Sep 30, 2023

Mindfulness Practices for Teachers with Maddie Richardson

In this episode, I’ve got something really exciting to share. We're diving deep into the world of teaching, mindfulness practices for teachers, and so much more with our awesome guest, Maddie Richardson. She's been a science teacher for six years, and boy, does she have some incredible insights and stories to share.

We'll be talking about how teachers can find hope in the most unexpected places and why bringing mindfulness into the classroom can build stronger communities. Maddie's teaching journey has taken her to all sorts of places, from rural Title One schools to suburban charters and even teaching incarcerated youth.

This was such an amazing conversation, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Amber: I am thrilled to welcome Maddie Richardson to the Burned-In Teacher Podcast! If you're watching this on YouTube, you can see her right here. Hey, Maddie! And for those of you tuning in on various podcast platforms, thank you for choosing to join us today.

Maddie Richardson is a dedicated sixth-year science teacher, holding a master's degree in education. She brings a wealth of experience from diverse teaching environments, including rural, Title One, suburban, and charter schools. Currently, she works with incarcerated youth in an alternative educational setting. Her unique teaching methods have even been featured on Good Morning America. Notably, Maddie has recently authored an exciting book that I can't wait to discuss with you today. It's available for teachers on Amazon, titled "Today is a New Day: 111 Daily Mindfulness Lessons and Mantras."

Maddie, it's a pleasure to have you as our guest on the Burned-In Teacher Podcast today!

Maddie: Thank you very much for inviting me. I've been a fan of your content for a while now, and I understand we've been working on coordinating this for some time. I resonate with the objectives your channel aims to achieve, as I've experienced similar challenges myself. So, I can definitely relate to what you're doing. Your efforts in infusing positivity into the educational world are highly commendable, and I genuinely appreciate it.

Amber: It's absolutely my pleasure, and I want to say right back at you that I've been following your work for a long time. I've always believed you'd be a perfect fit for an interview. Now, I'm thrilled that we're finally having this conversation, and I'm looking forward to discussing your book. I can't wait to get my hands on it personally. Even though I teach kindergarten, I've been wondering how I can adapt your lessons for young students in social and emotional learning (SEL). But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a moment to get to know you better, Maddie, for those who might not be familiar with your background. Could you share some insights into your educational journey?

Maddie: Absolutely, so my mom has been a teacher, specifically a second-grade teacher, for as long as I can remember. During summers, I mostly hung out with her because she often worked in summer school or with kids who had special needs. When it came time for college, my dad had this strong belief that I should become a doctor, not a teacher. So, I pursued a degree in integrative physiology, focusing on the brain and body, which made me realize the profound impact of health on our mental well-being.

However, eventually, I had to break the news to my dad that I wanted to be a teacher. I decided to pursue this passion and moved to a place where I could get my master's degree affordably, which happened to be Pittsburg, Kansas. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment that cost just $425 a month—quite a change from Boulder, Colorado. That's where I landed my first teaching job.

I transitioned from the bustling city to the middle of nowhere in Kansas, and it was during those initial years that I truly fell in love with teaching as an art form. Looking back, I like to joke that teachers are a lot like comedians. They have to experience moments where they fall flat in front of a room in order to learn and grow. Well, those years in Kansas were my "falling flat" phase. I was trying different teaching strategies, essentially throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick. Many of those mindfulness moments I introduced in the classroom really resonated with my students, and things took off from there.

Amber: Yeah, it's been truly incredible to witness your teaching journey. I'm aware that you're no longer in that classroom where you were recording yourself, but it was genuinely inspirational to see you providing those students with valuable nuggets of brain and body mindfulness practices. You have a natural gift for it. So, I'm curious, how long have you been teaching?

Maddie: I've been teaching for six years now. I spent three years at a very rural Title One school before moving on to my second year at the charter school, which was without a sports outlet. Then, around winter-ish time, I began working with incarcerated youth, and I've been with them year-round. So, I'm currently in my sixth year of teaching, although my "teaching clock" starts a bit earlier than that of other teachers, as we don't really have a traditional summer break in my setting.

Amber: Absolutely, I want to dive right in and respect everyone's time, especially yours. For those who might not be familiar with you, who haven't followed you on TikTok or Instagram, I want to provide some context. I've been an avid follower of your content for quite some time and have found immense inspiration in your social and emotional learning (SEL) lessons as well as your science classes. It was genuinely disheartening to see you being forced out of your classroom, if I recall correctly, a little over a year ago, right?=

Maddie: It was in November.

Amber: I distinctly remember that video of you, just sobbing in your car, and it truly touched my heart. I found myself crying as well, wondering what on earth could have happened to bring you to that point. Could you share a bit more about how you were feeling at that moment and what ultimately helped you pull through? I, along with many others who follow you, were left wondering about the events that led to that moment and what the future held for you. All we wanted to do was reach out and offer our support, even though most of us had never met you in person.

