From the President: The health benefits of mindfulness

Sept. 13, 2017

ACSA Board members recently attended a summer planning retreat, where we selected a consultant to help facilitate our next strategic plan, analyzed our role in state and federal advocacy, better clarified the parameters around candidate endorsements, and had hard conversations about levels of responsiveness to financial challenges.

We also intentionally took time that many of us don’t do enough of. As a team, we deepened our knowledge, strategies and repertoire around mindfulness. Led by Tovi Scruggs of Partners in School Innovation, we focused on what the Harvard Business Review acknowledged helps us become better leaders.

Stripped down to its core, mindfulness is about being conscious or aware. Wikipedia sums it up quite simply: “Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations...”

Schools throughout our nation have infused practices that help students focus on their own being, from deep breathing activities to yoga, and from meditation to journaling. These schools have seen a drop in suspensions, reduced negative interactions between students, and an overall calm on their campuses. Students and adults are more respectful and school climates have been transformed by prioritizing practices that help humans be just that...a little more human.

Mindfulness practices can, in so many ways, impact our leadership skills by giving us the tools to manage our life as we are living it. For example, taking time to breathe deeply before a challenging meeting can help center our thoughts and calm our nerves, assisting with keeping our feelings and emotions in check.

Journaling provides a chance to process and reflect on the week’s events or daily practices. It helps us think through decision making and proactively addressing situations in the workplace and at home.

Meditation helps us gain clarity, hone trivial thoughts and increase self-awareness. I’ve always found meditation to be challenging. When I was a teacher, I tried meditation yoga classes and always felt like a failure when my mind danced all over the room, while I heard deep breathing (and gentle snoring) from others. Now that I’m considerably older with the occasional sleepless night, I’ve successfully revisited meditation. Thank you to the ACSA leader who suggested counting down from 200 to 1, one number for each inhale/exhale. It works. The focus on relaxation helps refocus my mind, and I fall asleep, which certainly improves my performance the next day at work.

The health benefits of mindfulness practices include decreased blood pressure, reduced stress, improved attention, and increased sensory perception. You don’t have to pursue the spiritual side, but rather work on focused relaxation and clearing your mind.

Commit to it for a month and see how it changes your interactions.

– Lisa Gonzales, ACSA President

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