There is a critical factor that influences academic outcomes….that has nothing to do with academics……and even nothing to do with school. That factor is stress! Extensive research suggests that stress (caused by poverty, trauma, technology overload, violence etc) significantly inhibits learning…….and is likely the root of the achievement gap and academic failure in at-risk communities.
From a neuro biology standpoint, when students come to the school with chronic stress, their cognitive resources shift from higher order thinking in the prefrontal cortex to lower order “fight or flight” in the limbic system. They become more reactive and less likely to be able to pay attention. The best teachers, best curriculum, best facilities will not get through. A child may be sitting in a seat in class, yet isn’t ready to learn
Our mission at Inner Explorer is to reduce stress so that students are ready to learn! A daily mindfulness program helps to unlock academic success and foster well-being for millions of children. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally, and when done every day, it helps students build the capacity to focus, to be more self-aware and more resilient.
Inner Explorer is designed to help facilitate the daily practice in just 10 minutes a day, 10 minutes a day. Mindfulness has been shown to improve grades and test scores, to reduce suspensions, detentions and bullying, and maybe as importantly, to increase compassion and collaboration. (Parents even tell us that their kids don’t fight as much with each other at home). Think of these practices as mental fitness to optimize brain function. We relate this to brushing your teeth, you brush your teeth every day to keep them healthy and strong, same logic goes towards practicing mindfulness…you practice mindfulness every day to keep our minds healthy and strong.
I’d like to tell you a story about a boy in Cleveland. He was not a high achiever, in fact, you could say he struggled a bit with academics. He and his mother and sister had just moved into a new housing unit when a drive by shooting had taken place. His mom’s rented car got hit so she had to report the incident to the police. The next day, this boy had come home and his mom was not there, she had been in the emergency room due to a visit from the shooters and a bottle broken over her head. The following day in school, he had taken an exam and did pretty well. His teacher, knowing his situation had asked him how he managed to do so well with all the stress he had at home and he said “mindfulness helps me to focus”.
Laura and I started this non-profit 5 years ago with the thought that if every child practiced mindfulness every day throughout their pre-K through 12 years, they would improve their academic success and their life success. The achievement gap and school to prison pipeline would be things for the history books. We believe, and initial research is showing, that mindfulness could be the most impactful social justice and peace initiative of our time.