Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers
reviewed by Keith Walters - July 18, 2018
Title: Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers
Author(s): Lisa J. Lucas
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland
ISBN: 1625311915, Pages: 218, Year: 2017
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Recalcitrant students, confrontational parents, derisive colleagues, top-down edicts, and disappointing student learning outcomes have the potential to deplete a teachers career-based joy. Repeated negative encounters can slowly propel the teacher into stoic complacency and eventual position resignation. Lucas book confronts the destructive spiral. Using current mindfulness research, Lucas encourages readers to nurture dispositions that view each moment of the day through a lens of positive possibilities. Lucas insists that we all have gifts we are meant to share with the world What you are really supposed to be doing is what makes you happy (p. 17).
The distinctive feature of this book is its assertion that personal happiness is enhanced when individuals slow down, pause, and reframe perceptions. This premise propels Lucas to use the word presence instead of mindfulness (p. 3). Each chapter includes descriptions of self-help routines such as yoga, meditation, positive self-talk, purposeful breathing, and guided reflections. An extensive annotated bibliography of additional websites, books, apps, articles, and TED Talks is provided for the dedicated reader who experiences initial implementation success.
Some may perceive the individualistic emphasis to be in conflict with traditional teacher dispositions rooted in altruistic, service-oriented professionalism. Lucas directly dismisses this interpretation:
Presence makes us better teachers and, as a result, improves the classroom environment and fosters students who are more engaged and are poised to learn and thrive. Students learn from teachers who project enthusiasm and optimism and clearly enjoy what they do. (p. xii)
Practitioner summaries of contemporary theories and research support Lucas joy-filled, energy-producing view of presence.
Chapters typically start with a personal anecdote that seeks to create a trusting rapport. The regular practice of introducing new topics with an inspirational quote reinforces a tone of positive possibilities. Inclusion of application strategies coupled with repeated suggestions for how to personalize the material lends to the feeling of a coaching relationship. Lucas commitment to fully embrace a conversational style extends to her chapter configuration which is based on the acronym PRESENCE. The result is a book that presents key ideas in an easy to read format.
A critical synthesis reveals a three-step, cyclical pattern within Lucas presence concept. The initial step justifies living in presence. Chapters discussing this step examine the process of safeguarding ones altruistic teaching vision from job-embedded pressures. Humankinds tendency to navigate disquieting difficulties using established cognitive scripts is the core of Chapter One, P=Practicing Presence. Lucas claims that the subconscious process can be intentionally negotiated when individuals understand negative beliefs reinforce limitations; positive beliefs invoke possibility thinking. The most important things to know about beliefs is that they can be changed (p. 23). Validating the distinction between negotiable and non-negotiable beliefs is the heart of Chapter Eight, E=Envisioning Endless Possibilities for Education. The assumption is that each reader enters the profession with noble intentions. Self-actualization rests on the commitment not to let anyone dim your light Follow your dreams If you want to experience greater joy and fulfillment in your role as a teacher, be the teacher you always dreamed of being (p. 185). Chapter Seven, C=Cant We Just Get Along, addresses the frustration generated when employers expect individuals to collaborate with dissimilar colleagues. Lucas argues that peace returns with the acceptance that at the core, everyone is simply trying to fulfill their basic need for love and acceptance. We need to begin by accepting ourselves. Next, accept your colleagues for who they are, instead of who you want them to be (p. 159).
The second step highlights a research-based foundation for the presence model. Chapters in this step concentrate on various facets of brain development. Chapter Three, E=Epigenetics, builds on the science of how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity (p. 58). Attention is given to the potential negative impact of stress. Care is taken to lead readers into an awareness that its not always the event or situation that creates stress, its our reaction. Actually, its our mind-set (p. 65). Expansion of the mind-set concept occurs in Chapter Six, N=Noticing the Negative Bias. Here, the tenets of growth mindset are used to encourage individuals to replace self-destructive thoughts with possibility meditations. Repeated application of stress management strategies, Lucas reasons, will produce a strong, positive neoplastic neural network (p. 143). The ultimate outcome of such thinking is an ability to maintain control in the midst of normal, daily mayhem.
The final step provides schemas that strengthen ones sense of self-efficacy. Chapters in this step operationalize the reality that integrating self-care practices into our daily routines takes purposeful planning (p. 72). Chapter Four, S=Simple Self-Care, recommends setting aside time for emotional/spiritual restoration. The goal is to use our built-in guidance system (p. 83) to manage the exhaustion caused by harmful lifestyles choices. Chapter Five, E=Ever-Lasting Focus, pushes individuals to set priorities during quiet time reflections. Fostering the courage to say no is underscored. This doesnt mean its all about you, but it does mean that you have prioritized whats important, and you are willing to let other things pass by without feeling guilty (p. 108). The benefit of presence habits is expressed in Chapter Two, R=Responding Rather than Reacting. The relationship between mature self-control abilities and preemptive coping strategies is discussed. By activating the mind-body connection, gratitude can help us shift from negative to positive states. Being grateful can make us healthier. A thankful thought doesnt just remain in your own mind; it flows, circulates, and expands (p. 42). Also of note is the inclusion of chapter sections entitled Classroom Connections that provide assistance to those who wish to integrate their personal pursuit of presence into classroom lesson plans.
I believe the call for presence instruction needs a caution. Presenting myopic self-care strategies as an essential element for community transformation has the potential to do little more than sugarcoat current injustices associated with discrimination, intolerance, abuse, bullying, and marginalization. Based on the above analysis, I recommend this book to teachers struggling to maintain a joyful vocational outlook. I also recommend this book to individuals who are just beginning to explore the idea of mindfulness. Specifically, this book is best designed to help readers prioritize results, accept incremental progress, and recognize the importance of pursuing habits that focus attention on one thing at a time.