Tag Archives: mindfulness

Why Does Mindfulness Matter in Schools

07/15/16

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This is not an article about the neuroscience supporting mindful practices in schools. For that good stuff, click here and here.

Nor is this a treatise on the many ways mindful practices contribute to academic success. You can read about that here.

And click here for a well executed visual on the importance of mindful practices in the classroom.

I want to get down to the very basic foundation of mindfulness and why schools need mindful practices to flourish. It starts with a question:

What matters in education?

It’s a question I reflect on constantly and suggest every person spend some time thinking about whether you have children currently in school or not. What happens today in schools becomes the culture of society in the very near future. When I think critically about social culture today, it is painfully obvious that too many people did not learn, in their formative years, the social and emotional skills needed to navigate diversity and uphold democracy.

When we over focus on testing and standardize education, we often leave the individual needs of students out of the education process. What we now see asextracurricular (arts, music, physical education, mindfulness) are the very aspects of curriculum that make learning possible for many students because those activities meet the needs necessary for learning.

We know that children cannot learn well if they are hungry. We also know that students cannot engage well with information they do not care about. By taking away the aspects of curriculum that spark creativity and individual expression and movement and collaboration, we take away what students need to make progress in academics.

What matters in education? What matters in society?

Working backwards, what values do we collectively want to cultivate in society at large? Can we all agree that we want people to be more kind, compassionate and empathetic? Is it important to us all that citizens are skilled in problem solving and know how to weigh important decisions? Do we need more acceptance and understanding of difference? Do we care about inner and outer peace?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have made your own case for mindfulness is schools.

Mindful practices support a balanced inner life for students and teachers such that we can bring more balance, equity and consciousness to our relationships. Since every aspect of our lives are influenced by relationships; to self, others, society, it makes sense that an effective education would provide us many opportunities to cultivate strength in our ability to relate effectively.

Increased standardization of education has led some people to believe that better test scores and academic outcomes will arise from more time focused on testing. Critically thinking educators, researchers, legislators and parents know this is misguided.

The practices of mindfulness bring people back into focus in education. With people, comes back creativity, passion, spark and innovation.

Mindful practices, interwoven through the daily course of learning, support what matters most in education and society. We learn to move, breathe, think, and communicate with more grace, consciousness and intention.

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If YOU think mindfulness in schools is a cause worth supporting, please consider contributing to our SoulCycle fundraiser today. All funds raised will help deliver our new mindfulness program for teens in schools. Learn more here.

 

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Creative Imagery to Support Teen Mindfulness

April 14th, 2016

Peace Around the World

We are pleased to have our guest blogger, and favorite educator, Abby Wills, contributing to this week’s blog. Abby and her team at Shanti Generation have been steadfast with their drive and passion to promote the teaching of mindfulness to teens in our schools. In this week’s blog Abby shares with us some helpful techniques whether you are a teacher/educator, or are the parents of a teen, or simply want to hone your skills in being more mindful in your life. Shanti Generation is also looking to raise funds to support the mindfulness for teens project. So, please be sure to visit their site and show your support: https://www.crowdrise.com/ShantiGSoulCycle

Teen mindfulness practices work best when offered in context of the specific developmental needs of adolescence. It is not unusual for teens to feel anxious when beginning mindful practices. While visualization is not a traditional practice of mindfulness, the simple practice given here is supportive of the teen mindfulness process. Consider the chalkboard visualization as a scaffold to your teen mindfulness program. This visualization was born in response to young teens expressing their challenges with practicing mindfulness due to overactive minds.

Generally, I guide students to allow thoughts to come and go; to notice without judgement. With practice, many students are able to disengage from active thinking and simply watch the mind. However, for some teens, this practice can induce anxiety based on a belief that if they let go of thinking, they will forget important information. Teens have shared with me some of their mental habits of keeping constant checklists and ceaselessly reminding themselves to stay aware of particular aspects of their image or social status. To let all of that go, even for a moment, can feel threatening to their identity. Who am I without all of these thoughts? Who will I be if I don’t hold on to these thoughts? What will happen if I let these thoughts go?

