by Kristy Wood, Bachelor of Education, Australia
I am a primary school teacher and I wish to share my experience of the ‘quality of presence in a classroom’.
Schools and teachers today are dealing with a rise in the many issues that they are presented with on a daily basis. We are living in a current context in which teacher stress and burn-out are at an alarming high. We are also living in times where the behaviours being displayed by children and the vast issues schools are dealing with have intensified, and this is an issue that is being reported in newspapers world-wide. Many teachers are expressing that they feel disheartened by the process of teaching. It has become so outcome and achievement based, there is little time for anything else.
Consider this quote from Aristotle, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, and the fact that our way of educating children has now predominantly become about the end result of the knowledge they retain that will help them to get a job in the future. How much educating of the heart and the person really happens in this process?
I recently asked a group of teachers, “When was the last time you really enjoyed being with the children or you sat and really listened to them share an experience about something that had happened to them?”. The room of over 20 teachers looked a bit shocked and many honestly responded that they couldn’t think of the last time when they stopped and just enjoyed a moment with the children. They shared that they simply didn’t have time to do this. There was too much that they needed to do in terms of getting through the curriculum, managing behaviours, planning, programming, lesson preparation and filling out numerous amounts of reports and paper work so that they can justify what they are doing. It’s like the teachers running a marathon each day: many are often not even stopping to go to the toilet when they need to.
What I noticed is that we spend a lot of time caught up in where we need to be, what we are doing next, where we need to get the kids to, etc. We are constantly running a few steps ahead of where we actually are, and the process of doing this is exhausting.
I too was a teacher going through the motions of getting through the day. I liked being with the kids but the moments of really enjoying each day were few and far between. I never really thought much of this but just accepted that this was how teaching and life were to be. I was often considered one of the ‘best’ teachers in the school but this was still my experience – I liked the job but there wasn’t a daily joy to it. I would listen to the kids, but it was that half-listening, where I would listen to them for a bit but I was also still focused on other things, like keeping an eye on the rest of the class.
I attended a Universal Medicine retreat and I was presented with another way. It was very simple – it just made me stop and consider how I was living, and how much time I was spending being caught up in the ‘next’ thing, the ‘next’ moment, and how little time I spent being present with what I was doing in that moment. I started to become aware of how this then impacted on those I interacted with. During the retreat Serge Benhayon shared simple and practical tools to support us to bring quality and presence to our days. Serge also shared that we need to look after and take care of ourselves so that we are then able to truly care for others. From there I started to bring more awareness to how I was living and supporting myself each day. The impact this has had on my teaching has been amazing.
By bringing more awareness and quality of presence to the classroom I noticed that the way the children responded to me changed instantly. I was able to start to really see the kids and observe what was going on for them. Through taking the time to be with the children, they felt more honoured in the relationship, and the dynamics of the classroom changed dramatically. I was able to connect with each child in the way that they needed each day; the ripple effect of this in the classroom was huge. I found that I no longer had to ‘manage’ the kids’ behaviour as I could see what was going on for each child and could respond with what was needed in that moment without reacting in frustration and adding to the issue. I noticed that the children also started to take more responsibility for how they behaved and treated each other. There were rarely any issues between the kids and if there were, they would work through it in a way that supported each other – not in an argument. No one was vying for my attention either as they realised they were all seen and would get the support they needed. The class came together and there was a deep appreciation, respect and enjoyment of each other. From here teaching changed for me, it re-ignited the absolute joy and love I have of working with kids. I looked forward to going to work each day and I started to really enjoy just being with the children first and foremost before anything else.
Through bringing the quality of presence to the classroom I began to realise that only now was I able to support real learning with the children. It was no longer just about developing a lesson and teaching that lesson so that the children could gain information and knowledge. I was able to start to see what each child needed, how they needed things to be presented, how they best understood things and what was the next thing they needed to unfold their next level of understanding. There was no longer a right or wrong way of doing things.
