Awareness and Reflection in the Classroom

This is our second introductory blog post to The Path Forward in Challenging Times: Building Resilience through the Practice of Awareness, our collaborative workshop with The Sky Center. Facilitated by Lisa Faithorn, PhD, Erin, Doerwald, LCSW, CMT-P, Randle Charles, and Grietje Laga, the workshop invites educators, administrators, and service professionals to practice awareness, reflection, and learn how to respond rather than react to school and community based challenges while enriching their experiences of life.

In our interview with Lisa and Erin, they share why awareness and reflection are important practices for educators as well as how the workshop will facilitate learning of these practices. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts with insights into The Path Forward. Learn more by visiting the workshop listing or contacting co-facilitator Lisa Faithorn.

Awareness and Resilience in the Classroom

Lisa: When educators are able to name and state their feelings and what they need – awareness – then they can model that for their students and others in their lives.

Erin: Yes, a lot of this workshop is about having the awareness so that we have the ability to restore agency and control over our own choices and responses rather than being reactive. This has been a theme in past Path Forward workshops, but our upcoming workshop digs a little deeper into agency. We’ll be practicing awareness as a connection to our arousal states or internal wisdom. We want to connect to our internal awareness of our physiological felt sense from within, so that we can make more skillful choices. With more personal agency, we are less powerless over the context that we find ourselves in in the classroom and other communities.

I like this phrase coming into my head that’s inspired by you, Lisa. That awareness restores agency. That’s part of the objective for The Path Forward.

Lisa: Yes, awareness moves into, or enables, recognition, which requires both a reflective way of being but also having ways to make meaning out of one’s state.So that means being educated in certain arenas about how to recognize what’s going on and then making a choice.

Erin: Empowerment is a big theme. Learning and education is about empowerment. Trauma sensitivity is about empowerment. Because nothing right now can be removed from this social context that we’re in, there is a lot of threat and feeling of disempowerment within systems. Feeling empowered within our own selves to make a choice and change is the beginning of facing our own ability to have agency of our own bodies. Then we can choose to make change in larger systems.

The James Baldwin quote which I think speaks really beautifully to the theme of The Path Forward workshop is: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Without learning about difficulties, challenges, and solutions, change is not possible.

Lisa: That quote actually makes me think about how when one slows down, becomes present, and aware in a given moment, one will be able to face pain.

Erin: Yes, and it’s not always wonderful to be in the present and aware. It can create discomfort. It can be incredibly painful, because then you have to deal with what you’re facing.

Lisa: There’s also a way to frame discomfort to refer to it as disorientation. Everything is different than our expectation tells us it should be, and it can happen suddenly and in traumatic ways or in any given moment.

Workshop Experience

Erin: I have an example from a Sky Center workshop – and we’ll be using some of these practices in The Path Forward. We offered a workshop at Santa Fe Community College called Self-care for the Real World. We made a reframe from the title: the real world is actually the one inside of us that we want to get back to.

I taught the group about the window of tolerance. This was a very simply exercise. I defined the concept of arousal states for the audience and then shared with them that, yes, arousal is a concept, but it’s also a lived experience. So we walked the participants through, first, a guided mindful awareness practice. This piece comes from David Treleaven.

The first part of the activity is that the participants are guided through a mindful awareness practice. They’re asked the question: how do you know that you’re alive? How are you aware that you are alive? And then there’s a term called interaception which refers to a felt sense of your heart beating and your organs working and what’s going on inside of your body. The mindful awareness practice is guiding participants through their senses. We allow participants to sit with that and notice their sensory experience through perhaps the temperature on their skin or heartbeat. If you can tune into your heartbeat, for instance, that’s great. And if they’re not noticing anything, that’s great too. Ask them how do they notice that they are not having a sensory experience?

You get people to start thinking and experiencing that they know they’re alive through their arousal state: how fast or slow they might be breathing or how fast or slow their heart might be beating. These arousal states are one of the ways that we know that we’re alive, like tuning into what our bodies are experiencing at any given moment.

In part two, you have people open their eyes. And you have them stand up and sit down in silence, tuning into what they’re noticing in their bodies. They think about their felt sense of their arousal when they stand up and when they sit down and what happens to their breathing. What happens to their heart rate? What do they notice? Because when we stand up and we sit down, it requires a bit of arousal to get yourself up and out of your seat and to sit yourself down. It can actually help the participants tune into their arousal states.

Then the third activity is silently looking around the room and making eye contact. You’re randomly finding eyes to meet to lock with at your own pace and seeing if you can make eye contact with as many people as possible in the room. It can actually be pretty evocative. I, myself, find that kind of exercise pretty challenging.  Of course, everyone’s always given permission to pass or opt out for any of this. The eye contact exercise can really be very powerful in terms of noticing one’s own reactivity when someone looks away or holds your gaze for too long or smiles at you. These are positive or negative reactions within the self when you’re making eye contact. This is all experiential. The next step is people pair up and share what the exercise was like and journal.

Lastly, people, from this exercise, learn to number or gauge their arousal states according to a scale created by David Treleaven. You learn to tune in and maybe even measure your arousal states at any given point during the day.

I see the didactic piece around the window of tolerance and the arousal state scale. Through the practice, you learn how to mindfully gauge your own arousal state. It’s like a tool you can take away to be more aware of what your arousal states are on any given day and be able to integrate them better.

Lisa: What I like about that exercise is how it combines with new information about windows of tolerance and arousal states with what people have experienced. I noticed my heartbeat and breath, but I actually didn’t have that piece of information about this thing called window of tolerance and the scale of arousal. Now, I can include that in how I reflect on my experience and apply it to a new way of walking in the world with deepened awareness.

An important conceptual piece that the Academy will bring in to the workshop is the experiential learning model that is foundational to all our Programs,  and idea and experience of Learning as Practice.