More and more schools are witnessing the benefits of bringing mindfulness practices into education as a strategy for promoting social and emotional learning among students and for replacing overly harsh (so-called “zero tolerance") disciplinary policies with alternatives that teach and apply new skills.
Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the internal and external environment. Based on ancient and classical yoga and meditation techniques, mindfulness is practiced to offset stress and bring us into lasting, positive relationships with ourselves and others. In the 1990s, mindfulness was widely introduced into health settings and, more recently, into schools. When applied systematically and imbedded in the daily schedule, mindfulness can transform toxic stress into a thriving culture, an oasis in the chaos. Simply put, tools such as breathing and watching thoughts come and go non-reactively bypass the rational, thinking mind, and target the nervous system. Regular practice allows us to go beyond hardwired fight, flight, or freeze responses. Habits and feelings like fear, anxiety, and worry are dissipated and released. As our minds become clear, we are better able to focus on healthy interactions and learning.
Community schools are ideal settings for implementing best practices in areas of self-regulation, social-emotional learning, and conflict resolution. Community schools are places where counselors, social workers, group leaders, peer mentors, teachers, and other content experts may have already set up balance centers, yoga or “chill” rooms, or just a quiet corner in the library or art room. Designated staff may have been trained in conflict resolution or yoga.
Many schools have engaged in best practices to promote resiliency and positive behaviors, and eliminate detention. Examples include “breathing buddies,” “peace puppets,” and intentional decision making. All young people need smooth transitions and a variety of strategies to learn and be at their best. Mindfulness research and practice show us that adults (teachers, parents, youth workers) need this too. Start with yourself.
Here are some tips, drawing on instructions and 50 easy-to-use strategies from My Calm Place: Yoga, Mindfulness and Meditation Strategies for Children. The cards are divided into four categories to:
Each card is a quick and playful distillation of an evidence-based, mindful, heartfelt, behavioral, or physical “state changer” practice. Just pick one, and if it appeals to you, try it out. After you are comfortable with and engaged in your own practice, it’s time to spread the calm.
How to Start: Creating or Enhancing your Oasis of Calm or Quiet Corner
Mini-breaks Training: Dive in and play with the practices
If you’re ready to bring a mindful approach to work right away, design a workshop or professional development for your colleagues. Use the “My Calm Place” card deck like a game, with different people taking turns choosing cards. After doing one or two experiences, ask questions such as: