Friday, February 26, 2016

Mindful in the Middle

If walking the middle school hallways of our school at precisely 8:06, you will see the following: students in chairs or standing, eyes closed, quiet. This is the daily mindfulness practice we have implemented to bring a sense of calm and focus to the day ahead. We began the practice earlier in the year after teachers collaborated on a way to incorporate quiet time as a means of reducing the stress of middle school.

We launched the initiative in Mandell Meeting, our biweekly community assembly, by asking students to share privately what stresses they feel. Students responded with a variety of stressors, ranging from academic to social pressure, societal expectations, family dynamics or illnesses. We then had them place the items in a “worry box” for the day and led them through a visualization exercise in which they were cued to draw the emotion they wanted to feel most often throughout their day. We discussed mindfulness as a practice which can take various forms and shared a video documenting how one school used mindfulness as a way of reducing the life stresses students faced in an underserved, crime-ridden neighborhood. Students built empathy and  shared similar obstacles despite very different environments.

Since that Mandell Meeting in October, we have practice daily quiet time in morning homerooms and throughout the day as needed or appropriate to each class’s activities. For example, Drama begins with a breathing exercise in which students center their focus and energy on the creative output required in the class. We also continue to incorporate whole-division mindfulness at the opening of each Upper School Mandell Meeting. This practice can take the form of quiet time, a “sound bath” of singing bowls, mindful listening in partners, or movement oriented practice such as chair yoga. Teachers have incorporated tools such as to expand their classroom approaches, and teachers have participated in two workshops on mindfulness this year including one on classroom management, one on classroom mindfulness, and another on mindfulness in writing.

Like other schools incorporating Mindfulness into the day, we have seen a positive impact at both the individual and group level. Gianna in Fifth Grade shared her thoughts on mindfulness practice stating, “I like it because it helps me think about my day and get calm. Like today, we have a quiz and it is helping me not get stressed.” This sentiment was echoed by Elaine in Eighth Grade who said, “I love the mindfulness practice in the morning because it is a nice time for me to relax before I begin my hectic day. It puts me in the right mode for school so that I don’t start off the day stressed.”

At one teacher workshop, a quote by Viktor Frankl was shared, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As students mature into older childhood and gain heightened awareness of their world, they are inundated with stimuli. We are committed to providing them the tools through which they can create space to respond to these mindfully rather than to react impulsively. Through Mandell’s tight-knit community of trust, we have found a way to build this capacity through mindfulness. To read more about how this practice is making its way into the classroom, take a look at the following links.

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