Future Ready is Overrated

Updated: (added this wonderful video thanks to Maria Galanis)


“Future Ready” is a theme I’m hearing more and more in our schools. The idea that schools is about preparing for the future and getting kids ready for adulthood. It’s important stuff and certainly schools need to be in this business. And yet….

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelrusinski/64660281

Mindfulness has been and continues to be something I try to practice and live daily. The stress that so many of our young people experience as well as adults concerns me. I worry that this stress is partly the fault of schools and the overt and subtle pressures we place on them. I’m concerned with my own parenting as I witness my own children often speaking about “getting through this” or “once this is done I’ll feel much better”. Those are natural but somewhat debilitating thoughts. Living in the moment is very hard. I would argue the vast majority of our day is spent on planning ahead or reflecting on the past and not so much on just focusing and enjoying right now.

I watched this clip on 60 minutes this week and it reminded me of things I’ve been trying to do for the past several years. I have gotten better at this and I suppose it’s partly age, partly experience but I think I’ve also taught it to myself. My photo a day project has been a proactive way of focusing on now. Ditching “busy” from my vocabulary has been another active step in being mindful and present. I’m still miles away from where I should and could be but I am pursuing it.

I think we’d be doing our students a big favor if we first began to model this in our own lives and suggested ways for them to incorporate this as well. Last year I worked with a group of principals and asked them what was their biggest concern. The overwhelming answer was “mental health”. While mental health is a complex issue and certainly schools aren’t currently equipped to fully address it, I think mindfulness would be an important place to start.  The research is pretty compelling not only for addressing and preventing anxiety and depression but to actually make you more productive and innovative.

When we are mindful, we are open to surprise, oriented in the present moment, sensitive to context, and above all, liberated from the tyranny of old mindsets. Ellen J. Langer, 1989

I’m not suggesting we don’t prepare our students for the future, I’m just asking us to consider that maybe “right now” is a pretty important idea to appreciate and acknowledge. The future is almost easier to deal with as it can be about hope as well as create a sense of urgency. Those aren’t necessarily bad but I wish we spend a bit more time on now. It’s a concept that as humans, we’re not very good at.

I might suggest a few simple ways to encourage and develop mindfulness in with your students:

  • Build in quiet time. What if you took 1-2 minutes a day to be absolutely still and quiet. Certainly having taught primary students, this is a challenge but I think if you frame it correctly and actually teach it, it would be a wonderful skill to learn.
  • Create an calming atmosphere. When I visited Singapore this year I spent some time with Clay Burell who begins each class with tea and relaxed conversation.
  • Pay attention and acknowledge things others might miss. Simply recognizing a student’s shoes, the way the sun is shining in the room or maybe a play a song or sound to listen to together. The point is to slow down and focus on the now without any stress or overthinking.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind, I’m sure there is a much better list somewhere else or in your own head but I mindfulness doesn’t just happen, you have to be intentional.

I’ll leave you with my latest short video in my Walk and Talk series and would love your response to the question, “How are you being mindful?”

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