Embedding Mindfulness into the Schools

Stress can be a normal part of life, but too much stress can become toxic to the body, the mind, and the soul. This is true for both children as well as adults. Toxic stress can impede learning with students, erode productivity for teachers in the school which can lead to burnout, and compromise relationships between children and schools with parents.

According to the Mindful Schools organization website, “Because the roots of toxic stress lie deep in the nervous system, we need tools that go beyond the conceptual mind to directly target that system. To transform our habitual responses, we need to regularly practice our skills when we are not in “fight – flight – freeze” mode.” The organization goes on to recommend a two-step approach to infusing social emotional learning such as mindfulness in schools:

The Development of Mindfulness

“The development of mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and surrounding environment.”

The Development of Heartfulness

“The intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.”

According to this 2014 report, researchers Barbara Cervone Kathleen Cushman studied social emotional learning (SEL) programs such as mindfulness in multiple public high schools and determined six key elements that exist in these schools:

  1. A web of structural supports such as advisories, small class sizes, and opportunities to foster positive adult to student relationships.
  2. An intentional community that fostered transition programs and rituals to reinforce expectations and celebrate accomplishments.
  3. A culture of respect, participation, and reflection that focused on the acceptance of differences.
  4. A commitment to school-wide restorative practices such as peer juries and restorative justice to address student misbehavior.
  5. A curriculum of connection and engagement that included project-based learning and ample opportunity for student choice and voice.
  6. A focus on developing student agency by conveying to students that ‘they matter” on a regular basis.

Cervone and Cushman concluded, “the convergence of academic, social, and emotional learning serves all students well.” Mindfulness is an example of a specific kind of SEL.

Mindfulness is a program that can be explicitly taught, and there are a variety of programs out there. Mindfulness teacher Patrick Cook-Deegan offers 8 tips to help high school educators introduce mindfulness to their students:

  1. Work with students in small group on mindfulness activities.
  2. Foster intrinsic motivation in students so they understand why they are learning mindfulness.
  3. Start with older students, such as juniors and seniors who have the emotional maturity to better handle the topic.
  4. Meet with students on a regular basis, at least once per week.
  5. Engage students in the mindfulness program for at least 3-4 months, enough to help form habits.
  6. Mid-morning is the best time to teach mindfulness.
  7. Weigh the pros and cons of using internal professionals/teachers to teach mindfulness verses using people who are not familiar with students.
  8. Remember, teachers are really just “planting seeds” in hopes that students will pursue additional training and practice with mindfulness once they are hooked.

Students and adults of all ages can benefit from some explicit training and exposure to mindfulness as a way to reduce toxic stress and improve the health and well being of the body, mind, and soul.

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