Cultivating ‘calm’.

The Impact on Learning

‘Calm is a Superpower’ this has somewhat become my mantra over time, and naturally during the pandemic years became even more of something to lean into.

It has led me to think more deeply about how we find calm amidst storms. How we both instil, and nurture, calm in learning spaces, in communities and in our interactions even when times are tough. How ‘calm’ can impact learning and the culture of learning in a community.

Recently, I visited a small Montessori school in Spain. My immediate feeling in spending a few days there was the overwhelming sense of calm and peace. These are not typically phrases that you would associate with sharing spaces with mixed age groups of 3 – 12 year olds but my goodness that was a huge part of my feeling having spent some time with them. It really was a truly peaceful, calm environment; inspiring and invigorating.

Perhaps a good place to start is by clarifying what I mean by ‘calm’.  Interestingly the word calm can be used as an adjective, noun and verb. The idea of ‘calm’ is a combination of action, feeling, and being.

For me, calm is about presence. Being able to be present, to think (or not) in the moment. The action of being able to be at ease in the moment. It is the absence of panic or being reactive to a trigger. Calm is all about the energy that is created. The way we interact in a space can initiate this feeling and allow it flourish – or can hinder it.

As I observed students and adults in this learning space, I reflected on the elements that potentially were contributing to this almost visible ‘mist of calm’ that enveloped the classroom. 

Here is what I noted:

  • Relationships
    • These were at the heart of everything. People connecting with people. Conflicts arising, being given space to address these, and restoring relations. Trust that everybody’s actions were founded in a shared belief in each other and to do their best. Belief in one another.
  • Knowledge
    • Learners in this space knew boundaries, knew what the values are, knew the routines and structures that were part of their learning journey. Right from age 3 years old the learners could share their knowledge and were encouraged to do so.
  • Predictability
    • There was a clear sense of predictability both in reactions and responses as well as routines and rituals. At the same time, if plans did not go as intended, relationships were leveraged to help adapt and accept. There was a recognition that individuals are complex and the world around is complex and therefore things were predictable in their approach, through unity and founded in trustful relationships.
  • Self advocacy
    • Learners could chose to use their voice, they were heard, needs met, attention or space given. The learner was a leader and they were encouraged to advocate for themselves. This autonomy was impressive to see at all ages and learning guides really demonstrated their role as an advisor and coach, providing input and listening to learners.
  • Absence of pressure
    • This was most noticeable for me in the sense that learning guides and learners believed that success was where the individual was at any given moment. There was an over- riding presence of belief in capabilities as opposed to pressure to complete, cover content, or compete. That is not to detract from the fact there were deadlines to meet and tasks to be accomplished. However the invisible burden of pressure was absent from both learners and learning guides.

Ultimately, ‘cultivating calm’ is visible through learning environments that have an ethos that honours the individual; their time, their wants, their needs, their choices. This is also replicated for all individuals – students and staff.

I recognise that replicating a small community classroom culture in larger school settings can be more challenging. However, I have experienced this ‘mist of calm’ in classrooms I have been fortunate enough to visit in larger school settings.

I wondered though how do you knit this altogether in a larger community? How do you transfer these observations in a larger scale setting? What are the things that school leaders can do to cultivate this? How can we tweak the systems we are in with all the operational constraints to better foster this?

Cultivating Calm in Your School Community

Three areas to focus on as a leader

Aligned Values & Shared Understandings

Articulating and modelling the community values of your school and consistently building shared understanding is crucial. It is hard work. It is unrelenting work. I have learned that being aligned in values, in the core principles is essential. Without this shared understanding of the beliefs and values in a community, doubt, uncertainty of who we are, (as a community) creeps in and the foundations become unsteady. Strong alignment and consistent revision of community values, philosophy and beliefs in all aspects of school life helps reaffirm, revive and regenerate shared understandings. If this core thread is visible throughout all aspects of the community it provides safety to lean into, helps inform and guide decision-making, ensures accountability and provides stability in the complexity of everyday learning and school life.

Communication

Effective communication is key to cultivating calm. What this looks like will be different according to your school context, culture and community. In essence though it means that:

  • there are multiple ways to access information and these are known and reliable.
  • as a leader you model clear, responsive communication, you ‘show not tell’ your values through how, what and when you communicate.
  • people in the community feel informed, know who to speak to if they have questions and have trust that knowledge is shared.
  • communication is used to celebrate each other – strengthen and nurture relationships.
  • communication reflects diversity of voices in your community and as a leader your role is to help bring these together and to the forefront.

Honouring the Individual

In any community finding ways to honour individuality is complex and needs to be reflective of your context and culture. I recently wrote about the shift in mindset from being inclusive to honouring all languages. This concept of honour can extend to all aspects of interaction. Treating others with respect and admiration, feeling this ourselves and it being reciprocated. There are some principles that I would highlight when we consider honouring the individual in a community to cultivate ‘calm’ – I am sure too that there may also more to add!

  • fostering curiosity.
  • modelling and nurturing self awareness and reflection.
  • growing a culture of self-advocacy, agency and responsibility.
  • celebrating learning as well as achievement.
  • championing individual progress and growth.

I would be interested to hear more about cultivating calm in your school community, classroom or learning culture. What has been a practice that contributes and impacts a sense of calm that enables learners to thrive?

Reading and Inspiration

These books and online resources are excellent resources to explore connected to the complexity of nurturing culture, community and leadership.

Say Yes to the Mess

by Frank J Barrett

yestothemess.org

Unleashing Your Complexity Genius: Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead
by Jennifer Garvey Berger & Caroline Coughlin

https://www.cultivatingleadership.com/

Community: The Structure of Belonging
by Peter Block
www.peterblock.com

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