The imagery of this visualization first allows students to unpack the contents of their minds, one thought at a time, and to get a visual overview of their thinking. Then, students can  experience that they are still intact even after imagining those thoughts dissolve.

This activity can be done seated cross-legged on the floor or in chairs. Check out our post here for tips on guiding your students into seated positions.

Chalkboard Visualization for Tweens and Teens

Close your eyes and enjoy a few slow, relaxing breaths. Inhale fully. Exhale, relax into your body.

Now, in your imagination, picture an old school type of black chalkboard with a metal frame and metal chalk tray. Imagine the chalkboard is very big, the size of an entire wall in a large classroom. The chalkboard is empty and clean.

In the chalk tray, picture several different colors of unused chalk; blue, green, white, yellow, pink, whatever colors you choose. For the next few minutes, imagine yourself writing or drawing pictures of your thoughts on the giant chalkboard. As a thought arises, put in on the board. Use as few or as many colors of chalk as you wish. 

You don’t need to try and find thoughts, simply write the thoughts that come naturally to your mind. 

Give a minute or two to continue the visualization. Give students reminders every 30 seconds to try and stay with the exercise.

Now, put the chalk down and step back. Take a look at your chalkboard. How full is it? How much space is there? Imagine beside you a bucket of warm, soapy water. Reach in a find a large sponge, When you are ready, start from the top of the chalkboard and begin to wipe the slate clean. Imagine all of the chalk colors streaming down the board as it becomes sparkling and clean.

Get more soapy water if you need it. Continue to wipe the board until it is completely empty and shining.

Step back again and observe how it feels to have a bit of space in your mind. As thoughts arise, see them come and see them go.

Use this visualization anytime you need to clear your mind and find a space of openness and peace.

If you would like to be a part of Shanti Generation’s mindfulness for teens project, please show your support by donating to their upcoming fundraiser as either a participant or donor. https://www.crowdrise.com/ShantiGSoulCycle

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director
Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Top Mindfulness in School Resources

October 2nd, 2015

It’s a new school year and I’m excited about all of the momentum building to support mindfulness in schools at all ages. Here is a shortlist of favorite resources and programs available now to foster social-emotional intelligence, resilience and overall wellness in school communities.

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Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom
By Patricia A. Jennings

I’ve been following Tish’s work for years and never ceases to inspire with her heart for real learning and mind for good research. Want to stay current on what’s happening in mindfulness? Follow Tish. Want to start the new year in support of mindfulness in your child’s classroom? Give their teachers this book.

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Wisdom Within
By Alison Morgan

For my son’s 4th birthday, this was the party favor. Great for young children and old, this book issues a powerful reminder of the power of listening to and trusting our inner guidance. A wonderful addition to pre-k and elementary classrooms.

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Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and their Parents
By Eline Snel

My son’s teachers had this book on display during their mindfulness month at pre-school. I found it simple, refreshing and practical. This book will give you lots of solid ideas to integrate mindfulness in your after school hours.

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Mindful Schools

For teachers ready to take the plunge deeper into the world and practices of mindfulness, Mindful Schools offers online and in-person courses for adults to learn mindfulness and use it with youth. This program is comprehensive and supported by quality research. Let your teachers know this is a possibility for them!

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Shanti Generation’s Partner Yoga for Teens ONLINE

With our new streaming service, Partner Yoga for Teens is now online for teachers to access resources designed to complement and bolster mindful practice in the classroom. Our first set of online content, Partner Yoga for Teens, is available for educational licensing to schools to integrate into existing mindfulness programs, or to begin to plant the seeds of mindfulness.

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Mindful Life Skills for the Classroom

Stay tuned for Shanti Generation’s NEW mindfulness program that offers teachers a myriad of practical, simple ways of integrating mindfulness into every day. We have chosen the best and simplest of what works in mindfulness for youth and tailored the practices to meet the needs of the classroom. We are putting the finishing touches on the project now.

Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We will let you know as soon as it is available and we’ll send you a Mindful Educator’s Toolkit including video and audio segments you can use now.

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Get Teens Talking About Mindfulness

September 25, 2014

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Teens hear their peers’ voices and words in very different ways than they hear their parents and teachers. This is why getting teens to talk about their mindfulness experiences is a pivotal component of effective teen yoga classes.

I encourage teen yoga teachers to “get good” at facilitating potent group discussions. The benefits of the practices are enriched when teens dialogue about their challenges, goals, and achievements. Teens learn from each other’s shared experiences and get new ideas on how mindfulness can impact their lives.

Here are a few pointers to keep the discussion on track and democratic:

Write main topics and inquiries on the board or chart paper for everyone’s reference.

Set a time limit knowing you can always cut it short or extend, if needed.

Pose a specific set of inquiries such as, “What if your partner is having a tough time balancing in a pose that is easy for you? What is more important: to support your partner or practice harder poses?” Then ask for volunteers to answer. Give a few moments for students to raise hands or signify their desire to respond.

Resist the impulse to always call upon the first student who raises their hand, especially if it’s always the same student and his/her hand shoots up with an eager “oooooh, I know, I know.” For certain, eventually call upon that student, perhaps second or third. However, there is no surer way to a dead end discussion than to allow one voice to consistently set the tone or dominate the conversation. The eager student will learn by listening first to others ideas and letting those ideas integrate with their own. And, students who are more reticent to respond will be encouraged to do so if they feel they can enter in a more humble way.

Keep on eye out for meek students who really do have something to share, but don’t raise their hand or signify their desire to participate. Pose the question, “does anyone who has not responded yet want to share an idea?” Make eye contact with students who have not yet shared. Give them the opening without necessarily calling out their names. Be sure to let students know that while you would love to hear from everyone, it is perfectly fine to participate as an observer and listener. Let them know that holding space for others is just as vital to community as sharing explicitly. This will help to both alleviate any pressure to respond that quieter students may feel and send a powerful message to students who always share, but have a difficult time listening.

Limit your own commentary between students voices. In other words, you do not need to comment after every student shares! If a student shares an idea you find questionable or curious, try posing the question to the group for further discussion. For example, a student says, “I think if my partner isn’t as good at a pose as I am, I will tell them I am going to ask the teacher to be reassigned to a new partner because I really feel like practicing hard poses today.” I might respond, “Okay. Does anyone have a different idea on how to deal with that situation? How do you think your partner might feel if you said that to them?” Let the group respond. Teens hear feedback so much differently from peers than from teachers. As much as possible, guide teens to do the teaching themselves. You can guide a group of teens to water and let them show each other how to drink.

Wrap up the discussion with your commentary including a brief review of main ideas shared, your own wisdom to fill in any open questions you feel compelled to expand on and an outlook for how this discussion bolsters their practice. “Okay, time to move on to our physical practice. This was a powerful discussion on how to support each other, when to ask for help and how to help your partner find their center. I’d like to add that I trust you all to be compassionate and empathetic in your responses to each other. You all know how good it feels when another person really listens to your needs. You get to be that kind of listener for your partner today. Listening is absolutely critical to a safe partner yoga practice.”

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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5 “What If” Questions for Engaged Education

January 9th, 2014

What if…. teachers asked students: “What would you like to learn today?”
What if…. administrators asked teachers: “What values are your students learning?’
What if…. parents were asked to express what they want their children to learn?
What if…. overall well-being were the first outcome we assessed?
What if…. schools set out to discover the unique traits of each student and built on them?

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We’d like to engage you in this discussion. Please share with us your thoughts and or any comments.

http://shantigeneration.com/5-questions-engaged-education/

Abby_Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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The Mindful Educator’s Bookshelf: The Mindful Brain by Daniel J. Siegel

November 21th, 2013

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Sharing resources I’ve collected and created over my teaching and learning career is one of my passions. This blog series offers insights into books covering a broad range of topics contributing to mindful education, including yoga, meditation, democratic education, pedagogy, diversity, culture and more.

Choosing the first book of this series was both difficult and a “no-brainer.” There are so many stellar publications I gain inspiration from. I wanted to offer something a little off the beaten path and at the same time highlight a strong resource to get this series flowing. When I flipped though The Mindful Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel, I was reminded of the impact this book has had on my work. It’s not that the book professes some altogether new information, but it validates, with hard science, what I have always found to be true and effective in my teaching practice.

I recall reading this book on an airplane ride to teach a school yoga training in Tokyo. The book was part of my research for my master’s thesis. I wondered if my fellow passengers were aware of my constant nodding. In fact, the book has more lines highlighted, pages post-it tagged and paragraphs notated than not!

Here I will share a few key passages and commentary to help you determine if this book contains knowledge you want.

“A mindful approach to therapy and to education involves a shift in our attitude toward the individuals with whom we work. The active involvement of the student in the learning process enables the teacher to join as a collaborative explorer in the journey of discovery that teaching can be: We can embrace both knowledge and uncertainty with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and kind regard. The teacher does not have to be a source of the illusion of absolute knowledge. Together, educator and student can face the exciting challenge of developing a scaffold of knowledge that embraces the nature of knowing and its inherent context dependence and subtle sources of novelty and distinction” (Siegel).

This concept of teacher as participant rather than leader of the learning experience is one I believe can have a critical impact on teacher-student relationship in the realms of mindfulness and yoga. Abuse of power and egocentricity continue to grow in the modern iterations of these ancient practices. I believe the evolution of these disciplines will involve a new paradigm of teacher-student power dynamic. The teacher of yoga no longer spends decades in practice and study beofre taking on a few students. Most modern yoga teachers are beginners ourselves. There is no need or efficacy in pretending to have some absolute knowledge. When we enter the learning process with curiosity and wonder ourselves, we mirror those same qualities in our students.

“Reflection on the nature of one’s own mental processes is a form of “metacognition,” thinking about thinking in the broadest sense; when we have meta-awareness this indicates awareness of awareness. Whether we are engaging in yoga or centering prayer, sitting and sensing our breathing in the morning, or doing tai chi at night, each MAP [mindful awareness practice] develops this capacity to be aware of awareness…mindful awareness involves reflection on the inner nature of life, on the events of the mind that are emerging, moment by moment” (Siegel).

This “awareness of awareness” concept that Dan continues to develop throughout the book is the predecessor to self-regulation. Have you seen the movie Bully? Remember the scene where the mother of the boy being physically attacked on the bus asks him about his day. The boy is silent. He has no skills for expressing his experience. News has recently emerged about Adam Lanza, the Newtown school shooter, reporting that his mother inquired about his school life with no response from the boy. When kids and teens learn how to become aware of their awareness, they gain access to a host of skills that are paramount to mental health, including the ability to notice and express emotions. Otherwise, feelings and thoughts, especially painful ones, go unseen and end up pooling in a dark place that eventually finds expression. Unfortunately, that expression is all to often from an unconscious need for resolve, rather than a state of awareness.

“Each of us has a mind with great potential. We have the possibility of creating a world of compassion and well-being and we have the capacity for mindless violence and destruction. [A new powerful lesson] has been in the profound plasticity of the human brain. We can actually focus our minds in a way that changes the structure and function of the brain throughout our lives. As a mindset, being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments offers a powerful path toward both compassion and inner well-being. This is what science verifies and what has been taught over thousands of years of practice” (Siegel).

What great news! We can change, or evolve, our brains from the fear-based circuitry that upholds violence to a more compassionate state that supports well-being. As Dan illustrates in detail with this book, “being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments” creates a gap between our entrenched beliefs based on past experiences and the possibility of experiencing our lives fresh and new, with courage.

Thank you, Dan Siegel, for the critical work you do in supporting mindfulness in education. To learn more about Dan and his work, visit his website.

Abby_Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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