How to Start a Mindfulness Program at Your School
In the realms of education, neuroscience, learning, and even exercise, research is pointing towards the same conclusion about mindfulness: practicing mindfulness changes the brain at a fundamental level, and supports health, wellbeing, and success from the inside-out.
Whether your school is looking for a way to reduce teacher attrition, boost student performance, or perhaps foster a community of empathy and compassion, mindfulness is proving to be a promising, comprehensive solution. But not all mindfulness programs are created equal, and there are critical factors to consider when developing a solution to meet the needs of your students and staff.
From our nearly twenty years of experience bringing mindfulness and movement into classrooms with yoga, we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes mindfulness stick, and how you can create effective, sustainable solutions to maximize the benefits that yoga can bring.
1. All in.
To start, it’s essential to understand that mindfulness is not a commodity. It is a discipline, and it requires practice just like learning piano, karate, or a new language. Therefore, in order to have an entire school campus embody the principles of mindfulness, it’s important that both students and teachers have their own mindfulness practices to cultivate. While many schools focus on student outcomes alone, it is teachers who serve as role models and mirrors every day in the classroom. Being proactive and supportive of teachers in building and maintaining a personal mindfulness practice will help ensure that students will get the most out of what is offered, and it creates a common language for everyone to connect. Mindfulness isn’t a one-stop solution, and administrators should to be open-minded, flexible, and patient in listening to the needs and concerns of their staff. Similarly, maintaining consistent support for students will ensure that mindfulness remains a priority, rather than a box to be checked off.
2. Begin with the teacher in mind.
Often times, getting teacher buy-in to mindfulness programming can be a challenge, particularly when so many other priorities monopolize educators’ time and resources. Schools can help get teachers on board by kicking off programming with a focus on teacher wellness and professional development. After all, we know that teachers are stressed, and demanding that they initiate mindful practices in their classroom without first demonstrating the utility of mindfulness will only add to their feelings of burn-out. Before beginning with classroom implementation, give teachers mindful options, such as staff yoga classes or mindfulness resources in the teacher’s lounge, to help them cope with their anxiety and overwhelm. Formal professional development opportunities, such as chair yoga workshops, can also empower teachers to start integrating mindfulness into their own toolbelt, before asking them to teach those skills to their students.
3. Make it a group effort.
For programs to be successful long-term, it’s important that staff and students understand that mindfulness is a central component of the school’s culture, not a passing phase. Administrators should strive to make everyone feel supported with the space and resources they need to maintain the practice, even when things get stressful. One way to maintain mutual responsibility and support is to commit to mindful moments, times during the day when everyone in the school community participates in the mindfulness program together. Designating time for mindfulness first thing in the morning before announcements, right after lunch, or 10 minutes before dismissal not only encourages accountability, but builds habits for teachers and students alike. If it’s too difficult to get the whole school on the same schedule, creating mindfulness routines by grade or classroom can also serve a similar purpose.
4. To each her own.
During planning and implementation, it’s important to recognize that there are a variety of mindfulness practices out there– from yoga and focused breathing to mindful eating and coloring– and what works for one person, may not work for another. Exploring various practices and continually seeking feedback can help you land on a combination that is feasible, effective, and well-received by your school. Sometimes trial and error is necessary to find what works, and always remain open to new ideas as you continue to grow.
5. It takes a village.
Without the support of parents, it’s difficult for mindfulness programming to thrive, or to be sustainable as years pass. In order to gain momentum with families, start by hosting an information and wellness session at your school, to not only share details about your proposed programs, but to involve parents in mindful practices themselves. If parents experience mindfulness first hand, it can help eliminate a lot of the misinformation and fear that sometimes stops programs before they can start. Even after programs get running, continuing to provide resources to parents through wellness nights can boost outcomes for students and maintain enthusiasm and buy-in. Over time, you may witness shifts in households, and in the greater community, as mindfulness becomes a part of the way of life.
Learn more about what it takes.
Yoga Ed. works with school communities to promote health and wellness in tandem with academic achievement through sustainable mindful movement programs.