A recent study of school administrators listed the top concerns of that group, the 5 big issues that keep them up at night. On the list: Engaged Citizenship, Improving Achievement, Educator Retention, Evaluating Effectiveness and College and Workforce Readiness. (link)
What I don’t understand is how so many administrators either don’t know, or possibly don’t accept the mountains of research that demonstrate daily mindfulness practice is one of the most effective solutions to support real, sustainable change in all these areas. In other words, if these problems keep them up at night, and the solution is readily available, then a better nights sleep is within reach.
Let’s wake up to a few facts:
- Engaged Citizenship
Caring deeply about our society and having a willingness to engage in issues that matter is critical to our democracy. Mindfulness practice helps students develop skills of awareness, reflection, and deep listening. They begin to understand themselves, not as a product of what they have been told, but connected to their potential and their passion. From this place of knowing, students act with compassion in support of their classmates and their community. Educators consistently report that the entire school culture changes when they practice daily mindfulness in the classroom. Students are nicer to one another, less likely to bully, are more helpful and more willing to collaborate. Imagine taking this forward into the world.
- Improving Achievement
While billions of dollars in tax and foundation support are funneled to school districts across the county, US students are losing ground compared to their global counterparts. One factor is the high levels of student stress. According to a Yale University Study, students experience over 80% stress, which increases activity in the brain’s limbic systems (fight/flight center) and reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), known as the executive center. When the PFC is inactive, learning stops. Mindfulness practice is a countermeasure to stress. Students who practice daily mindfulness experience less stress and anxiety and improved academic performance. Teachers note that they are able to cover more material each day because students are better regulated and grades and test scores go up as a result.
- Educator Retention
Unlike 50 years ago when a teacher simply needed to be expert in a subject area or in early education, now we ask teachers to be proficient in their subject or subjects, in social emotional learning, in conflict resolution, in community building, in parent engagement, in trauma and inclusion. It is not surprising that teacher stress has continued to rise over this time and now studies show that 83% of teachers report high stress, which is comparable to air traffic controllers, the highest stress profession in the US! Teachers who practice mindfulness each day with their students’ experience 43% less stress and report improved classroom management. This is after only 8-weeks of daily mindfulness in the classroom. They reconnect to why they got into teaching in the first place, and often report that the daily mindfulness practice with students is their favorite time of the day. As an assistant superintendent in Fairfield, CA stated, “I’m excited about the improvements in grades and test scores, but this was our best year in my 30 years in education because everyone is happy!”
- Evaluating Effectiveness
When the classroom has 60% fewer behavior issues, students are more attentive, and teachers are less stressed and teacher efficacy skyrockets — all as a result of daily mindfulness practice. Teachers are able to go more deeply into subjects, can form stronger bonds with their students and reconnect to their love of teaching. As one Florida teacher put it “in all my years teaching, I have never felt as connected to a group of students as I do this year. Practicing mindfulness every day together has created a unique bond where it seems everyone is operating on a higher level
- College and Workforce Readiness
If we use what top universities and the worlds best companies are focused on, we would find an urgency to bring mindfulness into more aspects of academics, industry, healthcare and government. In fact, K-12 schools are slow to adopt an easy to implement daily practice that has been proven to improve mental health, physical health, creativity, and cognitive performance. The school system is well behind the times and is actually doing a disservice to students who will not be prepared for the workforce they will ultimately enter.
I realize it sounds like practicing mindfulness daily can solve for a multitude of issues. That’s because it actually does. A fact that has been confirmed in study after study after study.
It is sometime easy to miss the basic, simple solution. Many have bought into the myth that mindfulness is something you “learn” by reading a book or attending a presentation or retreat, when in fact mindfulness is a habit of mind that is developed through regular practice. Others believe that daily practice is too difficult to implement in the classroom, or that teacher’s don’t have the time. I wonder what would have happened in the 1930s if we took that same approach to educating kids about the benefits of brushing your teeth every day. I can guarantee we would not be smiling right now.
Instead, let’s acknowledge – with the help of a mountain of research and irrefutable evidence – that mindfulness in schools is one of the best methods of addressing the above-stated issues and many others. It’s how we build a generation of compassionate, thoughtful, emotionally regulated human beings, our future leaders, parents, and neighbors. Preparing kids for a bright future is the highest purpose of our education system.
So let’s prepare our kids for a mindful life and we can all sleep better at night.
Laura Bakosh is a researcher, program developer and co-founder of Inner Explorer– a non profit organization helping children unlock academic potential and foster lifelong well-being.