Maddie: Actually, I felt like the universe was giving me a hug during that time, and it was a truly unique experience for me. I don't have any regrets about it because leaving a space that wasn't the right fit for me was ultimately a blessing in disguise.

The year before I was asked to leave, things seemed to be going great. I had been featured on Good Morning America, and my lessons gained significant attention. I was also entrusted with overseeing marketing and social-emotional learning (SEL) initiatives for the school. However, as the new year rolled in, more teachers started reaching out to me for help advocating for themselves and our students. The more I got involved in advocating, the more I realized there were deep-rooted issues that needed addressing.

In my view, teachers and administrators should maintain a checks-and-balances type of relationship. When something is amiss, teachers should be able to voice their concerns, feel heard, and see actions taken to address those concerns. Unfortunately, the administration I was working with did not share this perspective.

I specifically stood alongside a teacher who simply requested a bathroom break for the year, which seemed like a reasonable request. However, due to a lack of available supervision, they would often tell us that we were responsible for watching the kids at all times. This teacher couldn't make it to the bathroom during her passing periods, so her request was simply to have admin or security present upstairs for a brief time each day to allow her a bathroom break. Regrettably, this wasn't happening.

I had developed SEL lessons for the school, but because I primarily taught science, I wasn't the one delivering them to the students. The teachers responsible for delivering the lessons weren't doing so effectively. I knew these teachers professionally, and they were not the type to shy away from a challenge or to neglect their duties deliberately. So, I decided to investigate further and discovered that on the days they delivered my SEL lessons, they didn't get any breaks throughout the day. How effective could they be under such circumstances? Their only break was taken up by delivering the SEL lesson, followed by hurriedly grabbing a bite to eat.

Many of us teachers recognized the situation was not ideal, and we were all concerned that things were not going well. We didn't want to leave, but we needed the administration to understand our concerns. I wasn't the only one expressing these sentiments. However, I was the only one who, a week later, was unexpectedly escorted out and forced to collect my belongings on a different day.

Amber: Did they perceive you as the “ring-leader” as you were advocating for your needs?

Maddie: Yes, indeed, they did consider me as a leader in advocating for our needs. However, it's important to note that I wasn't the only teacher who faced the same situation that year. It became clear that the environment wasn't the right fit for me, and it prompted me to embark on a different path.

I'm currently pursuing my special education license and master's degree because I'm passionate about advocacy work. My goal is to become either a special education advocate or a special education teacher, and this is the quickest route for me to achieve that goal. Moreover, working with the students I currently do is a tremendous blessing. These students are not afraid of feedback, which I believe is crucial. I find myself learning something new every single day, whether it's about motivation, self-talk, or creating the right mood in the classroom to facilitate that flow state where learning feels effortless. My students tend to get a bit upset if they think they're learning, so it's a unique challenge.

Regarding my departure from my previous position, while I was sad about it, I realized that many others shared that sentiment—about 17 million people, to be exact. It was quite an eye-opener. However, overall, I'm not sad. Releasing the book, especially before the new school year begins, felt like a way to close that chapter. I believe I will return to a general education classroom at some point, and possibly even a special education classroom. But for now, I'm content with where I am. I'm treated with respect and humanity, I have more time off, even though I don't have a traditional summer break. I get half-days and teach small class sizes. Having a parent in the room with me makes me feel safe, and I never have to advocate repeatedly for my needs. My boss listens to me from the first time I speak up, and all of these factors make it worth it.

Amber: I absolutely admire your perspective on what transpired. Instead of portraying yourself as a victim, you view it as a catalyst for reaching your current point, and I truly resonate with that mindset. It's a perspective I can personally relate to. While I wasn't asked to leave or experienced the same abrupt departure, I made the decision to leave a particular situation myself, and at the time, it brought about feelings of regret and shame.

However, now that I find myself where I am today, in my current school and collaborating with teachers worldwide through Burnin Teacher, I couldn't be more grateful for the risks I took, even though I faced public setbacks on a few occasions. It's all part of the journey, which isn't linear, glamorous, or tidy; it's inherently messy.

Maddie: It’s important to fail. If you've gone your entire life without failing, it's likely that you haven't lived in a way that truly brought you happiness.

Amber: 100%, I love that you're open to future possibilities. You're not declaring, "This is it for me." Instead, you're saying, "This is great right now, and I'm also preparing for potential changes in the future. I don't know when that might happen, but this feels right in this moment."

Maddie: Yeah, and I believe it's crucial to remain open to the concept of change in our lives because it's inevitable. The more resistant we are to it, the more painful it can become at times.

