Social and Emotional Learning

How Daily Meditation Improves Behavior

With levels of violence and poverty rising around them, San Francisco middle school students find social and emotional healing—and a new readiness to learn—in a bold program of daily meditation.

February 23, 2012
Students are doing meditation.

Overview

A Quiet Transformation

Visitacion Valley Middle School first introduced Quiet Time (QT), a stress-reduction program that includes Transcendental Meditation as an optional activity, in the spring of 2007. The program consists of two periods, 15 minutes each in the morning and afternoon, when students may choose to sit quietly or meditate. This promotes deep relaxation and a sense of well-being and allows students to clear their minds. These sessions also help students prepare themselves for positive academic and social interactions, which has led to a significant reduction in suspensions and truancies. In addition, the approach improves faculty retention.

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Two external organizations supported Visitacion Valley Middle School’s implementation of the Quiet Time program. The Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education is a San Francisco nonprofit organization that specializes in meditation-based stress-reduction programs. The organization works with and receives funds from several groups, such as the David Lynch Foundation, to implement QT and other wellness programs in schools.

How It's Done

Implementing a Meditation Program

For a program like Quiet Time to succeed, space, time, training, and resources are required. Below are four steps to help implement a similar program:          

1. Identify necessary behavior shifts to deal with classroom- or school-level problems.

Consider the following:

  • Are there misbehaviors such as truancy and actions leading to suspensions?
  • Are students anxious or suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome?
  • What performance goals need improvement?
  • In what ways can the school culture be improved?

2. Prepare to implement the program

  • Expect buy in by teachers to be gradual because of skepticism. However, sharing positive research results with instructors will help grow enthusiasm for the meditation program.
  • The faculty should develop a consensus on whether or not to use the approach.
  • Secure permission slips from guardians for students to participate.
  • Train instructors to meditate, so when student questions arise, teachers can answer from experience. Instructors also need training in how to set up their classroom and facilitate their students’ practice.
  • Each student receives one individual training session and three group sessions. 
  • Instructors not only teach the technique but also provide science classes on the physiology and psychology of stress and the impact of stress on one’s ability to be effective and successful. They also discuss the benefits of meditation.

3. Allow students to choose how to spend Quiet Time.

  • Twice a day, once at the first bell and again just before the last bell, instructors direct students to sit quietly for 15 minutes and avoid disturbing others. General recommended activities include meditation, sustained silent reading, and free drawing or painting.
  • Students who elect to meditate use a specific technique called Transcendental Meditation that facilitates a state of deep relaxation.
  • Homework is not a QT activity because students often associate it with pressure.
  • Make needed adjustments to the school space and schedule.

4. Make needed adjustments to the school space and schedule

  • Visitacion Valley Middle School created a special room for faculty to meditate on their own time and for students to meditate privately.
  • To minimize impact on instructional time, Visitacion Valley shaved one minute off each period and took time away from lunch and homeroom
School Snapshot

Visitacion Valley Middle School

Grades 6-8 | San Francisco, CA
Enrollment
257 | Public, Urban
Per Pupil Expenditures
$4,567 School$4,567 District$5,455 State
Free / Reduced Lunch
88%
DEMOGRAPHICS:
33% Asian
24% Multiracial
22% Black
16% Hispanic
2% White
42% English-language learners 19% Special needs
Data is from the 2010-11 academic year.