On my way out of school a few weeks ago, a 12th grader stopped me in the hall, eager to talk to me. I’d taught him mindfulness in 9th grade, but at the time he had been a very reluctant participant in class. (I had even gotten a note from one of his parents concerned that we had done a lesson on gratitude and unsure that he should be in the class!) It came as a great surprise, then, that this young man was excited to tell me he had just led a meditation in his calculus class before they took a particularly difficult test. He proudly described how he’d asked the teacher for permission to do it so that the class could all settle themselves and focus on the task at hand with clarity and calm. I believe this story has a lot to offer educators who are looking to grow their school’s mindfulness program beyond a single classroom.
More and more, I get requests to support schools who wish to implement mindfulness at the whole-building or whole-district level. Even when I present just a 60- or 90-minute introduction to mindfulness at a faculty meeting, conversation often jumps to “What if we did this in every classroom?”
It’s easy to understand why. After all, who wouldn’t want a school where all children had a toolbox for regulating their attention and their emotions; where kindness and gratitude were practiced as regularly as times tables or grammar?
There is also the appeal of having it “baked in” so that it’s simply “the way it’s done here.” In this way, no teacher has to feel like they’re going it alone or swimming upstream.
For all its appeal, achieving a whole-school implementation of mindfulness can be a daunting task. (Truth be told, getting the full faculty of any school on board with anything can be a challenge!) “Kids need this; how quickly can we get this in all of the classrooms?” “What about teachers who don’t want to do it?” “Where will we find the time for this?”
With these concerns, I’ve found that the practice of mindfulness itself can be instructive. In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses seven attitudinal foundations of mindfulness practice, and it is these qualities we grow when we deepen our personal practice:
- Not Striving–being and observing rather than rather than trying to accomplish, achieve, or arrive at a specific result
- Acceptance–kindly allowing for things to be as they are
- Patience–allowing for things to unfold in a timeline that is not our own
- Not Judging–being with our experience with gentleness rather than criticism
- Letting Go–loosening our habit to cling to pleasant experiences and push away unpleasant ones
- Beginner’s Mind–allowing for what we don’t know and holding in healthy skepticism what we think we already know
- Trust–letting inner wisdom, intuition, and first-hand experience be a reliable guide
The journey of an institution looking to “grow its mindfulness practice” will unfold in exactly the same way. We cannot know exactly when the seeds we’ve planted will bear fruit, nor can we know how it will look when they do. We do not need to criticize ourselves when things don’t go as planned and can allow for the discomfort of setbacks. If we set an intention of moving towards the goal of bringing mindfulness to more and more students, teachers, and classrooms, then we can ultimately trust that we are doing good, and that things will grow organizationally in exactly the way they’re supposed to. With this approach, we are embodying the very qualities of mindfulness that we hope to share in our schools. And as the story above shows, the seeds we plant today really will develop in their own time and their own way. The exciting part is to sit back with curiosity and watch it all unfold.
Join Alan Brown for his workshop, Growing Your Mindfulness Program: Finding the Open Door at this year’s Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference.