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.
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.
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.
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.
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.