Students experience a variety of challenges during a school day that can lead to unrest, class disruptions, and acting out in unproductive ways. As a former public school teacher, I’ve experienced first-hand how detention and suspension in schools can be isolating, punitive and ineffective. Thankfully, schools have begun to implement more holistic options to improve students’ calm and focus. Mindful and yogic practices are now gaining popularity within K-12 schools as effective and empowering tools for both students and teachers.
Mindfulness in Elementary Schools
In cooperation with the Holistic Life Foundation, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, MD, offers a variety of mindfulness programs, including a Mindful Moment Room, a “Holistic Me” after-school program, and a Mindful Moment at the beginning and end of each day.
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Andres Gonzalez, co-founder and director of marketing with the Holistic Life Foundation, explains that they “provide self-care techniques: movement, breathing techniques, mindfulness exercises, and meditations to nurture a way of living that elevates wellness in individuals and communities.”
If a student has an emotional outburst or another disruptive difficulty, their teachers can send them to the Mindful Moment Room, which is comfortably furnished with pillows and yoga mats. Here, students practice breathing exercises as a means of centering and self-soothing and then discuss what happened. They’re encouraged to use mindfulness in the future and can enjoy a cup of tea before returning to class. After implementing the program during the 2013-2014 school year, the school’s suspension rates dropped to zero.
Mindfulness in Middle Schools
At Wayzata West Middle in Wayzata, MN, teachers are trained in leading their classes through mindfulness exercises. Middle school can be a tumultuous time; as math teacher Seth Brown told CBS, “There’s just a lot of things that go on in a teenager’s life.” That’s why he incorporates a brief sitting period or “timeout” in which students sit quietly with their eyes closed at the start of each of his classes. Brown has found that this experiment in mindfulness helps his students center and focus.
Mindfulness in High Schools
Western High School in Las Vegas, NV, teamed up with retailer Lululemon Athletica and the nonprofit Create a Change Now to create a yoga studio within the school. Local artist D2 created a mural in the studio encouraging students to focus on “what lies within.” They offer yoga classes twice a week for all students. Dean of Students Dana Crowley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the yoga room is also offered specifically to students who are experiencing a crisis or trauma. Western’s Yoga Instructor Joyce Sportsman feels that because “it’s tough to be a teenager,” the school yoga and meditation offerings are particularly important; “…it’s a game-changer. It’s a world-changer.”
The Holistic Life Foundation’s mindfulness initiatives have also been successful at Patterson High School in Baltimore. Daily they practice a Mindful Moment, and students can choose to refer themselves to the Mindful Moment Room. The school has experienced a drop in suspensions. Principal Vance Benton told Crixeo that the students are “more aware of alternative ways of dealing with their stress.”
Mindfulness for Teachers
Mindfulness practices benefit teachers directly, too. Mindful Schools specializes in mindfulness training for educators. They’ve trained over 14,000 educators to date. Alison Lee, their product marketing manager, shared this quote from one of their graduates, NYC high school teacher Crystal Seward, “As a teacher, I am in an environment that can be chaotic and stressful. Mindfulness Fundamentals helped me realize that my own mindfulness practice is vital to being compassionate and understanding in the classroom. It helped me find the balance to make teaching the richest job I could ever have.”
Looking for resources to help young people practice mindfulness and yoga? The book and CD, “Sitting Still Like a Frog,” the website Blissful Kids, these tips for teaching yoga to kids, and the organization Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), are great places to start.