I know many teachers would say you can’t teach 30 different ways of doing things at the same time. The answer is, I didn’t. I was no longer the only teacher in the room. If I could see that one child had a deeper understanding of something, and also had a similar approach to learning new information as another child, then it was important for them to share their understanding with one another. The knowledge was no longer theirs to be used over another: in this way, their understanding and way of learning was appreciated and used to support others’ learning in the classroom.
In this process of learning together, where I too was an equal learner, the confidence of every person in the room grew. Yes, some children understood mathematics better and some understood the conventions of language better, but each child had something to offer, so the kids stopped seeing other kids as being ‘better’ than them. Each child brought something special to the room, whether it was the way they were able to understand people, the way they cared for or supported others, or their sense of humour – everyone was appreciated for who they were, not what they could achieve – and everyone fitted. This is often something that doesn’t happen in a classroom, there are often one or two kids who are slightly ostracised by the group or who you can feel the teacher would find it much easier if they were in another class.
This doesn’t mean that I now had a class of perfectly behaved children; it wasn’t like that as life is not like that. Yes, the children still went through stuff but it often didn’t last long. I didn’t have to manage behaviour, have a rewards chart or any behaviour plans. If something came up for one of the kids, the other kids didn’t react; and because of the support I offered them, they were then able to offer this to each other. So if a child came into the room angry, the other kids didn’t react or try and push their buttons and provoke them. Without it ever being discussed, it was as if it was known and silently worked out who would be the best person to talk to that child and support them. Sometimes the children would talk through what was going on, other times they would simply tell the child to stop and that they couldn’t join in until they had stopped being angry with others.
For me as a teacher behaviour management stopped because the children had a deep connection with each other and they started to see and deal with what was actually going on. Children have an amazing empathy for others and can express this easily, if they haven’t had too many detrimental experiences. Through the understanding they had of each other they could recognise that certain behaviours a child may be displaying wasn’t actually them. This also helped me to look ‘through’ the behaviours, connect with the child, sit with them and discuss the behaviours, without the child being identified by those behaviours. We would look at why they were choosing certain behaviours and what was happening for them, this also allowed them to see the impact this had on others when they chose to act in this way. It supported the children to take responsibility for their behaviour and deal with the issue that was underlying them. All of this came about by simply choosing to be more present and connected to myself so that I could then connect and be more present with the children in my care.
We can’t treat the brains or minds of children in isolation to the rest of the child. Life is about people and the relationships we have with each other – our occupations and what we do are second to this. You often hear statements in schools such as, “If that child wasn’t in my class, it would be so much easier”. But it is about ‘that’ child, as it is about all the children equally. It is not about how much of the curriculum we can impart onto the children, for this is not true learning. We need to stop and consider that while we may be preparing kids so that they eventually have the skills to get a job, do we equally prepare them so that they will have quality and joy in their lives? How can we do this if we as their teachers do not have this quality in our own lives, and therefore don’t bring this quality to the way we teach children and the way we run our classrooms?
When people are asked to recall their favourite teacher or those that made a difference to them, it is often the teacher that took the time to know them and develop a personal connection with them. This we know. We do have courses at university that teach the importance of the relationships you have with the children in your class. However, we need to go deeper with this and look at the quality of our presence and the quality of the relationships we have with ourselves and then all the children equally.
I was recently talking to a 12 year-old boy who had been in trouble at school. I asked him what was going on and he said, “I hate school”. I asked him why, and he said, “They just tell us stuff all day and then when there is something that really needs to be talked about, it’s not. They focus on all these rules, like don’t run on the concrete and stuff and they put that first, but then when you need to talk about a problem or something important you are just told to play nicely and stuff, like it doesn’t really matter”. I then asked him how he would like to be educated. He said, “When a child is born you would watch them and see what they are naturally interested in or good at, the parents would then support the child to develop that. If the parents didn’t have those skills but were good at something different, then they would find a person who knows more about what the child is good at, and would support them to develop those skills further. You would talk with the child about what they know and ask them questions so they understand things more. You would also encourage them to learn other things that weren’t as natural for them but they would also have more confidence to do this because of what they know first.”
