George Lucas Educational Foundation

CARE Program Teaches Educators to Manage Their Emotions

Teachers learn how to cope with stress through mindfulness and meditation.
By Jill Lindenbaum
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Teachers at a CARE training retreat at the Garrison Institute

Photo courtesy Garrison Institute

Rosa Fernandez-Fraser, a Spanish teacher at Charles O. Dickerson High School, in Trumansburg, New York, knows when she's about to react to a stressful situation: A feeling of heat spreads through her stomach, and she feels a flush coming on. But rather than succumb to a knee-jerk response to the situation, she stops and takes a few breaths. This simple act allows her to retain her composure and keep her class on track.

Recognizing her own physical cues and acting on them is one of the tools she's learned at a teacher-training program called Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE), held at the Garrison Institute. Located about 50 miles north of New York City in a former Franciscan monastery built in 1932, the institute teaches mindfulness techniques as a way of dealing with high-stress situations. The institute's Initiative on Contemplation and Education (ICE) aims to help teachers improve the classroom environment using those skills.

During 37 hours of intensive workshops, teachers form a community and learn how to identify and manage their emotions rather than react to them the way they have in the past. They also learn how to reduce stress, improve their emotional awareness and mental concentration, and elicit responsiveness from students. Workshops include role-playing and hands-on learning of contemplation practices, such as walking meditation, breathing exercises, attention training, visualization, and deep listening.

Fernandez-Fraser, who now meditates 30 minutes every day, says the program has helped her become a more effective teacher. In addition to other useful techniques, she's learned to pay close attention to her students' facial expressions, which helps her be more empathetic, because students often mask their problems until they lash out and it's too late.

"I've learned to take a step back, calm myself down, and then respond to students with more empathy," she says. "I can resolve issues more quickly, and my students show genuine concern for each other, because I am giving them that space."

With alarming attrition rates in the teaching profession -- over 40 percent of all teachers leave the field after just five years -- these types of programs aim to address a crucial part of teacher training that has not been addressed in traditional training programs, according to Patricia Jennings, director of the ICE program and a research associate at Pennsylvania State University's Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development.

The university was recently awarded $932,424 from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to complete its evaluation of CARE, with a portion, $290,511, going to the Garrison Institute to continue its development of the program.

"Being in the classroom today requires a new skill set that was never part of teacher training," Jennings says. "If we can help teachers recognize and master emotional reactions and their expression of emotions, then we can help them create a more caring, communal environment in which children are more receptive to learning."

The workshops, which range from $475 for commuters to $700 for a private room plus the program fee and meals for five nights, are held at the Garrison Institute, but Jennings and her team of trainers travel to school districts around the country.

A similar initiative, the Inner Resilience Program, based in New York City, was formed after the September 11 terrorist attacks as a way to rebuild inner strength for schoolchildren and educators in lower Manhattan. It includes workshops to help teachers deal with anger management, stress reduction, talking to children about uncertain times, and creating caring classroom communities that nurture children.

Jill Lindenbaum is a writer living in the Bay Area with her husband and two kids, and volunteers at the Greater Good Science Center, a research center at the University of California at Berkeley.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Bonnie's picture

Since I have started doing yoga, which is form of meditation, I have become more tolerant in the classroom. I have also become more deliberate in my actions. Instead of immediately acting on my emotions or letting my emotions control my actions, I try to give myself time to process what is going on around me. Sometimes I don't react to a situation for 24 hours. I have more control over my classroom because I have more control of my emotions.

Nicci Cagan's picture
Nicci Cagan
Director of From The Ground Up

Thank you! We are currently building a models for Farm To School in Ulster county NY. Relaxation and present minded awareness are as essential as quality foods.

Dr. Jean Tobin's picture

Thank you for bringing attention to the challenges of teachers and students dealing with stress. With the help of the David Lynch Foundation ( the Transcendental Meditation Technique has been successfully implemented in public and private schools and in after-school programs across the U.S. and around the world, with thousands of students enjoying its benefits (see The great thing about TM is that it reduces anxiety significantly better than any other technique - verified by repeated published peer-reviewed studies - and it is easy and simple to practise! Check it out.

bloggabix's picture

I second the comments of Dr Tobin. TM has been around for a very long time and over 600 scientific studies have been conducted on the program showing it wonderful effect on reducing stress, improving brain functioning, concentration, etc. TM has been taught in schools all over the world, and now with the help of the David Lynch Foundation, it can be funded in schools though grant programs. It is very simple to learn and easy and effortless to practice - even children as young as 10 can do it. I highly recommend it.

Lynne Hurdle-Price's picture

Watching a group of special education students lie on mats on the floor and learn how to relax their bodies and quiet their minds and open their hearts is one of the more rejuvenating sights I have seen as an educator. The Inner Resilience Project brings critical skills to our wonderful, over-tested, over-anxious children. Seeing them get up after this experience ready to face the rest of the day is worth more than any words can express. We need more of this in our schools.

Jennie Wagner's picture

I have recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure that is ABSOLUTELY related to my life as a teacher. I would love to go to a program such as the one mentioned in the article in order to help me manage stress. TM has also been suggested, but it seems to learn formally requires more than a thousand dollars and much time. I am hoping that mere exercise and focused simple meditation might help this problem since I am rather lacking in funds and the ability to travel to the East Coast.

Mike Anderson's picture
Mike Anderson
Educator, Consultant, Author

There's no doubt that teaching is one of the most stressful professions. It's great to see so many people thinking about and working on how we, as teachers, can better self-regulate. When we take better care of ourselves, our students reap the benefits!

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