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Implementing a Schoolwide Mindfulness Program

Patrick Cook Deegan

Founder, Patrick Cook-Deegan Mindfulness Mentoring and Consulting
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What should you do if you are a school counselor, administrator, principal, or teacher interested in bringing mindfulness programming to your whole school? What are best practices and sound strategy to design and implement mindfulness effectively throughout your school?

Across the country, mindfulness education is becoming more popular. This practice teaches students to pay attention to the present moment with compassion and non-judgmental awareness. Through meditation, eating, listening, and many other forms, students learn to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and bodies. Over the past decade, teachers across the U.S. have started teaching mindfulness in their classrooms. But as the movement spreads, more school leaders are bringing mindfulness outside of the classroom to develop school-wide mindfulness strategies.

Below are ten tips about designing, developing, and successfully implementing such a program, gathered through my four years of working in the mindfulness and education movement: first with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, then as a classroom teacher, and now as an independent consultant. The following lessons were informed by numerous conversations, school visits, and my own experience teaching and designing mindfulness programming.

A quick warning: There is no "one model" out there. Schools are experimenting with how to bring mindfulness into their culture. However, there are some clear lessons being learned and best practices developing as schools begin to implement these programs.

Pre-Launch

1. Be Patient and Have a Plan

It will take a few years to develop a school-wide mindfulness program. Do not force it or rush it -- this can alienate faculty members and lead to quick endings. Have a roadmap that includes delivering programming to parents, students, and faculty, but be flexible and responsive once implementation begins.

2. Make a Real Commitment

Finding time in your school day may be your biggest challenge. But if your school makes its commitment to mindfulness a priority, time will be made. When done well, mindfulness training can help your students learn more and "save time" through increased attention and emotional regulation.

3. Be Clear About Your Goals

Are you trying to reduce stress? Are you trying to change school culture? Are you trying to address bullying or achieve social emotional learning goals? Being clear about your goals will help focus the program and measure results.

Faculty

4. Start With the Faculty

Nearly everyone I talk to agrees that it's best to start with the faculty. These are the people who set school culture. Give your faculty a chance to familiarize themselves with mindfulness and opt into the initial trainings, as opposed to forcing it upon them as another "thing to do." If you truly want mindfulness to be effective, it's helpful when school faculty and administration respect, understand, and practice it.

5. Find Your Champions and Saboteurs

Find the mindfulness champions on campus. Start by thinking through who could be part of this group. You will likely want influential or respected faculty members. Identify the key players that could help mindfulness take root at the school. On the flip side, who are those most likely to sabotage or ignore it? Spend extra time trying to bring the potential cynics on board, and give them a chance to air their concerns.

6. Have Faculty Practice Together

The faculty members that I've spoken to enjoy practicing mindfulness together. This includes both silent practice and relational activities -- moments of deep sharing that connect faculty to one another. An initial devoted cohort can serve as the political backbone for bringing mindfulness to the larger school community.

7. Monitor Results

Assign a devoted group of faculty and/or administrators to track the program while it develops. Too often, a school program gets started with a lot of enthusiasm and then fades when no one keeps energy and attention on it. One way to combat this is by taking away responsibilities from teachers or administrators who are part of a mindfulness monitoring team so that they won't have an even heavier workload.

Parents

8. Communicate Well With Parents

Before you start teaching your students mindfulness, make sure that you communicate effectively with their parents. This includes communicating the brain science, school research, program goals, and why your school is choosing to implement mindfulness. Parents around the country still have questions about the religious nature of mindfulness practice. Others have no idea what it is. It is better to have this conversation before starting to teach students.

Student Programming

9. Practice What You Preach

If you are a faculty member that is teaching mindfulness, the most essential step is to develop your own practice. MindUp, Mindful Schools, and the Mindfulness in Schools Project all offer well regarded teacher trainings.

10. Look for Avenues Outside the Classroom

Mindfulness is a powerful tool in the classroom, but it can be even more powerful outside the classroom. Think creatively about effective outlets where this practice could influence school culture: coaches and sports teams, freshman and senior trips, peer advisory groups, service groups, and extracurricular clubs and teams. Often, students start buying into the practice after they have one powerful experience using it outside of school.

Keep in Mind. . .

Do not beat yourself up if it doesn't go perfectly. There are going to be learning opportunities along the way. If you truly believe that your school is ready for it and you are committed to it, mindfulness has the power to transform the lives of students, faculty, and the culture of your school.

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Mindfulness in School and Beyond
Teaching students to focus on the present moment with compassion and without judgment can begin a beneficial life habit.

Patrick Cook Deegan

Founder, Patrick Cook-Deegan Mindfulness Mentoring and Consulting
In This Series
Teaching students to focus on the present moment with compassion and without judgment can begin a beneficial life habit.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Teresa Osbourne's picture
Teresa Osbourne
GATE Teacher and Mentor

Wonderful guidelines and framework Patrick! Yes, I totally agree, as a big mindfulness advocate and mentor, you must really have as much faculty/admin on board as possible in order to change the existing school culture. And the process of implementing mindfulness is definitely a chance for us as mindfulness champions to deepen our own practice, especially when you meet resistance... Brilliant, thank you.

Monique's picture
Monique
Educator

Great contribution, Patrick! I also offer consultation and professional development training for schools and staff and agree that implementation of mindfulness practices requires that schools and communities recognize that everyone contributes to a mindful school environment. As a yoga instructor and professional educator, I think that sometimes schools get caught up in the "how to" of implementation. Mindfulness is away of thinking and interacting that develops with experience, rather than by acquiring knowledge through top-down models of teaching. When school staff, parents and kids can experience mindfulness together, the benefits of a mindfulness-based practice can contribute to the overall wellbeing of the community.

Thank you so much for sharing this, Patrick, and I look forward to hearing more about your work.

(1)
Emma Arnold's picture

Thank you for the guidelines Patrick! My school is slowly starting to implement this. There was only 6 of us that took the training last year and we are really hoping to get more involved so that it can become a school wide practice. I noticed a huge difference in my Kindergarten class last year when we started doing Mindfulness activities! They loved them and I loved them as well. Practice what you preach is something that I need to focus on. I have been working on my mindful practice myself this summer, so hopefully I am able to transfer that to my students this year!

Len Moskowitz's picture

I'd add one more explicit guideline: Make sure the mindfulness program is rigorously secular and has not even the slightest hint of religious influence or content.

So sit in chairs, rather than crosslegged on mats or cushions. Mindfulness doesn't need crosslegged sitting, which is popularly associated with Buddhism and Yoga.

Don't use Yoga's hand positions. Don't use any explicit hand positions. Mindfulness doesn't need a hand position. Simply rest the hands comfortably.

Don't use asian Temple bells to start and end meditation periods. Use a gentle voice, or a chime or a triangle bell.

When we teach, use English words exclusively - no Sanskrit or Hindi or Japanese or Chinese.

Don't mix compassion training with mindfulness. If there's a need for compassion training, let the SEL faculty address it. Mindfulness doesn't need compassion.

Please treat mindfulness as a skill, and not as a spiritual path or practice.

Marta Hansen's picture

Hello! I stumbled upon this article and would love some advice. I'm a school board member in my district. I am very interested in broaching Mindfulness Education to the district. We are a wonderful school district that is growing in leaps and bounds. We are getting more and more diverse. Mindfulness Education is something that I really believe in and want to learn more about for myself and to approach our superintendent and the rest of the board with. Do you have suggestions how to even get started with this? What my first steps should be? I want to tread very thoughtfully so that idea is well received. Thanks so much!

Len Moskowitz's picture

Marta: Join the MiEN (Mindfulness in Education Network) mailing list at Yahoo Groups (groups.yahoo.com).

It's a good resource, despite being heavily weighted towards Yoga and Buddhism. Filter that out and you've got lots of information to get started with a secular program for mindfulness in the schools.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Marta! Just to clarify- are you looking to teach Mindfulness to your students, or are you hoping to help your teachers and principals use Mindfulness practices in their own work? (It's a small distinction, but an important one)

.be (dot-be) is one of my favorite tools for teaching students. You can find their materials at http://mindfulnessinschools.org/what-is-b/
If you're looking to train teachers and leaders in mindfulness practices that can help them be more present with their students and in their work, can I recommend you reach out to my colleague, Susan Dreyer Leon (sdreyerleon at antioch dot edu)? Susan runs our Mindfulness for Educators Program (http://www.antiochne.edu/teacher-education/med-working-teachers/mindfuln...) and would have some great resources to help you out. Her background is in public education and she's been working with teachers to "tread thoughtfully" for several years. :-) Good luck!

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