Renu Sikka

This too shall pass: gratitude and mindfulness for teachers, by a teacher

When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

For me, it all began with a phone call. I was teaching my Year 3/4 class how to make a terrarium as part of our integrated writing and STEAM project, when my daughter and son called to let me know about the complete lockdown that would affect the whole of New Zealand.

Usually, life for me as a schoolteacher involved driving to school every morning, interacting with all my colleagues and teaching in the classroom. This has now become an online, virtual experience in the form of emergency remote learning and teaching from my home.

When schools reopen online next week, my 40-square-foot apartment will become a studio.

When schools reopen online next week, my 40-square-foot apartment will become a studio. The place where I relax and watch TV will become a place for Google Hangouts, to check in with my lovely students about their learning. This place that is my haven, where I am used to preparing meals together with my family and reflecting on my day gone by with gratitude, might soon become a space to produce props for remote teaching and learning. 

My personal life and work life are no longer separate.

Thankfully, I live with my children, so we have each other’s company. I know a lot of my close friends live by themselves and are finding it the isolation hard. It’s an anxious time and will be taking a toll on people’s health and wellbeing.

As an educator, this is my main concern: the wellbeing of teachers and their students.

As I write, I’m reflecting on how our current global situation presents an opportunity for all of us as a community to come together in intensive self-exploration. We now have an opportunity to find alternative ways to think, feel and act. And doing so, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Who am I in relation to the current situation?”

We now have an opportunity to find alternative ways to think, feel and act.

This coronavirus is moving; its nature is to penetrate the boundaries. Most of us in our current lifetime have never experienced such a phenomenon. This movement is unsettling, uncertain and shocking. In contemplating this movement, what do I feel?

Firstly, I need to become aware of my own inner process. During this uncertainty around health and wellbeing, and the economic upheaval, am I aware of my own thoughts and my deeper feelings? If this is possible, only then can I stay in a place of vulnerability. Vulnerability will allow me a clearer perspective on what’s happening around me. If I don’t move through this layer within myself first, I might project my own fears onto others around me.

On my yoga mat, I return to my own breath, in the midst of this spinning world. I don’t know what is going to happen, and yet what I do with my thoughts, words and actions can impact everyone around me.

The simple act of washing hands has become a matter of life and death for us in such difficult times, and similarly, paying full attention and being mindful can bring our meditation practice off the yoga mat to our own daily lives. We need to remember that you and I are not separate. We all breathe the same air. In this time of heightened emotions, we all need social/physical distancing but also social solidarity.

In this time of heightened emotions, we all need social/physical distancing but also social solidarity.

My advice to my colleagues around New Zealand is: we can choose to live in fear, worry and confusion, or we can choose to model for our students values like compassion, kindness and mindfulness now more than ever. Turn off the news, meditate, turn on Mozart, walk around your house, listen to those in your own bubble more deeply and try to let go.

As coronavirus spreads around the world, fear and grief are inevitable – but so are compassion, kindness and care. We are all these things!   

Renu Sikka is a senior leader at Henderson Primary School and won an award for ASG National Excellence in Teaching (NEiTA). She is currently studying toward her Doctorate on the role of digital technology in exploring the culturally responsive teaching practices in schools at a global level. She is also a founder of non-profit social enterprise Our Stories On Plate, which empowers migrant and refugee women and girls through cooking and creative writing.

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