Recently one of my students gave a presentation in class on a program available for schools. This program, like many others, aims to provide school staff with tools for building a positive school culture. As I was listening to her presentation and looking over the informational handout she gave us, I realized that this program appears to align with my ideas of what I would call a "mindful school."
My student noted in her presentation that unless the entire school staff practices and applies this approach to working with each other and the students, the program will not succeed and a lot of money will be wasted as a result. It was about this time in her presentation where I nodded my head in agreement.
There are a plethora of programs out there that claim to offer schools an efficient and effective strategy for addressing students' social and emotional demands and discipline needs. Unfortunately, providing the school staff with trainings and handbooks only goes so far. After my student's presentation, I realized for real change to occur - to get not only positive behaviors from the students, but also from the school staff - the change has to come from within one's self. This is where mindfulness can help.
This realization and my conviction about the potential benefits of practicing mindfulness in order to create authentic change reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago at the Mindfulness in Education Network conference. In one of my sessions, there was student from Bowdoin College sitting next to me. When I realized he was a junior in college, I asked him why he was interested in attending this conference. I figured only stressed, burned out educators looking for some rejuvenation like myself would be here. He told me he was taking a course on mindfulness in education. Delighted to hear that such a course was offered for pre-service teachers, I then asked him why he chose to take that course. He responded with the wisest statement I have ever heard from a 20-year-old. He said, "If I don't understand myself, how can I understand others."
Mindfulness, for me, is about creating those moments of self-awareness where we can check in with ourselves and ultimately understand ourselves better. Spending such time is an investment in our well-being and personal growth. It is my hope that we have given the staff at Crockett Elementary some tools to reconnect with their inner selves - the self that is often neglected because it is too busy meeting the demands of its students. Upon debriefing with the staff, It gave me great joy to hear a teacher say how she has been more mindful of how her shoulders are feeling on her drive home. She is becoming aware of where she is holding her stress. It also thrilled me to hear another teacher say she stopped the other day to just listen to the rain. It is these acts of awareness that help us reconnect to our inner selves, so we can ultimately be the change we wish to see.
After sixteen years in public education, I keep seeing attempts to make improvements, yet so little actually changes. It is my belief that expensive school programs promising happier teachers and students will not yield the results desired unless mindfulness is a component.