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Book Review: Awakened by Angela Watson

     Schools tend to be spaces of conflict that arise between adults, between children, and between adults and children.  Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, everyday situations can quickly escalate if we don't know how to respond to them in a productive manner.  Problems about who has power and what they want to over-power, are some of the most contentious conflicts that come up in schools.  At these times, some people move to the forefront as the popular ones in the pecking order, be they adults or students, and usually for the wrong reasons.  (We might even consider parents in this scenario, as well.)  However, teachers who are aware of the damaging potential of these situations, and who are true professionals, know that these issues get in the way of true teaching and learning.  Yet, happen they do, with or without our consent.  And, more often than not, we participate in these events, consciously or unconsciously.  In Awakened, Angela Watson tries to provide teachers with strategies and techniques for how to handle these situations with aplomb and "smarts".  How can we take care of ourselves, be the professionals we know we are, and do the best job possible as teachers and learners in our school site?


  By becoming conscious of what we are doing and by being aware of our negative thoughts and feelings about a situation, we can control our reactions to, and the extent of our participation in, the conflicts that will emerge in schools whether or not we agree with the issue at hand.  In other words, we can transform negative thoughts to positive ones by changing our minds, literally and figuratively.  Letting go of negativity and employing mindful breathing techniques, for example, have a calming effect on our minds, allowing us to make better choices for ourselves and others.
  Often, the underlying issue has to do with fairness.  Is it fair that the same students always get picked to go to the office?  Is it fair that the teacher always selects the same table to get ready for work?  Is it fair that a teacher who is clearly (and publicly) insubordinate gets a "promotion"?  Is it fair that some people don't get recognized for the work they do?
  And, it's about recognition.  Why do certain people get publicly recognized (and sometimes rewarded) for doing their job?  Why do certain children always get a smile and a nod from their teachers while others rarely or never do?  What is this new mandate from the school board?  It doesn't make sense.  Don't I have enough work to do already?
  All of these situations create stress and conflict.  They wear teachers down.  And, in some ways, it happens with our permission. Our responses to what happens in schools, including planned and unplanned events, can be logical or, conversely, position us in a reactive mode.  Over time, these re-actions are what trigger stress and, eventually, burnout.  How can we change this mindset?
  If I've read Angela Watson's book correctly, including some of the other spiritual reading I've been doing, then, as a first step, an awareness that this is happening is of utmost importance.  Then, we need to make a conscious effort to acknowledge that the other person or event is not in charge of our minds and how we react to challenging situations.  In fact, we are in charge of our world, to paraphrase a book with a similar title.  And, once we've settled on this simple truth, then we need to consciously work on recognizing that our reactions, thoughts, and feelings are of our own doing and can be our un-doing, as well.  This understanding facilitates acting appropriately to ensure that how we view and act in the world is consistent with a sense of compassion (understanding) and self-awareness:  by understanding our minds and taking care of ourselves we can extend this understanding and care to others.  This may sound simple in theory, but it is difficult to put into practice.  However, once we're aware (or awakened), there is no turning back; while we may occasionally fall short of managing our reactions to thorny situations, we can try again the next time with the awareness that this is a healthier response for everyone involved.  A spiritual leader I know recently said, "what we're called to do every day is create new beginnings," or in the popular parlance of the day, "this is the first day of the rest of your life."
     I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Awakened and try out some of the ideas put forth by Angela.  See for yourself how you can manage your reactions and, thereby, your life and health, today and beyond.
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