August 2018

Creating a Sustainable Mindfulness Program in Your School Community

By Katrice Grant
Interest in mindfulness has exploded in recent years – including in education. In school environments that support the development of the whole child, mindfulness can serve as a complementary tool for both academic and social/emotional learning. It provides children with the awareness needed to cultivate attention, understand and regulate emotions, manage impulses, develop empathy and cut through the constant distractions to be more present and engaged.
 
And mindfulness is more than just a trend. To benefit our students, school counselors must ensure that mindful awareness and practice in schools aren’t temporary, but here to stay. As leaders and change agents in using systemic approaches in a school setting, we school counselors can move mindfulness interventions from the confines of our counseling space to the entire school community by bringing awareness and exposure in a meaningful and sustainable way. Various factors will impact each counselor’s ability to reach the whole school community. Patience, time and strategy are key. The saying, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” applies here, so let’s take a look into the most impactful considerations for sustaining mindfulness programming over time.
 
Nurturing Embodied Practice and Teaching
Rather than a focus on training students directly in mindfulness, many experienced practitioners will argue that the personal practice of the adult is most important in teaching students how to be more mindful in their lives. As counselors and educators, we are aware that modeling through example is a critical learning tool for children. Our use of mindfulness to respond to stressors in and outside of school will affect how we interact with our students. This will then serve as a teaching tool for children to experience and mindfully respond to situations in their own lives. We should always have personal understanding in everything we teach – we couldn’t teach children to swim properly without first knowing how to swim ourselves. Mindfulness is no different in that we are most authentic and effective when we engage in a consistent personal practice. Using an app like Headspace, Calm, or 10% Happier is a great start. School counselors can also consider more formal mindfulness sits through in-person classes if this will help maintain consistency.

“Adoption, Not Roll Out”
The phrase “adoption, not roll out” is often used by the Mindful Schools Program because implementing mindfulness initially with a top-down, whole-school roll out lessens the likelihood of creating sustainable programming. Therefore, consider getting gradual buy-in from interested staff unless your whole school is already on board.  Use these steps to spread awareness and build interest:

Step 1: Get buy-in first from the school administration by presenting about all that mindfulness encompasses. Highlight research on the benefits for teacher and student wellbeing and connect it to the school’s mission and goals – this will provide relevancy regarding howy mindfulness can address needs in your school.

Step 2: Generate awareness and understanding of mindfulness across the school community by delivering staff and parent presentations. These talks will be critical to explain the vast nature of mindfulness and address any negative preconceived notions.

Step 3: Create a team of teachers who are committed to their personal practice and passionate about bringing mindfulness into their classrooms. As word spreads of these teachers’ efforts and impact, you will gradually generate interest amongst others in your school community.

Identify the Right Training and Implementation Route
Each school is unique and your approach to mindfulness training and implementation needs to consider several factors. Some of these may include:
  1. Access to external mindfulness support in your community
  2. Funding or budget available for this programming
  3. School size and demographics
  4. Buy-in from school stakeholders
Taking the above into consideration, you will need to decide whether an external mindfulness teacher or training staff internally will be more beneficial. If the latter, one option is local expertise through an external trainer or through online programs like Mindful Schools or the MBSR-T Stressed Teens Program. If you choose a fully online training format, try incorporating in-person meetings to foster engagement. Consider developing links and partnerships with experts locally to help support the personal practice component. Regardless of your choice, there should be emphasis on personal practice among staff prior to teaching strategies for the classroom.

Whether you are carrying the mindfulness torch at the beginning independently or collaboratively, remember that sustainable implementation includes consistent personal practice, collaboration, gradual buy-in, and commitment to training. Although the method and route will be different according to the needs and resources in your school, following the steps above will help mindfulness practice become an integral and lasting part of our school communities.

Katrice Grant is a school counselor at Whittier Elementary School in Albuquerque, N.M. She has been trained through the Mindful Schools Program to teach mindfulness to K-12 students. She worked to implement sustainable mindfulness programming for four years in an international school with more than 2800 students of 113 nationalities.