Perspectives, news, and announcements from the Center that will ignite your passion for wellbeing.
Mindfulness in Education Makes Community Impact
MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO, I set foot in my first classroom. I was fresh out of Carleton College, 22 years old, and a student teacher in Pat O’Connor’s American History class at Minneapolis’ Southwest High School. I remember the exhilaration and the exhaustion of that first semester. I felt totally engrossed and overwhelmed each day as I “drank from the fire hose,” trying to improve my ability to develop lessons, teach the content, build relationships with students, grade and manage student records, behavior, and special education plans. I remember thinking that once I made it through student teaching, it would get easier, and in some ways it did. I became much better at crafting engaging lessons, managing my classroom, and fostering teacher-student relationships.
What I was not prepared for, though, was the toll the job would have on my wellbeing. The isolation of the job, time pressures, growing class sizes, and demands of meeting the individual learning needs of my students was compounded by student tragedies — I lost students to accidents, suicide, and addiction — and the fear of losing my job due to cuts to state and federal finances. These stressors coiled themselves around me, at one point driving me away from the profession and deeply impacting my relationships, my health, and ability to find energy and joy in the job I once loved.
My experience is not unusual. The media and research journals are filled with stories about teacher attrition, burnout and disengagement, and the impact this is having on students. What was unusual was how I learned to navigate these stressors, rebuild my life outside of school, and reclaim my enthusiasm, creativity, and effectiveness in the classroom. What changed for me is that I started to practice mindfulness.
Now, as the Mindfulness in Education initiative lead at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, I get to bring the transformational power of mindfulness to teachers and their students through our innovative professional development program of online learning, communities of practice, and on-site peer coaching. I never predicted that, as a classroom teacher, I would be able to stand at the cutting edge of research and applied learning to bring about change in our schools.
What I see every time I go into the schools we work with and in conversations with teachers and principals is the positive impact our program is having on schools and their communities. The stories that follow give you a snapshot of what I get to experience every day, and what inspires me to do this work. In our program, we say that we are the “most hopeful place in education.” As you read the stories from our sites, I think you might agree.
DOUGLAS KENNEDY, PHD
MINDFULNESS IN EDUCATION INITIATIVE LEAD AT THE CENTER
"I joined the mindfulness cohort last year in order to develop more work-life balance and increase my stress management. A transition into a new school made me feel like it was my first year all over again. The work began, and I was hoping for immediate "fixes" to classroom management struggles I was having. I completed and continue to do a lot of work on my personal awareness of emotions."
"One moment last year, a student said, 'Ms. Gloppen, why do you have an attitude problem?' I realized I was engaging in a power struggle with her, and felt my body becoming warmer. Her calling attention to my attitude forced me to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and choose my response. I did have an attitude problem, and I was grateful for the opportunity to enhance my awareness of the moment, and chose a response that allowed the student and me to grow. This moment sold me on the power of mindfulness in education. I continue to work on my personal practice and explore ways to bring the practice more formally to my students. Just the other day, a student asked me, 'Can we practice mindfulness today?' Such affirmation and willingness to explore with my students makes me hopeful about the future of health and happiness through intentional practice of breath work and reflection."
"Just 3 years ago, I had never practiced mindfulness, and the word “mindfulness” had likely never even passed my lips. Now, being mindful is an intention I have for all of the moments of my day. Mindfulness practices find their way into all parts of my life, all locations of my life, and they support me in being the person that I mean to be.
My journey started with a Facebook post by a friend with a link to an article outlining some of the findings of the impact of mindfulness on students. My curiosity and passion for improving the wellbeing of the students and teachers that I serve in my work as a school social worker led me to connect with my colleague (and friend, and long time mindfulness practitioner) about bringing mindfulness to our school. Three years later, I have completed 12 weeks of online training, a year of partnering with educators at my school to bring mindfulness practices and wellbeing to their lives and work, and hours and hours of personal mindfulness practices myself. Beyond my personal growth, my inclination toward finding joy, connecting with others through heartfulness practices, and overall improvement in my wellbeing and truly being present in my life, I have been interested to observe how mindfulness practices of my own have begun to transform how I work with students.
