Cultivating an Atmosphere of Peace:

By: Monica Lemke

Do you ever feel like there is a boxing match unfolding in your soul? In one corner is your fear, which is the reigning champion - it’s growing bigger, faster, and stronger after a winning streak fueled by stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. In the other corner is your peace, the underdog, reluctantly putting up its dukes to fight another battle.

I've been thinking lately that the little flicker of peace in all of our hearts deserves a win.

What if I told you that, unlike an actual boxing match, you can decide who will triumph? I have learned a little secret about peace: it's a choice.

Last year, I worked with an incredible student who I am convinced will change the world one day. With just about every card you can imagine stacked against her, she still managed to show up ready to learn each day.

Although, I grew to love this student, we had a less than peaceful start. Each day seemed like a power struggle as I navigated which battles I should choose to engage. One battle I never backed down from as a teacher was when students chose to draw on themselves. I'm not sure why, but it drives me crazy! Creating "body art" just happened to be one of Ashley's (not her real name) favorite activities during my lessons, along with doing her hair. I tried giving consequences and removing all markers and pens from her reach, but this usually resulted in tears or tantrums. Then I decided that my goal was going to be to protect our connection and respond to her needs instead of react.

I started by calling her to my table and saying, "Ashley, I can see you have a talent and passion for art and cosmetology. Did you know our district has programs where you can learn how to do that in high school?" Ashley shook her head. "Well, the students have a YouTube channel where you can watch videos of them talking about the program. I might be able to find some videos of them cutting hair. Would you like to have some time to watch those when you are finished with work?" A BIG nod yes! So we had an agreement that once her work was finished, she could watch the videos.

I often reflect on the ways this student made me a better teacher and person. When she came in angry or frustrated, I didn't have to meet her with that same emotional intensity. I didn't have to tell her that it was my way or the highway. I could set the atmosphere of my classroom and meet her with peace. My standards didn't change, but my response to her did.

Here are some tried and true ways I have found that help cultivate a peaceful environment in my own heart:

  1. Practice deep breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth, 3 times, nice and slow. I did this regularly with my students last year and was pleased to see them doing it on their own as they needed it. Pausing and focusing on our breath allows us to remove the sinking feeling of panic and gives our mind and body a moment to experience an emotion without reacting to it.

  2. Make a list of the things you can and cannot control. Knowing that there are factors outside of our control allows us to choose peace instead of fear while pinpointing something we can do to ease the panic.

  3. Respond instead of react. Reactions are based on emotional impulses. Responses are based on intentional decisions. When we respond, we make a choice that coincides with our highest values and prioritizes our relationships.

I sense that a Cinderella Story is being written this school year. The peace in our hearts is about to deliver the one, two punch to our fear and frustration and come out victorious. My prayer for this school year is that, despite uncertainty, the peace in your heart will make a comeback and your family will be blessed beyond measure.

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