“CREATING A CULTURE OF MINDFULLNESS”
Years ago, when I was first learning how to practice mindfulness, I had the false impression that I was going to empty my mind when I closed my eyes. If you’ve had an experience like this, then you may have walked away from it thinking, “Well, that’s not going to work!” Emptying the mind, while it sounds like a great idea, is really hard to do. I later learned, through a series of trainings on how to implement mindfulness with children in schools and a lot of personal practice, that emptying the mind is not actually the point of a mindfulness practice at all. Mindfulness is actually a distinctly active activity, rather than a passive one.
Mindfulness in education has many benefits. Among them are most notably improvements in student self-regulation, a strengthened ability to focus, and a reduction in anxiety (www.mindfulschools.org). When we bring mindfulness into education, we are using brain-based strategies that focus the awareness of the learner in an active, engaged process of noticing. We practice noticing intently with each of our senses, we practice using the breath as an anchor and point of focus, and we practice noticing our surroundings and how we interact with them.
At Black Mountain Academy, mindfulness is woven throughout the students’ daily lives. Students learn strategies for closely paying attention through focused lessons in mindfulness. Staff and students integrate mindfulness together throughout the day, with meaningful time devoted both to learning and practicing skills in a variety of settings. Students learn about the science of their brain, their nervous system, and the positive effects of mindfulness on the body’s regulatory systems. We track, in our bodies, the sensations that guide self-regulation and improve self-awareness. All of the information that we collect about ourselves when we practice mindfulness is also self-empowering. As students, we learn what we need to personally succeed and begin to advocate for ourselves. As people, we learn which emotions cause which reactions, and we learn to respond in a regulated way that we can be proud of.
For the past two years, as a school administrator, I have been teaching mindfulness to over 200 students within structured academic settings. Each student, of course, comes with their own set of successes and struggles, and there have been ample stories pointing to evidence of improved self-awareness and emotional regulation along the way. Here are some quotes taken from written student reflections:
- Mindfulness helps me to calm down and not lose my temper. When I practice, I focus on my work better.
- When times are tough in my life, I can use mindfulness. I can notice what’s going on in my body and I can help myself to feel better.
- I can use mindfulness when I’m mad at someone or they’re mad at me, and I can use it to center myself and actually think about what I’m going to do next before I decide if I should do it or not.
- I notice that at the beginning of the year, I was super unfocused, and now
- I can focus and it feels good. I use mindfulness every day, even on weekends now. It helps me when I need to change classes or when something doesn’t go my way.