My daily work gives me many opportunities to be with 5-7 year old students who are struggling to be successful in their learning environment. I have learned and grown in my 10 years as a school social worker in my understanding of what children need in those moments of struggle, and in my strategies to support them in those times. Over the past 3 years, I have grown in my ability to support students in attending to their bodies and in noticing their emotions and feelings in their bodies before, during, and after a challenge arises. I have also grown in supporting students in knowing that all of our feelings and emotions are allowed, acceptable, and real. Finally, I have grown in my capacity to be with students, truly with them, in those very challenging and real moments. I confidently bring mindfulness practices to students that are developmentally appropriate and accessible to them. I am grateful every day for my moments of mindfulness - for who I can be for my students and colleagues as a result of mindfulness practices."
“When Doug Kennedy came to our school last year and offered the mindfulness program to our staff, I really didn’t know what to expect. At the time, I was quite new to the concept of mindfulness. Still, I was interested in how it could help both me and my students grow socially and emotionally. It was my first year at the school, and I took a position as an ESL teacher working with immigrant students from East Africa who had little to no formal education. I taught English through the lens of social and emotional learning, a position specifically created to meet the needs of these learners. With the various academic, social, and emotional needs of this group of newcomers, I thought incorporating mindfulness into my classroom could be a useful method of helping to support my students.
Without too much hesitation I signed up for the course. It was well designed to support teachers who had little to no mindfulness experience, first building their own personal practice and eventually incorporating a mindfulness routine into their classrooms with students. The support came in three main forms: a community of practice where we would gather to create a social network of teachers developing mindfulness together, 1:1 mindful partner meetings where we could discuss questions and ideas about mindfulness in a more intimate way, and the Mindful School’s online curriculum to support our learning about research and history of mindfulness as well as how it may look practicing with our students.
The personal and professional benefits that resulted from the mindfulness program were quickly revealed. As I built my personal mindfulness practice, I began to be much more aware of my emotional states, allowing me to understand where I was at when I entered the classroom each day. This emotional “barometer” helped me understand myself in a much more objective manner, allowing me to keep my reactions in check. Considering the emotionally-charged nature of teaching, having an ability to prevent the reactions that may be hurtful to students and classroom dynamics is an invaluable tool. Awareness of the emotional states of my students also heightened through my mindfulness practice, allowing me take this crucial information into account when I noticed students not quite being themselves on a particular day. And, of course, the advantages extend far beyond working with children; my relationships with loved ones, friends, and coworkers benefit from my practice as well. Mindfulness has helped me be a more whole and balanced person, the kind of person I want to show my students each day.
As I began to incorporate a mindfulness practice into my classroom, I found as many challenges as I did successes. Trying to communicate to children the ideas behind why we do mindfulness is challenging in and of itself, but when they don’t speak English, a much larger obstacle is realized. However, with the support of my mindfulness cohort and the online curriculum*, I was able to find a way to creatively deliver mindfulness activities into my classes. One of the most significant benefits of this was giving the students a concrete tool for emotional regulation. By practicing mindfulness each day, they began to become accustomed to how it feels during our mindfulness activities. I encouraged the students to talk about how calm and in control they feel. When students experienced states of emotional extremes, they learned to use simple mindful activities like breathing or movement to help calm themselves. Full disclosure: this did not happen nearly as much as I would have liked, but when it did, I knew we were doing something right. Keeping mindfulness relevant and interesting to students is without a doubt a challenge, but also necessary for students to participate at all.
Despite the extra time dedicated to meetings and coursework required for the program, I can safely say that, in hindsight, the sacrifice was entirely worth it. As educators, we hear over and ocer how important emotional health is but are very seldom, or perhaps never, given the tools to achieve it. I see a mindfulness practice as one extremely useful tool for the emotional health we want desperately to achieve, both for ourselves and our students. The gratitude I have for those responsible for bringing it to my professional and personal life is overwhelming."
Mandala is a biannual magazine produced by Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. It captures the core aspects of the Center: reflection, transformation, spirituality, creation, and the ongoing journey that continues to shape what we are to become.