Self-awareness is the state of consciously being present to thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It allows us to bring clarity to our internal state so that we can more effectively manage our external environment. With the ever increasing demands placed on educators from all angles and the increasingly complex social and emotional profiles of students, self-awareness is key.
Step 1: Shift Your Attention Inward
The first step to cultivate real self-awareness is to direct your attention inward. Try this exercise to gain a better understanding of your internal world:
• Check in with your breathing. Observe your breath without an intention to change it.
• As you become grounded in your breath, bring your awareness to what you are sensing. What do you feel?
• Now bring awareness to your mind. What thoughts are coming up? What emotions are surfacing? Try to avoid liking or disliking whatever is coming up.
Simply tune in and notice what comes up. This is self-awareness.
Step 2: Notice How You are Being
Scientists have discovered what they call “mirror neurons” in the brain that allow us to imitate and learn from the actions of other. When we see another person’s emotional expression, muscles in our own face immediately mimic the expression in subtle ways (Lieberman, 2013).
Therefore, your own body language and expression will set the tone for your classroom. If you enter the classroom with tense shoulders and a tight jaw, your students are going to mimic your stress. Luckily, practicing self-awareness makes it possible to notice tension you are carrying and change your state before you step in to the classroom. Presenting yourself with calmness and warmth helps to cultivating a safe learning environment.
Step 3: Choose Who and How You Want to Be
Now that you are turning your awareness inward, you can actively choose who and how you want to be in your classroom, instead of reacting blindly to experience. Even the best teachers sometimes get triggered to react strongly to certain situations. However, a solid sense of self-awareness can help you to shift from a place of reactivity to a place of clarity, even in the most difficult circumstances.
As educators, our days are stressful, and many things come up that can trigger us to react. The best part is, everything you need to be successful in this practice is already within you, and the more you use it the easier it will become.
Lieberman, M. (2013). Panoptic Self-Control. In Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. New York, New York: Random House.v