Bringing Mindfulness into Your School

If you’re trying to bring this into a school, or into an organization, you find the person most likely who’s going to be open to it, and you start there. Maybe, you just start in that one classroom. 

Find a Mindfulness Ally

I have a friend, she’s a nutritionist and is starting to get into mindfulness, and she’s brought it into her kid’s school, and she’s like, “Where do I start?” And I said, “Start with a teacher that wants you to come.” Because then, she’s going to be open to it, which is going to create a sense of openness in the classroom, so then the kids are going to be more open to it. Then, other teachers are going to be like, “Oh, what was that?” She’s going to start talking about the positive impact it had, and then that’s how a grass root effort grows. Or, if you feel like you can’t even start in your school, have your kids and a few of their friends over, who’s parents are willing to do it. You start in your living room, or you start at a park. It doesn’t have to be this grand scheme of bringing it into an entire school, or an entire school district.

We’re now going into the fifth year in a school that our kids go to, where our fifth year of bringing mindfulness into the school, but we don’t just bring it to the students. I first started with the teachers, and I went in and did multiple trainings with them over a year. Then, I did different parent education nights, and we had different, other teachers that did parenting, like mindful parenting and technology, mindful parenting and communication, and the parents loved it. Then, we also went into the classroom simultaneously and would do 10 weeks. Then all, of the sudden, this shared language where everyone was learning and understanding Dan Siegel’s model of the brain. What flip your lid means.

Actually, we had a kindergarten teacher, shortly after I had gone into the classroom and taught this, one of the students flipped his lid on the playground. So, this is such a kindergarten story teacher to me, and so she walks up to him, and she goes like this, and he totally got it, because they had just learned it. She started taking some deep breaths, and he started taking some deep breaths with her, and then she’s slowly lowering the prefrontal cortex, and then when she could see he was more regulated, they fist-bumped. And then, he went off, and started playing on the playground, and I was like, “That’s amazing. You turned this little teaching into an actual intervention.” 

Then, we have another funny story of a friend of ours whose son came home, and he was hangry, so he was hungry and angry. And, he was like, “Mom, I’m right here.” So all, of the sudden it became the claw. And then they started laughing, and it was like, “Okay, the claws are coming out.” So, this share in language gave them a way to communicate what was happening internally. Have the parents and teachers understand what was happening, and being able to then also bring a playful attitude to it. Which actually diffused and eased both of those situations where there was a lot of feelings bubbling up. 

Creating a Mindful Community

For us, whether it’s a family culture, or school culture, or work culture, it’s really about looking at the entire system. Holding all of those pieces that I was talking about earlier, about all the different cultural pieces. But then, also, who are the important people that make up this culture, and reaching all of them. Because, it’s not just about the students. If we want this to become an integrated part of who they are, and how they are in the world, we have to also touch the system. 

Really, like I said, this is our fifth year going into our school, but I now am part of a grant for the entire school district to bring it into the school district. But that’s, taken five years of having a principal at our school who was willing and open, and we were just doing the work and slowly people started to hear about it and ask about it. Then now, there’s actual money that they’re willing to put into bringing mindfulness into the entire school district. It was little by little, but that’s how it happens. Being open and again that creativity, and that sense of play of just finding the impact that you can make in a way that works for you, and then searching for the supports if there’s no one there online. Because, there really are so many, now. 

I think that’s a really, really practical and great piece of advice to give. Planting that seed, and finding that ally, there’s a reality around emotional and behavioral contagion, too. Once you get one person together, it can turn to two, and three. We know there’s ripple effects that rise out from there. I guess, one of the attitudes to hold is patience, and find out that everything you do matters. I think, is a really important message that even just having that one ally, and starting really small really matters. I can recite a ton of the science around the reality of an emotional and behavioral contagion. When we start doing things, our neighbors, and our friends of friends, and certainly students of students, of students. And the teachers, and the friends of teachers, the ripple effects start to roll out from there. It might be six months or a year, and then you can go from this small little project to Stefanie was going to the entire school district. But, that took quite a while. Patience, and continued engagement, but know, the reality around the ripple effects that you can make. Just starting in that one place. 

I think if I’m a teacher, and I’m wanting to bring this into a school, sometimes there can be a lot of adversity in getting it in the school, and it can be hard. You might feel like you’re not being as impactful as you need to be. Or, maybe you have a day there you’re with the students, and it’s falling flat, and they’re not really engaged. You’re caught into that negativity bias, about “I don’t think I can do this.” Or, “I’m not really good at this.” Not feeling rewarded by it, or whatever it is. I think it’s really important for your own sustainability, professionally and personally to also understand that it’s really supportive to have a community of peers around you, who surround you. Who also, are inspiring in the work that they’re doing, other mindfulness teachers, other educators that are in this realm that you’re in contact with. Having that can implicitly and automatically support you and inspire you, and keep you uplifted and resilient and motivated do this work. This work takes patience. It takes understanding that it takes time, and there are the inevitable obstacles that are there, that can get us down, or make us doubt ourselves, that we can really do this, or be impactful with it.

Surrounding yourself, that could be, you might know, people in your life who you can have more frequent contact with, who are some of those inspiring teachers or educators. You might not have those people, so you may need to seek them out virtually. That’s okay, being part of online communities of other educators or teachers. People are doing the kind of work that you’re, wanting to do. Making a little bit more frequent contact with them allows you to have more memories of that, and your brain draws on that to create the perception of this moment about whether I can do this, or I can’t do this. Ideas or collaborations, or being creative with it. Surrounding yourself with a group of inspiring peers that will inspire you to do this work. That’s the first thing. 

The second thing is making sure that you have some kind of mentor or coach. Someone who’s been through this before, who you can go to, to ask questions to, or can support you during the inevitable struggles that may be there, or give you ideas. That can be really impactful to have those two things, a supportive network of peers, who are inspiring you and doing this work, and someone who you can go to and ask questions to, who have done this before, who you respect.