What this boy expressed was very revealing of our current ways of educating children. He was misbehaving at school because he felt like no one really knew him or took the time to care about him, know what interested him, and know how he needed things to be presented for him to feel confident in his abilities. He also expressed that children come to school with a knowing, they are not empty vessels that are to be filled with knowledge. He was frustrated that in the busyness we were unable to see what was already there in him to be worked with. While practically we may not be able to do things in the way he has expressed, we are however able to bring a quality of care, presence and understanding to our current classrooms.
Too many children are craving to be met with genuine care and warmth. Many children play up in the classroom and because teachers can be overloaded and caught up in all they need to do, the kids are not really seen. Some teachers may react to these behaviours as they see it as a disturbance to their lesson or day. They then implement behaviour management strategies to attempt to minimise these behaviours, however in this, the children feel the lack of care for them as a person. The child knows that it isn’t about them but is about making it easier for the teacher to get through the lesson, so they often react further and may escalate the behaviours, or some kids may choose to shut down and withdraw. Some of the children who act out realise that in doing this they get some kind of attention or recognition, which is better than not being seen, so they continue to choose these behaviours. What I have learnt is that the less I react, which I can only do when I am not running at a million miles an hour, the more I am able to be with the children and be aware of what is really going on. In this the children feel a genuine love and care and will often respond without resorting to inappropriate behaviours. It is not our job to control children but provide the support and boundaries that then allow them to makes choices and learn from these.
There are lots of children coming into schools in quite a variety of momentums resulting in varied behaviours. It seems that many of them are over-stimulated and find it hard to stop. Many of these children share that they have problems sleeping; they look exhausted and find it hard to focus. When we do stop and take notice, we can see that our pace of life is having an impact on our children. Teachers often feel this momentum and think they need to do things quickly to keep the kids entertained; sometimes teachers go into a more intense state than the children, such as raising their voice above them to try and control them. This just exacerbates the intensity in the classroom.
What I have learnt is that the more I look after myself, the more I am able to hold a consistent way of being and hold my own rhythm. When I walk into a classroom the children feel this, it is like it allows them to relax and they then align to my quality of presence, instead of me being pulled into their momentum.
Some people think I have a special gift with children and some try and copy things I do so that they can get the same response from the kids. But kids can’t be fooled, no matter how soft your voice is; if you are running a million miles an hour, you can’t suddenly stop and put on a soft voice and be able to offer the children a stillness, a different momentum or a deep connection. If you haven’t been meeting yourself in this way then you are not able to truly do it for others. There is nothing special about what I do, it is simply about the quality in which I choose to live that I then bring to others. This is something we need to teach in universities. It is not about behaviour management but the quality of connection that you offer to children.
As the Dalai Lama so wisely said, “Affection and a calm mind are important to us. A calm mind is good for our physical health, but it also enables us to use our intelligence properly and to see things more realistically. Affection too is important because it counters anger, hatred and suspicion that can prevent our minds from functioning clearly.”
171 thoughts on “Education, Schools & Teaching our Kids: ‘Quality of Presence’ in the Classroom”
‘He was misbehaving at school because he felt like no one really knew him or took the time to care about him, know what interested him, and know how he needed things to be presented for him to feel confident in his abilities’, is something that continues when we move to the work industry. It kind of feels that we are just numbers and not seen for our full potential.
Children are taught and as you so rightly said, they are just as equal teachers too, and we can learn so much from them too.
Kristy what an inspiration you bring to other teachers. We are a long way from this kind of teaching, but it only starts with one to change that.
This statement stood out for me, “we need to look after and take care of ourselves so that we are then able to truly care for others”. This makes absolute sense, what’s the point of going to rescue/support anyone else when you are in a state of disarray too. It’s like attending to any emergency situation, check for danger, otherwise you become the victim too.
