Lisa Baylis interview Chris Willard on mindfulness and compassion for educators
Understanding How to Be Trauma-Informed While Teaching Mindfulness

Educators are ready to practice mindfulness and compassion within their classrooms in trauma-informed ways to better support students.

Sitting down with my friend, Dr. Chris Willard, to talk about the benefits of mindfulness and compassion for educators, brought me such joy.

Chris Willard is a clinical psychologist, author, and consultant based in Massachusetts. He has spoken in thirty countries and connects regularly with educators and school systems as well as has published over 20 books for both kids and adults. We always have such a great conversation and I’m thrilled to share it here with you today.

My top takeaways from Chris Willard:

  • We get to feel and go through our challenges with kindness
  • Mindfulness may feel complicated but we can keep it simple
  • Teaching mindfulness in a trauma-informed way keeps everyone safe

Video below

Permission to “grow through what we go through” with compassion

Our conversation started referencing Chris’ latest book for adults, “How We Grow Through What We Go Through” and its connections to self-compassion as a foundational practice to support the trauma we experience in and out of our classrooms. Chris talks about post-traumatic growth and the conditions it takes to grow through challenging situations. I loved how he shared that when people understand their trauma they can break the myths that is a life sentence or that there is no way through it.

He really gave permission for people to grow through their suffering and struggles without it being a lens of toxic positivity but instead an invitation to grow in capacity and strength.

The practice of self-compassion helps us cultivate kindness and not believe everything we think or the critical voice we often listen to but instead find a compassionate inner voice that offers us a different and kinder perspective – heals us in different ways.

Meet ourselves with a compassionate tone

 Learning to meet ourselves with a compassionate tone happens in steps:

  1. Actually, recognize and be aware of when you’re being critical
  2. Recognize you don’t need to speak to yourself in that way
  3. Try and offer a kinder or gentler reframe
  4. Remember that tone makes all the difference!

Learning to speak to ourselves in a tone of voice that is kind has so much power over our physical response and can support our healing through trauma.

This conversation about meeting ourselves first with compassion is the foundation to then be able to bring practices of mindfulness and compassion to our students.

Want to try and calm your inner critic? Try this practice.

Now, what do we need to help our students learn mindfulness?

Mindfulness in Schools Feels Complicated but it Doesn’t Have to

Chris shared that his first struggle with mindfulness in schools is that educators don’t get quality mindfulness training. Mindfulness is not about just taking a big breath or using practices as a classroom management practice. Rather, we want to actually show and teach mindfulness practices in the community so students learn what mindfulness feels like and looks like from both the scientific and embodied perspective.

When I asked Chris Willard what he sees as some of the struggles educators face, he was clear that the polarization of our world makes it feel like it has been “this or that” when it comes to mindfulness training or resources and time. He was very clear we NEED BOTH.

We can’t change the system without the foundation of caring for ourselves.

Chris Willard

Often educators shy away from mindfulness

Educators don’t bring mindfulness to schools because it feels like:

  • one more thing to do
  • there is not enough time to practice and understand it
  • doesn’t feel good or peaceful 
  • hard to understand
  • want to teach it first before embodying it

We really need educators to embody the practices before teaching them – we need to know more than our students. So find quality training to support your journey. Learn more here about our Year-Long Mindfulness Program that can support you.

I loved how Chris shared that ongoing informal practices can be helpful. Small, regular check-ins may not be a behavioural modification strategy but a practice and resource to support ourselves throughout our days.

You can try some informal mindfulness practices right out of my book “Self-Compassion for Educators.”

Mindfulness and compassionate practices give us the foundation and strength to manage and hold the stresses around us. We can’t always stop the challenging moments from happening, but we don’t have to get so caught up in them or upset by them.

We can learn to roll with the stresses with a little more ease.

So now that we know we can embody mindfulness for ourselves with ease, how do we teach this to our students?

Teaching Mindfulness to Students from a Trauma-Aware Lens

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do

Benjamin Spock

Many of us have some anxiety about “getting it right” in terms of mindfulness, trauma, and mental health in the classroom, but in the end, the most important thing is your relationship with your students.

One way method of teaching from a trauma-informed lens is to use the CHOICE practice

C – consent – make the practice an invitation 

H– honest, help, and humility

O – orientation – give structure and orientation to time and place

I – Inquiry – share and reflect 

C – choice and comfort – what is best for you

E – embody, empowerment and equity – we embody it for ourselves

One of the key reminders in this interview for me was to not personalize our student’s behaviour. Their behaviour is not about us… it’s our reaction to their behaviour that impacts them. We need to learn to be with them through difficult emotions and behaviours without shaming them.

Often we can ask ourselves, “can this behaviour be supported with HALT?”

HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired

In this end, this is why compassion is the foundational practice for us as educators.

We have to meet ourselves so that we can meet our students and the best trauma-informed approach is a strong relationship.

If you want to know more about Chris Willard and his work, you can check out his website.

If you want to watch more of my Teacher Talk Interviews, feel free to check them out on my Youtube Channel.

Hi, I’m Lisa.

I helps support you to build resiliency, awaken wellbeing and feel in control of both your life and classroom.

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