Tip #9
Self-Awareness: The Gateway to Kindness & Compassion

We look in a mirror, see an image, and then project that reflection to the people and situations we encounter. In the classroom, that reflection projects to students and then they, look into a mirror, see an image and adjust to accommodate that reflection given by you. It is incredibly scary and beautiful to understand the power we hold with both ourselves and others.

Self-awareness allows you to first know yourself, then understand others, their perceptions, your attitude and your responses in both your personal and professional life. I had a student once write in her reflection of the stress management course I teach that this was the easiest and hardest class she had taken at ASU. She stated that it was the easiest because it was all about her ...but then it was also the hardest because it was all about her.

One of the most challenging things we can do is gaze inward at both our light and our darkness and then embrace and accept all parts of ourselves and recognize that everyone else also has those parts...we are perfectly imperfect.

It is through the courage to really learn who we are and how we respond to situations that allows us to practice nonjudgmental self-compassion as well as kindness and compassion to others, a wisdom that then gifts everyone we encounter.

We, as educators, have the power to contribute or contaminate vast numbers of individuals through the image we personally see and the reflection we send out. Our field is one where our presentation very much affects the future. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are self-aware so that we pass along this commitment to ongoing honest reflection to the next generation.

As we seek to get at the “heart of teacher,” part of doing that involves the willingness to look deep inside ourselves. Self-awareness can help you understand your reactions and this insight can be transferred to your ability to better understand your students as well.

Story from the Field

One story I would like to share about how I used mindfulness in the classroom was the use of class kindness/praises. In the high school setting it is important to build a safe learning environment in order to improve student learning outcomes. Over the past ten years teaching in the 7-12 public school setting, I have used meditation, I am statements, emoji reflections, brain breaks and more to facilitate the social and emotional well-being of my students. The following practice was by far a student favorite and happened by chance in my classroom last year.

When we talk about mindfulness some might think of quieting the mind like in a meditation but last year, I encouraged my students to take an inventory of what they were thinking about. I shared this quote with my students from Gandhi and it stuck with my students: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” Our thoughts have power and we can identify negative thoughts and name them to decide which thoughts we want to allow presence. Taking this idea one step further, I wanted my students to build a connection with others and let them know they are not alone.

I took about 10-15 minutes one morning that became life changing for my students. As students entered the classroom, they received a pad of 35 post-it notes. I then asked them to sit in a circle and I modeled the activity; one student would move to the center of the circle and close their eyes while each peer would write a compliment or kindness phrase about the student and then place the post on the back of the student in the center of the circle. After a minute or two, they opened their eyes and were surprised with the positive writings from their peers which they placed sporadically throughout their INB as daily reminders throughout the semester of how special they are.

At first, I was very hesitant to try this activity. What if someone wrote something mean (I actively facilitated the circle to ensure this would not happen.) However, I was pleasantly surprised with the authentic and wholehearted responses each classmate had written for each other. They were the most genuine compliments I had ever seen. The mindfulness began when students took inventory of their thoughts allowing some repetition and practice to get them increasing their self-awareness. Then shifting to acceptance, we shared with other some positive thoughts that shows we are part of a learning community and valued.

I am happy to say that our district is working hard to facilitate wellness for our shareholders. Our district provides a wellness week each December prior to our upcoming exams. There are various ways to practice mindfulness that belongs in every classroom. Mindfulness will help our students manage their internal worlds and build resilience.

Nicole Johnson, MA Ed
Assistant Principal
Higley High School

Take Action

Self-awareness is the gateway to kindness and compassion because it allows us to first learn and accept our imperfectly perfect selves which then allows us to openly accept the perfect imperfections of others. Data suggest that when we self-judge, we in turn project that judgment to our personal and professional environment.

This week, find your character strengths. Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology, focused on not what is wrong with people but what is right. He hypothesized that when we are self-aware of our strengths, we can then use those strengths to our advantage in relationships and situations that are challenging as well as in relationships and situations that contributed to our happiness.