Reading the rest of this blog, makes me realise how important it is to treat our children as adults, they know more then we realise and this needs to be honoured. It’s a no wonder they struggle at school. And if we probed deeper, every student will pretzel themselves to fit in to the way of life and they spend the rest of their lives living in this manner and so the cycle of unrest continues.
Kristy I appreciate the job that you do and to bring this understanding is so essential within our education system, it is much needed.
What a joy for our children to meet teachers like you. I would love to have had a teacher that just understand me, as I wasn’t receiving it at home. That would have equipped me in my later life…
Richard it suggests that there is a tension and angst, if not disturbance, to our true way of being when we are not seen and met for who we are.
Kristy please write a book as this is an amazing and very practical insight into how to be with children, this is the foundation educators need, to begin with their own self care and settlement first, to feel connected to themselves and then bring that to the kids. It’s also something that adults respond to in other adults. Our world is lacking the deep care and respect we could be receiving from one another. It’s also opened my eyes to not dismissing children’s behaviours and to look more deeply and invite conversation and offer support to help them work through it.
I agree Melinda, a book needs to be written about this. There are teachers of gold out there in the world that have this same philosophy that you are sharing about. It needs to be part of the education curriculum for a teacher to be. Can you imagine if all teachers were of your integrity, what would our children turn out to be?
Kristy, this is gold and a huge revelation or confirmation of how our relationships can change for the better: “We can’t treat the brains or minds of children in isolation to the rest of the child. Life is about people and the relationships we have with each other – our occupations and what we do are second to this.”
“We are constantly running a few steps ahead of where we actually are, and the process of doing this is exhausting.” – living two realities or perhaps three or more is understandably taxing on the body and then we wonder why we are so tired…Learning to live in the moment is then easily understood to be superbly regenerating.
The heart needs no education as it knows life through love, and the best educator of the mind is the heart.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – this quote asks us to look further than the mind in terms of education. What are we missing when we look only at part of the picture. Aristotle’s quote certainly acknowledges that the heart is just as important as the mind if not more so. But how much of our current system accept this and understands that there can be a different way to do things?
The way we live, and our energetic quality can be felt by all and has a big impact on those around us, ‘What I have learnt is that the more I look after myself, the more I am able to hold a consistent way of being and hold my own rhythm.’
Yes, this is exhausting, ‘we spend a lot of time caught up in where we need to be, what we are doing next, where we need to get the kids to, etc. We are constantly running a few steps ahead of where we actually are, and the process of doing this is exhausting.’
This is just so amazingly insightful. If anyone is able to bring this to education and making a real difference and they credit the teachings presented by Universal Medicine as their inspiration, it would be most sensible to listen and study what they have to say and give it a go.
Similarly with the medical profession, it takes five to eight years for trainee doctors to learn the theory and function of the body and largely as something separate from themselves and begin to practise. Equally, it is my understanding that there’s no requirement in the medical school curriculum to look after the ‘person’ of the soon to be doctor or an education on how to connect to, care for and understand their own body. And yet once qualified they are expected dispense medical advice and support others, when in most cases they’re ill-equipped to support themselves. There’s fundamental flaw here.
A fundamental flaw indeed in our current model of health care and how medical professionals are essentially taught to neglect themselves but to look after others – when we think about it this way, it simply does not make any sense!?
The training of teachers is all upside down with primary attention placed on the development and learning of children and none on the person that is training to become a teacher. The teacher training curriculum should be equally divided between an education in the care and development of self as well as children.
Unless there is care and presence of self, this cannot be shared with another.
‘It is not our job to control children but provide the support and boundaries that then allow them to makes choices and learn from these.’ What a turnaround for our education systems if they started from this premise. As you say once a teacher connects to their essence the control issues fall away as children feel met and thus naturally support each other.
Any child who has the benefit of these experiences will carry this into their adult life and be a reflection to all thus seeding future generations who will carry the much needed change further. We should never underestimate that power of one person coming back to themselves and sharing that in their workplace.
