Professional Development Opinion

5 Tips for Implementing Non-Judgment Into Frustrating School Situations

By Starr Sackstein — December 17, 2015 3 min read
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Co-authored with Dan Tricarico, the Zen Teacher

Every day teachers encounter potentially challenging situations. We work hard to avoid judgement of the children and administrators who are a part of these situations with us. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail to recognize that judgment of ourselves in these situations is also not positive.

It is often easier to put a premium on helping others, but if we can’t help ourselves in these situations we’re bound to come up short in the way we handle the situations with those involved.

Imagine something does not go as planned. You snap at a student. You say something that you later regret to a colleague or an administrator and later fall into a pit of self-judgment and despair that is hard to climb out of. Rather than crucify yourself for having a bad day or taking it out on someone else, remember the following tips to learn from the situation.

Tips to embracing non-judgment during frustrating school situations.

Breathe. Breathing is the Life Force and is fundamental in controlling our rhythm. It is connected to the drumbeat of our lives. Even three slow, deep, rhythmic breaths in a stressful situation (especially before speaking or reacting) can help us reduce stress and modulate our emotions in a way where we can approach the stressful situation with more peace and equanimity.

Notice the judgment. Awareness is the first step to improvement, so even before you try to change the situation, just make yourself aware of the judgment. Keep in mind that accepting is part of non-judgment and just acknowledge and try to accept that you’re feeling tension and anxiety. Sometimes just stopping, seeing things for what they are, and accepting the moment goes a long way to reducing the stress.

Look for alternatives. Judging is one way to take action, but there are others. Stop and think if you can identify any alternatives to being reactive and judgmental. Can you laugh at the situation? sidestep it? Downplay it? Ask yourself if you’re just resorting to your typical knee-jerk responses or do you have choices. In other words, what are your OTHER options for dealing with the situation?

Practice. Non-judgment takes practice. Like any new skill, don’t expect to get it right the first time and don’t expect to be able to do it for extended periods of time at first. Start small. Try being non-judgmental for maybe 10-20 minutes at a time. Trust me! That will leave you breathless enough!

Forgive yourself. Every time we learn a new skill, we can expect it to be an imperfect process. There will be bumps and bruises along the way. And that’s okay. We see this with our own students when they learn something new--it’s never a flawless journey. So when we run into those inevitable hurdles, we must remember to exercise self-compassion and allow ourselves some grace. As the old proverb goes, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight. We must remember that implementing non-judgment means implementing it with ourselves, too. Maybe even first!

As we begin to practice non-judgment, we grow as people and feel more at ease about being human. This also sends powerful messages to those around us about how, they too, can choose to live.

Practice is essential, though. Too often we expect to learn from the mistake immediately and then continue to judge when it happens again. We will err. We will learn. We will correct the situation and inevitably, another similar scenario will arrive without notice and we can find ourselves judging again. Remember, this happens and we mustn’t judge ourselves too harshly as it can be counterproductive.

Think about a moment in your life recently where you’ve judged yourself or someone else harshly. How could shifting your perspective on this matter have turned a negative into a positive? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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