Amber: I really appreciate you saying that. Many of the teachers I collaborate with at Burned-In Teacher are in a similar situation. They might not want to leave teaching altogether, but they recognize the need for change to become happier and more fulfilled individuals. However, they often find themselves in one of two predicaments: they're either uncertain about what that change should entail, or they know what it should be but are overcome by fear. What advice would you offer to a teacher experiencing these emotions?

Maddie: I have numerous thoughts on this topic because I believe one of the reasons this transition was so fortunate for me is the tremendous support I received. Additionally, I don't have the responsibility of supporting children, which is significant. Losing benefits like insurance can be truly daunting, and it's important to recognize that this isn't just about someone being complacent in their career. When you factor in the additional responsibility of being a parent, as so many teachers are, the decision to make a change becomes more complex. It's not a simple matter of magically transforming oneself.

I have a friend who still teaches at my first school in Kansas, and she has earned her administrative degree. She's eager to take on an administrative role, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet. It's not her fault, and it's not because she hasn't positioned herself correctly. If I were to get a tattoo across my forehead, which I wouldn't, it would read "zoom out." I believe that many of the problems that cause us anxiety can be eased by taking a broader perspective. The universe tends to align things for us and guide us to where we need to be, as long as we remain open to change. Opportunities often appear unexpectedly.

In my case, I accidentally applied for my current job on Indeed. My wonderful principal contacted me and asked, "Are you aware that this is a center for incarcerated high school males?" I had no idea, but I decided to give it a try, and that's why I'm content in my current role. Life often unfolds in unplanned ways, so it's important to embrace the unexpected and be open to change, especially when multiple levels of responsibility are involved.

Amber: I genuinely appreciate you sharing that. Your point about how things like insurance changes can be frightening is spot on. It's almost as if we need to unlearn the idea we absorbed in high school about having a precise plan, with every step laid out sequentially, as if life will follow that plan exactly. I can relate to that belief because I had to make a quick decision about my major during my senior year. My now-husband and I were expecting a child, and we both knew we wanted to continue our education, but I had the added responsibility of declaring a major. Like you said, it was a terrifying prospect. Facing the unknown is daunting, and contemplating a significant change can be scary, especially when you have additional layers of responsibility.

It's truly transformative to shift your perspective and recognize that there are greater opportunities out there than you may have ever imagined. As you mentioned, it's not always about making a massive leap; sometimes, it's as simple as taking that one step forward or reaching out to that one person and asking that one question.

Maddie:I believe taking giant leaps can often seem easy, but it's much more challenging to commit to taking that one step each and every day. It requires self-discipline and the understanding that it's worth it. As the song goes, "It just takes some time," and we often find ourselves in the middle, which can be quite exhausting.

I agree that taking that one step forward is essential. Your mention of changing one's perspective is apt because it literally involves rewiring your brain. Your environment significantly influences your choices, from the foods you consume to how you allocate your energy and time. These choices, in turn, affect the neurochemicals available in your brain. Consequently, who you are now will likely not be who you are five years from now, influenced by various factors, with your environment playing a pivotal role in shaping your growth.

Amber: You're touching on all the topics we've been discussing on this podcast for about six years now. So, Maddie, I knew you'd be a perfect fit for this podcast. You mentioned that you began developing these social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons. I'd like to delve into that before we conclude today. Initially, you mentioned that you didn't use them in your own teaching but collected them. Then you decided to incorporate them into your science classroom. I'm curious about the inspiration behind these lessons. They're concise, impactful, and deliver a powerful message in a short span. Where did you draw your ideas for these lessons?

Maddie: Thank you for elaborating on the social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons. The ones I provided to the school have never been officially published, although I do have plans to turn something similar into a book in the future. These lessons were developed through the art of questioning. Essentially, we would pose questions to the community, allowing parents to engage in conversations with their children. For instance, we might ask, "What are the qualities of a good friend?" This question would be sent home, and the teachers would lead the students through discussions. Students could choose to fill out a writing diagram, write paragraphs, or even create art based on their reflections.

However, the lessons I implemented in my science classroom had a different purpose. They were designed to prepare their minds to relax, let go, and embrace trying again—an essential aspect of learning. Over time, they evolved into something unique. But one of my biggest inspirations for these lessons was one of my autistic students. He appreciated that I took the time to talk to him about things that nobody had explained to him before. I vividly remember the look in his eyes when he said, "Nobody's explained it yet, but you're trying, and I appreciate that." I resonated deeply with his experience because, as someone who is neurodivergent and has a history of trauma, I often felt that nobody had explained the rules to me, and it was a challenging and confusing journey.

So, I started incorporating everything I had learned along the way—every snippet of inspiration—to have mindful conversations with my students. They already saw me as a mentor, and I wanted to be a good one. I aimed to create a classroom environment that allowed their fight-or-flight response to switch off. We had a routine: warm-up, attendance, and then the mini-lesson. The mini-lesson was a favorite because it always ended with a mantra that all the students would say together. Mantras are incredibly powerful in nurturing an inner voice within individuals. It's like everyone craves their own theme. I remember my grandpa always had the same cassette tape in his car, so his theme was Johnny Cash. Anytime I heard Johnny Cash, I thought of him because my brain had been primed that way. I wanted to use this concept positively with my students, so they would understand that I believed in them and that it was okay to fail because failure is just part of the learning process, as you mentioned earlier.

