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Dr. Grauer's Column - Dharma Surfers

Dharma Surfers

What an art it is to know the “real” curriculum! It’s the process of writing that is the discipline, not the paper we wrote; it’s the connection we have around the Harkness table that’s the thing, not even the topic of the conversation. That’s the dharma.

Today is the opening of the World Surf League championships up at Trestles Beach, not so far away, and we are live streaming it into our school lobby. Students are lingering a bit longer than they “should”… This is dharma.

The distraction for all of us on campuses these days is “off the charts.” School communities must have strategies, leadership, and practices to navigate these rough waters. Business as usual will not cut it. A whole new set of intentions is essential and many of the actions those intentions imply are not much more than nuance, but they can make all the difference. (The longer I am in leadership, the tinier the levers seem to get.)

Grauer 10th grade students Jasper, Aiden, Eli, and Declan eating lunch together in the treehouse - September 13, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

This morning and the morning before, I unsubscribed from a total 50 educational mailing lists. I’m going to live without webinars for a few weeks. Dharma.

When classes are out, we have no drilling bell and kids bolting out of the seats such as you associate with class changes. Instead, at The Grauer School, you have a program I wrote called ZenBells, which plays baroque or smooth jazz music between classes, softly. I love how thoughtful and calm students look when they drift out of classes. For me, dharma is when we experience simplicity and peace of mind as we move through the days, and you cannot do this in distraction.

There is no better way to create great conditions for education and overall health, happiness, and even longevity than to belong to a community you care about. This is dharma.

We are heading out on expedition next week. I understand that these are not normal school proceedings. These simple things we have developed through years of refinement now seem like the most natural things in the world. They’re not even tours. Our destination is connection.

It has taken a number of decades to learn how to navigate a destination like that.

I remember jumping on a plane from Europe to Washington, DC, to attend my first World Future Society conference in 1984, and it turned out that the biggest concern of the futurists I encountered was the future of the mind. I came away with my early ideas for connecting what my students were learning about the way the brain functioned with the practice of teaching. I took these ideas straight into the classroom.

My students absolutely loved the new brain patterning practices, and the mind journeys they provided that were later given all sorts of names like body scanning and mindfulness based stress reduction and guided imagery, though I never gave them a label and still don’t try to mainstream them. It always felt a little like subversive activity to me. I wonder how much of this is mainstreamed now. Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness.

As it happened, those futurist ideas were strikingly aligned with ancient spiritual and educational traditions, mostly Asian. In the dojos of Japan and the Buddhist-inspired leadership studies of Meg Wheatley, I starting thinking that any educator would at least have to be aware of the way the brain makes new connections.

Grauer 9th grade students Erin, Keira, and Samara relax together while working on a project in English class - September 13, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

It seems like about 10 years ago that we had our entire faculty trained by the renowned, brilliant teachers Dr. Tom and Julie Chippendale in “mindfulness.” Since that time, the term pops up pretty much anywhere and I go back and forth in wondering if everyone supports these ancient and futurist techniques for clear thinking or that people think they are some kind of new age indoctrination fad for lefties. There is plenty of both around, I’m sure.

The famous physician and author Jon Kabat-Zinn brought “mindfulness” deeply into medical and therapeutic, stress reduction practice in his work at Massachusetts General Hospital and around the world. Zinn trained Tom Chippendale, whose memorial “peace pole” stands at the northwest corner of our campus. He trained our faculty.

Taking Tom on his last surf trip is one of my top claims to fame. He was a guru. I’ll never forget Cuervo Gold on the way home, cruisin’, sun. We knew he was dying. That’s dharma.

Mindfulness practices are now used widely amongst top businesspeople, athletes, scientists, physicians and many more. Some practitioners of mindfulness are seeking a more peaceful, less turbulent world. Is there any doubt we need that now?

Others are somehow looking for greater awareness or new forms of consciousness, some with histories probably as old as humankind. Teachers are looking to develop more kinds of “intelligences” in their students. Our mind is our very own laboratory.

Grauer students Massin, Julian, and Sage rap together during a performance at the schoolwide assembly - September 14, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

We are developing that mind our whole lives. What if every teacher understood and respected this lab, the student mind? Into this lab, we don’t necessarily pack historical and scientific content, but we try to study our own distraction and to learn not to judge things automatically and to have discipline. And to keep a light heart, even in times of distraction, like now, more so than I’ve ever experienced.

Some people are put off by the thought that in order to teach and study our own consciousness, you need to be on a certain kind of pillow or pinch your thumb and forefinger together or wear a leotard or something, and who knows the best way? We’re talking about peace of mind here and this can be sought after while sitting, standing, walking, running, drinking tea or coffee, doing hatha yoga, ironing, driving, petting your dog. Dharma is anything you can savor—so long as it is a part of a practice or discipline over time, that’s the thing.

Even though I hesitate to use the label, this simple concept that gets called mindfulness influences the Grauer teaching philosophy quietly and pervasively, as we seek to engage students in a process rather than focus on an end product. It purrs through our campus like a light breeze, when we are at our best. As a result, it’s the process of writing that is the discipline, not the paper we wrote; it’s the connection we have around the Harkness table that’s the thing, not even the topic of the conversation. And you can see it when the Zenbells go off—Grauer classes change in slow motion. That’s the dharma.

This simplicity can be tricky for teachers because if you are truly seeking primarily student engagement, you might not be able to follow a curriculum! Or you might have to question what the true curriculum is. In fact, once you start a class, infinite curricula could unfold, if we are attuned. What an art it is to know the “real” curriculum! Kabat-Zinn says, “The heart is the manual.” And as someone surely had to have said: Open heart, open mind.

Grauer students signing up to join the Skate Club - September 14, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

In our nation’s schools, a lot of distracted people are falling through the cracks because they always feel like they are in somebody else’s lab—not their own lab. Every great teacher connects those labs. 

It is not the teacher’s wisdom that makes students wise, it is the teacher’s appreciation of the student’s wisdom. Sure, all teachers want their students to like them and think they are smart, but all this happens in almost exactly the opposite way we might expect. Mindfulness as I understand it helps us be pure, nonjudgmental observers and dharma appreciators. That takes practice.

Our students have wisdom in them. The great teacher is not so much conveying their own ideas and catechisms to the student, but providing the listening and kindness, acceptance and connection necessary for that student to access that insight and wisdom that’s already inside. That’s what growing and healing are, that’s what learning and transformation are.

And that is why we are watching the surfing championships on the TV in the lobby, and kids are late to English class.

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Dr. Grauer poses with Senior Tristan R. '22 in the Grauer Teaching Kitchen - September 16, 2021

Grauer 10th grade students Jasper, Aiden, Eli, and Declan eating lunch together in the treehouse - September 13, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Grauer 9th grade students Erin, Keira, and Samara relax together while working on a project in English class - September 13, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Grauer students Massin, Julian, and Sage rap together during a performance at the schoolwide assembly - September 14, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Grauer students signing up to join the Skate Club - September 14, 2021 - Photo by Dr. Stuart Grauer

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