Teacher Self-Compassion #RedThumbForLove – Compassion Training 3

I want to propose an idea to all teachers: be kind to yourself no matter what happens. No matter what. If your lessons flops, it flops. If you couldn’t answer a student’s grammar question, it happened. If you couldn’t finish correcting homework on time, so be it. If that little voice in your head creeps up and says, “you’re stupid, incompetent, and lazy,” respond to it with love. How? I will propose a strategy, but first let me tell you how I discovered it.

(Feel free to scroll down to A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove if you’d rather learn the strategy right away.)

Lovingkindness Practice – Opening to Self-compassion

During the second week of Compassion Training with Mark Coleman (see my previous posts on this topic) we transitioned from mindfulness practice to loving-kindness practice. Sharon Salzberg defines loving-kindness as follows:

“Loving kindness is a form of love that truly is an ability, and, as research scientists have show, it can be learned. It is the ability to take some risks with our awareness – to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; to include in our concern those to whom we normally pay no attention; to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.” It is the ability to gather our attention and really listen to others, even those we’ve written off as not worth our time. It is the ability to see the humanity in people we don’t know and the pain in people we find difficult.” – from Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

And how do we see this humanity, how can we look at others with kindness when we can’t do it for ourselves? Here’s an idea from Mark Coleman,

“The primary abandonment we do is with ourselves. The most healing thing we can do is to not leave ourselves; not to abandon ourselves. This practice of self-metta (self-lovingkindness) allows us to hold ourselves, to stay with ourselves, to befriend ourselves, to love ourselves.”

This practice of self-lovingkindness has a long history, and the premise is simple: send yourself loving thoughts and from here you will open yourself to loving others more easily. First, it starts with yourself. Then, you move on to people who are easy love, and from there you move on to more distant and challenging people. During my first week I found it hard to extend my thoughts to others. I would lose focus, and my mind would drift off towards more enticing ideas. After talking this through with Mark, I learned that maybe I just needed to focus on myself for a while. It seemed that I needed the most care at that moment. Trusting that this was not a selfish act ,but something that would actually help me connect more to others in the end, I kept sending myself thoughts of lovingkindness, or another way to look at it, self-compassion.

Loving myself - a work in progress
Loving myself – a work in progress

Lovingkindness starts at home and our relationship with ourselves. – Mark Coleman

But this isn’t the strategy I want to propose to teachers — though, I still recommend it. The strategy first came to me after Mark asked the question, “What are one or two ways that you could realistically and practically begin to practice more kindness towards yourself?”, and then after seeing Chuck Sandy‘s Facebook post where he shared:

How often do we poison our own spirit with negative thoughts about ourselves? That’s why I painted my thumb red today – to remind myself to push away unloving thoughts about myself & to practice love for others more.

A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove

From Chuck’s red thumb sprang more colourful pictures of teachers’ nails. And so this is what I propose to you: paint your thumbnail red or any colour of the rainbow so that each time you see it you are reminded to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate with yourself.

Teaching can be a lonely profession. Often, we don’t have anyone to turn to who understands the challenges we face. Self-care may be the only strategy we can turn to when the job gets too hard. When you feel overwhelmed, this little self-compassion reminder may just be the thing to bring you a little ease. Each time you look at your coloured nail, check your state of mind to see if you’re in your old pattern of blame or shame, and remember that you are doing the best you can at that moment. Acknowledge what you are feeling: don’t push it away and don’t dwell in it. Just feel it.

A Community of Self-Compassionate Teachers

Post your picture, and a story of how your nail helped you, on the Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove Facebook page. You can also send the picture directly to me via Twitter @josettelb or tag me on Instagram @josettelb. If you use Tumblr use the #redthumbforlove hashtag and I’ll load it up on our blog redthumbforlove.tumblr.com.  Use the #redthumbforlove hashtag anytime you post a picture. By doing this, we can help each other stay motivated in being self-compassionate.

The more I teach and work with teachers, the more I realize how important self-compassion is. If you connect to this idea too, I look forward to seeing your loving colours shine.

For more about self-compassion, I recommend visiting:

For more about “whole” teaching, please visit:

And for more about Lovingkindness:

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19 thoughts on “Teacher Self-Compassion #RedThumbForLove – Compassion Training 3

    1. I’m happy to hear this! I’m curious to know more about this perfect timing if you care to share. Also feel free to send me a picture of your red thumb if you’d rather not tell your story. :)

      Nice to meet someone else in Korea! :)

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      1. I’ve started a new job, and whenever I start something new (a job, a class, whatever) I question question question myself, I think to my own detriment. I’m a big fan of teachers (especially language teachers) making themselves vulnerable to students and colleagues in pursuit of a better way of being/teaching, and self-reflection (alone and with others) is a big part of the way that I live and teach. But sometimes I get carried away with it and it was really nice to read this blog. Thanks a lot :)

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        1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It sounds like you were in need of a little support. Very cool that you somehow found your way here. :) That brings me a lot of joy.

