October 2nd, 2017 – One strategy for increasing educational effectiveness is to stop teaching. I don’t mean leaving the profession, although that is warranted at times, but rather to take a break to renew and refresh before plunging back into the complexity of teaching. It is shown in practice and in research that reflective teachers are more effective at achieving educational goals. They are more centered, more resilient, and show greater capacity to respond in productive ways to ambiguity. What might stopping with intention look like? And what larger purpose might it serve?
I heard the following story through a network of physicians that I work with on a monthly basis. We gather together and explore the interface of their calling to heal, institutional demands, and physician burnout. This story, which is hard to prove, does offer, it seems, an intriguing example of stopping with intention.
The Maasai of Africa run great distances in their daily hunts. However, mid-run, they will stop in mass and stand quietly on the savanna. It is their belief that this gives their souls time to catch up with their bodies.
Physicians, like teachers, practice their calling to serve others in an environment that is frequently constrained by standards, accountability, and pay for performance. The advice in this story seems applicable to both communities; stopping periodically in the midst of work will allow the ineffable qualities of professional identity to “catch-up” with the exterior-business oriented aspects of the role. The Maasai story reminds me of the importance of stopping periodically in the savanna of my teaching to reconnect my inner calling to teach with my external drive to be effective; to honor the importance of teaching from both the head and the heart.
The Maasai story teaches four steps to wholeness: (1) work; (2a) stop in silence; (2b) gather together in community; (3) seek wholeness; and (4) return to work. Steps 1 and 4 are easy as this is what we do as educators; our work-calling is teaching. Step 2a is a little harder but still manageable. For instance, effective teachers always build in instructional wait time to allow the lesson to deepen and the questions to emerge for learners. Why not turn the gift around and use instructional wait time for a moment of inner reflection; a form of standing in the savanna? Stopping with intention, even to focus on one deep breath, can begin the process of acquiring goal 3, seeking wholeness. To fully achieve wholeness and integration of the instructional heart, hand, and head is a more extensive process. Step 2b is perhaps harder to achieve since teaching is primarily a solo activity. Yet by including students in the process the whole class can experience a moment of communal silence before returning to the work of teaching and learning.
The daily existence of teachers is often driven by the head/intellect and the hunt for answers, accountability, data, and testing. If the Maasai story is accurate, and I think it is generally so, then an essential aspect of effective teaching is stopping and remembering the story of why you became an educator. By stopping and remembering your call to teach you give your heart time to catch up with your mind and share its wisdom on effective teaching. Enjoy what you do best, teach, but remember to periodically stop-teaching and enjoy the beauty of the classroom ecology you inhabit.