when interacting with children. Charlie Sutherland, preschool educator at the U School in Ann Arbor, has worked as an educator for 16 years. While Sutherland was working as a high school English teacher he became overwhelmed, overstimulated by all of the expectations and constant transitions in the school environment.
To foster concentration and meditation in his classroom, Sutherland sought training from Shinzen Young, a mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant who utilizes the Unified Mindfulness system approach. Sutherland learned to integrate mindfulness practices into his teaching, to calm his mind. Nine years later, Sutherland is now the course instructor in the Mindful Parents & Educators Course at the U School, a course intended to help caregivers apply mindfulness techniques in the presence and care of children.
Support parents/educators first
Sutherland explains that his approach for parents and educators is to first support the adult in understanding and implementing mindfulness practices themselves. “Place your own oxygen mask on first,” he says. It starts with caregivers practicing techniques to become more compassionate, calm, patient, and mindful. This practice helps caregivers to be mindful during the most difficult daily moments with children.
A mindful technique
The techniques covered in Sutherland’s course tend to accentuate four traits of compassion that parents or educators already possess.
These four techniques to develop caregiver compassion include:
Focusing Out: Leaning your attention to your external sense. Sutherland explained, “The overall goal is to try to focus out while interacting with the child. Pouring undivided attention on the child- not bouncing back to formulate what you will say next: really seeing and hearing them. Children know when you are doing that- they can feel it.”
Focusing In: Tuning out the external senses and using your own thoughts and emotions as meditation.
Focus on Rest: Connecting with the more tranquil side of life on demand to stay calm.
Nurture Positive: Help us make our happiness more radiant, so that it is more likely to “reach out and touch someone.”
Mindfulness related change
Past participants of the Mindful Parents & Educators Course have identified varied benefits from participation in the course. “Not only is there opportunity for improvement in their relationships with children, but in all aspects of their lives,” explained Sutherland. Past participants have identified improved work or athletic abilities, increased attentiveness, mindful eating and maintaining calm in the most chaotic moments.
Where: The U School, 3630 Plaza Dr., 5A & 6A (Remote participation is offered through a live audio/video feed on Skype).
Details: 8 week courses available. Each class is 90 minutes with three basic modes: explanation, practicing, or question and answer. You do not need to be a parent at the U School to participate.
Cost: $104 for individuals. $156 for two partners.
For more information: theubuntuschool.org/programs/mindful-parents-educators