The need to control others rests on a foundation of insecurity, which leads to a desire to impose on another, be right and stay separate from them. When a teacher feels settled in themselves and in touch with their own essence, they are at one with themselves and pupils. This is what children sense and respond to. As equals and one we work together.
“We can’t treat the brains or minds of children in isolation to the rest of the child.” Unfortunately this is what predominately is happening in education today and then is carried on into adulthood where knowledge is recognised and rewarded above the person This results in people not feeling acknowledged and appreciated, just like the children described here and consequently all the adult anti-social behaviours and mindless forms of distractions not dissimilar to the behaviours in the classroom.
Yes we are creating the issues that society is currently dogged by and until we stop prizing intellectual knowledge above all else the unwanted behaviours of both children and adults will continue.
Everything starts with oneself rather than what is happening externally. Thank you Kristy for sharing so eloquently the fruits of this.
By staying present in the moment rather than thinking of the next thing I have found there is so much more in the moment than I had previously realised.
Although teachers are mostly committed and well intentioned, there is little heart in any education these days. It is not about the person and developing what they have to offer society but about filling them up with knowledge. This process makes us believe we are not enough unless we have learnt it from someone else and we can never know enough.
Some parallels can be made between teaching and caring. It was said to me the other day ” I don’t get why some carers find this client ‘difficult’ to work with” I offered this, it has nothing to do with the client, it is what some carer’s bring with them. Some walk into the clients home with their own issues and when they meet relationship difficulties or find it a struggle, blame the client. A true workman never blames his tools.
And any job where connection to clients/students etc is key. It is only when we are willing to take responsibility for our own issues and get ourselves out the way that we can truly be available to serve in whatever way is needed.
My very first full-time job as a primary school teacher came, not through an interview but observation of my practice. Working as a supply teacher, a school’s advisor observed me teaching a swimming lesson to a group of children and recommended me for a permanent job. He saw in me something I wasn’t even a aware of myself. I had a natural way with children: a gentle authority, respectful and loving and they responded. Over fifty years later, I’m fully aware of and appreciate the qualities I bring to my work as a carer.
What we find every day in a classroom is a reflection of our society. The only way to change this crazy trend and not be at the mercy of it, is stopping and come back to ourselves first. Then and only then, we can truly meet children for who they are and not for what they do… and this is connection. As you wisely say Kristy, being connected is essential to really be able to connect with others and care for them.
Thanks Kristy. This should be a must read blog for all teachers in training. How different it would be if we approached teaching by being present and cared about ourselves first. What a great reflection we would offer and teach with that. Most probably in that way we would receive another response from children too.
Does the heart need education? Or, do we need to be educated about the heart?
We definitely need to be educated from the heart
This is an epic article in the way that it shows how there can actually be joy lived in the classroom between teachers and students.
“There is nothing special about what I do, it is simply about the quality in which I choose to live that I then bring to others”. To remove ‘special-ness’ de-personalises and communicates to other teachers that your way of teaching and relating with pupils is open to all, once we commit to changing the way we live and relate to ourselves.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, I love this quote by Aristotle. What it suggests is the importance of educating the whole person and not simply focus on brain power. And the best way to do this is by example and through our own movements.
You mention that when you approached the class differently the class behaviour changed. That is inspiring for other teachers who are at a loss of how to bring more respect into the classroom. Having to work with 30 children at a time is no easy task, yet as you say, the children can also be teachers and it would support their sense of purpose and self worth to see how much they each had to offer.
53 years ago aged fourteen, a female and pregnant supply teacher, walked into the classroom and brought a hush to the room. She carried an inner presence that had authority, steadiness and was loving. We responded. She spoke to us, not at us and when she spoke we listened. We loved her classes and never ever disruptive in her class. Her qualities stay with me to this day, now embodied and reflected in my own relationships with others and work as a carer.
Stunning kehinde2012. I love that you have lived the imprint that teacher left in your classroom so others my benefit from that connection as well.
