March 3, 2018
I am beyond excited to welcome you to Open Spirit’s Nourishing Teachers/Strengthening Classrooms Project’s first mini retreat for teachers. The brochure included in this folder will tell you about this project, in a mind sense. In a heart sense, I want to share with you my personal “Whys,” for this project.
Let me start with a flashback to June 14 2012 – six months before the December 14th, Sandy Hook shooting. Twenty children and six adults killed by a lone gunman, six months to the day after I retire from 30 years of service in the Framingham Public Schools.
As literacy specialist and head teacher at the Mary E. Stapleton School in Framingham, my last years were ones where I saw, firsthand, what I thought was a most stressed school environment. Standardized testing, data meetings, changes in principals and in superintendents of schools, more student IEP meetings than could occur on our scheduled Tuesdays. I was witnessing more and more families at risk for meeting basic needs and so many needs beyond. I saw teachers and staff that needed nurturing, to be compassionately listened to from a place where hearts meet hearts, and to be shown how they are valued beyond their students’ academic test scores. A teacher’s day can only be understood if one is in that role, actively orchestrating the present moments and, yet, each of those moments they know will be key to the overall development of each of the students before them and have an impact on generations yet to be born.
My heart was calling to me to make my retirement years, years where I could donate my strengths of mind and heart to establishing a project where I could work to nourish teachers in an effort to support them as they, in turn, work to strengthen their classrooms. Now, in 2018, I am in the sixth year of having that opportunity – being welcomed by Debbie Clark in July of 2012 to found and implement the Nourishing Teachers/Strengthening Classrooms Project at Open Spirit: A Place of Hope, Health & Harmony.
On February 15th, the morning after seventeen innocent people were killed in a shooting, by another lone gunman, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I sat with my journal, feeling the pain being experienced by the families of the victims as well as the pain and fears of teachers and students going into their schools in Framingham and throughout the country that morning. The 18th school shooting of 2018 for the United States! Stress in our schools is at an all time high!
On the evening of the Valentine’s Day massacre, I read a post on Facebook from an outstanding Framingham middle school teacher who is always sharing photos of hearts (in a variety of forms in nature) and loving messages of hope with her Facebook friends (which include students she has taught or continues to teach). Her words that night, for the first time, publicly spoke to her fears of a school shooting in her own workplace. Her words spoke the words of teachers today. I wrote to this teacher that night, and, I invited her to today’s retreat. I also asked this teacher, who is an acclaimed teacher of writing, to think about writing a blogpost for our website, sharing the voices of teachers today with the community at-large. I respect her willingness to share those fears, and, her voice propels me to move forward to provide more opportunities to nourish teachers and thereby strengthen their classrooms.
There are researched based mindfulness strategies to reduce stress, increase focus, engagement, self-control, and self-motivation that support teachers and students and people of all ages and walks of life. The four Open Spirit teachers who are now working in the Nourishing Teachers/Strengthening Classrooms Project have the skills and capacity to share their strengths as mindfulness facilitators.
Grant funding and funding from private donors help Open Spirit to provide mindfulness techniques to teachers and students in our schools through several mediums that our Open Spirit teachers support, including yoga, flamenco dance, art, wellness programming, and even chess. The Massachusetts Woman’s Home Missionary Union has supported us with generous grants for five years. We are indebted to them for their understanding this community need.
As we further listen to stories of surviving students who talk about what they witnessed in Parkland, we can see how trauma needs to be addressed and how communities, at-large, can help to support students, as well as their teachers.
Thank you to each of you for coming to our first mini retreat. It is our hope that we have “Nurtured YOU! “ and that you will deeply feel our community’s gratitude, appreciation, and compassion for the work you do nurturing YOUR students, who form OUR future.
With love and gratitude,