Amber: I love it! I know that mantra by heart as well. It's incredible how you always start it with "If you've been bad about that in the past, don't worry, we forgive you." I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. I incorporate similar practices with my students already. We kick off each day with a kid-friendly version of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." Then, throughout the day, when chaos begins or when someone gets upset with someone else, I remind them, "Hey, every little thing is gonna be all right." It helps them remember that language.

Could you please share one of your favorite lessons that you've shared with your students, in case some of our listeners haven't had the chance to hear your lessons before?

Maddie: Absolutely, I'd be happy to share one of my favorite lessons from my "Today's a New Day" book. I just opened it up today, and this particular lesson is from Day 26. Each lesson in the book has corresponding slides for teachers who want an easy way to integrate them into their teaching.

Here's the lesson:

Title: Emotions are Temporary

"Emotions are temporary, and life often doesn't go as planned. So, a day from now, you will likely feel different; a week from now, you will likely know more, and a month from now, you will likely not even remember what your big fuss was made for. So take a deep breath and, in this moment, let it be because the past won't become clearer until the future is seen."

After presenting this, I would ask the group, "What do you think this means?" and encourage a small group discussion to allow them to assign their own meaning to it. Then, I would bring it back and say:

"Now, if you were bad about giving time some time in the past, that's all right. You're meant to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. So, let's take a deep breath and let it go. Breathe in, breathe out for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. And remember that today is a new day, with a new opportunity to make your world a better place to be."

Amber: I absolutely love it. I love it so much. This is one of the 111 messages that you've included in your book. It's incredible to see the perspective it offers not just for adults facing important decisions but also for middle school students who are navigating their own lives, filled with experiences they may not yet know how to process. Earlier, when you mentioned feeling like no one taught you the rules, I completely related. I didn't even realize there were rules to follow; I was simply going with the flow, making mistakes, being reactive, and embracing the drama. No one had those conversations with me back then, and these were lessons I had to learn as an adult.

Knowing that you've brilliantly packaged these lessons with slides, I can hardly wait to get my hands on your book. Thank you, Maddie, from the bottom of my heart, for the incredible work you're doing.

Maddie: I genuinely appreciate it. Thank you for your kind words. I believe you bring immense value and positivity to the world as well. You use your platform in an admirable and professional manner, and I want to express my gratitude. I understand what it's like to be a content creator behind the scenes, dealing with the exhaustion and sometimes unhelpful feedback. However, it's crucial work, and I always think, "If not you, then who?" It's genuinely inspiring to see fellow teachers like yourself stepping up as mentors, showing us all how we can find happiness, balance, and all the vital elements within our careers.

Amber: That's very kind of you to say, and it truly does take a village; I certainly can't do it on my own. Many teachers out there need substantial support, and now, hopefully, they will follow you and be inspired by you. Inspiration can be found in so many different places. I'm incredibly grateful that you joined the podcast today, especially on a Sunday evening after a weekend of traveling. I literally just rushed in the door after spending the entire day at the lake. I'm so excited to share this message with teachers.

So can you tell the listeners how they can find and follow you or find out more about your book? 

Maddie: Yes, thank you so much. Everything is under @themissrproject except for TikTok. On TikTok, it's @themissrproject2.0 because last year, my TikTok got hacked, and I had to start all over, coming back stronger than ever. So, it truly has been an incredible adventure. If you're looking for "The Miss Our Project," you can also simply Google Maddie Richardson or use the search bar on Amazon, and my book should pop right up. 

Thank you once again for having me and for spreading positivity to all of us.

Call to Action: Things You Can Do Tomorrow 

  1. Be open to change, because it’s inevitable. Resistance to change is what can cause friction in our lives. But through practicing radical acceptance, we can move through the changes in our lives and careers with more grace. 
  2. Develop your own personal practice and understanding. This allows you to lead by example and effectively guide your students. 
  3. Create a consistent routine in your classroom, such as sharing daily mantras like Maddie does with her students. 


Resources Mentioned in this Episode:


Find Our Guest!

  • Instagram: @themissrproject 
  • Tik Tok: @themissrproject2.0


Guest Bio: 

Maddie Richardson is a 6th-year science teacher with a master's in education. She has worked in rural Title One, and suburban charter, and now works with incarcerated youth in an alternative setting. Her teaching styles have been featured on Good Morning America and she recently released a book for teachers on Amazon titled- Today is a New Day: 111 Daily Mindfulness Lessons and Mantras.



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