Beautiful Kehinde, your comment would make a great blog also, even if short. There is something about a true role model, it just stops you in your tracks, even reading about this person did that for me. There is so much power in the reflection of another and how they can inspire us, it’s so important for learning about how we can be in the world, and not just learning about how the world works, which is what education focuses on.
We spend so much time looking at where we or the children we are working with are supposed to be that we forget the Love and Playfulness available in every moment. This then reflects to children an anxious way of living as normal. No wonder they resist growing up!
I love the way you approach teaching. Apart from the depth of your genuine love, care and appreciation of the children, the fact that you so clearly meet them as an equal and honour them for the wisdom and love that they also have within them, and provide the space and support for them to discover and know this about themselves is huge. I loved reading how you recognise that you are not “the only teacher in the room” and that children can often support one another in invaluable ways, and how this can foster the understanding of sharing our abilities rather than using them over another. I vote that your wisdom and insights be part of the foundations of any and every educational training.
I agree Golnaz, it would be a more harmonious classroom when everyone is the teacher, and able to develop others by sharing their innate strengths and working together collaboratively.
I love this quote from Aristotle, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” . . . and I love how you are with children Kristy. What you bring is priceless as, you and all teachers like you, are bringing the heart back into education.
It is beautiful to read how children are able to support each other when they have an experience of being supported themselves, and it is by reflection of the quality we live in as teachers that give children the best experience in the classroom.
We are constantly becoming hostages to time, because there is so much to do, yet when we stop and feel into how we live, and the more we are able to connect with our own presence our awareness becomes greater, and as we become more aware we see far more clearly as to what is going on.
There is an expectation within and of teachers that they love the children, and nothing is too much trouble because they love to teach them. It is great to read the more honest state of where teachers are at, in the disillusionment, stress and overwhelm of what they are having to deal with nowadays. This happens with the caring professions that they keep trying to appear everything is ok while they are actually struggling.
Brilliant blog Kristy – thank you for sharing. My school days were certainly not enjoyable ones and as soon as I started term I longed for the school holidays and then clearly counting the days, hours, minutes before going back! Sad! The trouble was I thought there was something wrong with me! If only I could have expressed how I felt about school to someone who truly listened and understood. I now have three children in primary school and over the past few months have become much more involved with the school. I can feel a responsibility in this area of my life which I am now ready for based on the continuously, developing relationship to myself. I am beginning to realise that there is something I can bring and offer to the children, teachers and the education system that comes from a lived foundation of the love and even if I feel I have only just begun and see there is much to unfold within me, saying yes to this responsibility is essentially supporting me too, equally to evolve so that I can shine the love and light I am in full, within and outside of school.
This is beautiful Caroline and what a turn around. Your return to yourself opened the way for you to be part of a school community.. I love your absoluteness in claiming your responsibility and understanding your purpose. With a deep inner connection, it’s possible to re-imprint any situation. . .
Daily, across the world, teachers are exposed to a countless number of difficult situations that emerge out of irresponsibility. Unfortunately, though, we cannot claim that the teachers are not by-and-large, part of the problem.
This blog is absolutely brilliant and encompasses everything that I have felt about our current education systems lack of true connection with children, and Kristy expressed it in such an honest and understanding way concerning the challenges teachers face in presenting a system of education that does not have at its core a ‘heartful’ approach. I look forward to sharing this with the educators, parents, and students I know as it is a True benchmark and blueprint for how our education system can and will be run in the future.
School should be about preparing and supporting our children to be healthy loving adults who are committed to contributing their part to community and day to day life, not just about merely gaining ‘information and knowledge’ that is not always all that practical.
Yes, it is about learning life skills, and what this blog shares so well is how the behaviour is an outplay of what a child is not handling in another area of their life. If the teacher or the adult can recognise this and offer tools to address the underlying issue rather than pay attention to the behaviour, then the students also learn how to view each other in the same way.
A quality of presence in any environment – at home, at work, at play – makes a huge difference, we can all feel it and it is the difference between a human being and a walking to do list! It just takes a moment to connect first.