          I hear a lot of myself in what you just wrote. Tomorrow starts my first full week of class and I’m surprised at how I’m not filled with anxiety as I usually am. I guess my writing and practice is paying off. I’m grateful for that and grateful for you and others out there that share in the similar experience. It makes all the “I get carried away with it” not feel so lonely.

          If you’re on Facebook, please join our little community. https://www.facebook.com/redthumbforlove Other teachers are writing about their stories, and I think you’d find some peace and ease there too.

          Warmly,
          Josette

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  1. Hi Josette,

    As per usual you post with uncanny timeliness. In fact, I was just this morning scolding myself for taking so much time to get reconnected with everyone following my move back home. I got on the internets last night and saw so many amazing posts that I need to catch up on and comment on. I was reminded of my time in the wilderness last year and how negatively that disconnectedness affected me.

    Not surprisingly, this self flagellation didn’t exactly inspire me to actively engage, but merely “get it over with”.

    After reading this I decided to be lenient with myself. I went for a run and feel miles better for it. And now I’m of a mind and in a place of desire to “get back to it”

    Thank you again for sharing your learning with us. I’m following it closely and am lining up the books to read through in the very near future.

    John

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    1. Dear John,

      I love the distinction between “get it over with” and “get back to it”. Such simple phrases carry a great deal of weight. One is full of guilt, annoyance, and maybe anger, and the other carries lightness, hope, and excitement. Would you say that is right?

      Your experience is a great example of how when we give ourselves a little space and also the permission to feel what we are feeling (I assume this is what happened when you were running?), we are able to come to the moment with greater intention and integrity. Not easy, but when we can see these moments unravel in front of us, I think we pave a path for that attention to happen again.

      Thank you as always for your input and support. It is truly energizing and inspires me to keep writing.

      Love & light,
      Josette

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  2. Teach like no one is watching : )
    Where I teach, the staff of about 10 is close and supportive. It is a Vocational Rehab Center, and our students are adults, some with disabilities, retraining for new careers. As someone who has suddenly relocated and started a new career, this is pretty easy for me to relate to. I am grateful for a good environment, but it is up to me to help keep it so.
    Self-compassion is the cocoon before the butterfly – where we emerge to show everyone that they have wings, too. As Rumi says, “Sing Loud!”
    I appreciate your siren song of love.

    Like

    1. Dear Scott,

      What a lovely way to look at it! “Teach like no one is watching.” Even if that no one is me! Fantastic. I will add this to our Facebook group. Have you joined us there? I’m happy to say that our community is growing in even this short period https://www.facebook.com/redthumbforlove .

      Thank you so much for sharing your context and your perspective on how compassion and support works within it. You make an important point about how it is up to you to keep it supportive. This idea of taking responsibility for ones emotions and how it can affect everyone around is a challenging paradox to hold on to. We are so deeply affected by each other that it is sometimes hard to separate the “I” from “they”, when in the end there really is no separation. All this to say that I appreciate your willingness to explore self-compassion as a way from maintaining the environment you all want to maintain.

      An emerging butterfly,
      Josette

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  3. Hi Josette,
    Interesting post. It made me think. What you say is true of teachers who are dedicated and striving for the best for those around them. We are hard on ourselves and on other teachers if we think that our students are being let down or that there is damage being done. We all need to encourage one another. Your nail polish reminder is a great idea.
    It also reminded me of the power of loving kindness. We are able to love when we are loved.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences again.

    Like

    1. Dear Anne,

      “We are able to love when we are loved.” So true. And it’s so interesting to me to learn that “the we are loved” part is largely due to what is going on inside rather than outside. It took a lot of painful reflecting for me to realize that. It’s so easy for us to think it is something someone can give us. It also points to the comment you made about being hard on others. If we come from the mindset that others will cause us to feel something, then we will continue to create scenarios for suffering.

      Thank you for making me look at this from a new angle! And thank you so much for being the loyal reader that you have been since we “met” a few weeks ago. It means a lot to me to read your comments. No pressure to continue, of course. I just wanted you to know how your comments have connected. :)

      I hope you are having a lovely weekend so far.

      Love & light,
      Josette

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      1. Josette, it is always interesting for me to read your reflections. We are coming to similar situations from different premises but are agreeing at the same time. When I meditate I do so on the wisdom of God which brings me awareness. When you meditate, my impression is that it’s about stillness leading to greater self-awareness.

        I am more than happy to be corrected if I am misunderstanding you. I find it all very thought provoking and I love your honesty and openness.

        As to my weekend … With my large family there is always something happening! This weekend one of my daughters had to have a small emergency operation. She is coming home for free food and mothering this week :)

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        1. Anne, you’re making me think once again. :) “I meditate I do so on the wisdom of God which brings me awareness. When you meditate, my impression is that it’s about stillness leading to greater self-awareness.” It’s a question I am feeling the pull to explore these days and so I’d like to take more time with it. It might be a post of its own!

          Juicy stuff! Thank you!

          Sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she is feeling better. I wonder if mothering brings you a sense of peace and joy. She might be suffering but it must be nice to be together. Correct me if I’m wrong. Families aren’t always rosy. :P

          Take care Anne!

          Like

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