Mindful Moments for Children and Teachers in CT
Educators and parents alike are taking notice of the stress that surrounds our children on a daily basis. The stressors and demands of modern American society leaves students at a disadvantage that can only be remedied by a significant change in the way we structure and approach teaching and learning. However, while well intentioned, the current nationally imposed reform efforts have led to increased levels of anxiety, frustration and stress amongst educators. Moreover, contending with students’ increasing levels of anxiety, depression and stress to succeed in a competitive world have led to unprecedented educator absenteeism and burnout. Not surprisingly, research studies have revealed that stressed teachers create stressed students.
If we, as adults, are living and dying stressed out, how have we not caught on that students are also impacted by environmental stress? Perhaps, one might wonder if teenagers and children experience more stress than adults, since they are not ‘in control’ of situations as adults would be. Youngsters are also in the process of maturing, trying to find their place and exploring the world, which, of course adds another layer of underlying stress. Add to that the expectations of tests, homework, pressure to succeed or just to pass a class. Moreover, students are stressed to get a scholarship or make a team, cope with family hardships, health problems, parents fighting or breaking up, navigating their own feelings and relationships, not to mention trying to fit in or standing out.
How do we expect students to find success and exceed in academics if they are not being taught healthy coping mechanisms? Many Connecticut teachers and soon-to-be teachers are choosing to release tension by engaging in grounding strategies, meditation, mindfulness and yoga. These professionals are working to better their lives. Moreover, integrating such strategies into their classrooms educators are beginning to see their students transform out of the stress culture into people who are focused on creating self-awareness and balance.
Alisa Wright, teacher of wellness at Regional School District 6 in Morris, Warren, and Goshen elementary schools, felt that she had personally reached the point in her life where she wanted her attitude and self-awareness to be more focused so she could create the environment that helped her thrive. When Ms. Wright was a student herself pursuing an Integrative Health and Healing Masters of Art degree at The Graduate Institute, in Bethany Connecticut, she was encouraged to explore Mindful Moments, as she calls them. Mindfulness is the practice of being and staying aware of objects, nature and the people around you. Repetitive actions and schedules take us away from being keenly aware of our surroundings, while mindfulness tries to connect with the normal everyday moments. These were moments of reflection on uniqueness, tapping into potential, and opening up to the realm of possibility that surrounds us.
Ms. Wright started promoting mindfulness through the use of a community garden at her school. Students get to engage with nature and learn patience and focus and reflection as they work and reflect in the garden. She has seen that when the students are being taught how, “to make observations on a holistic level allows them to explore details overlooked in the past, and they more fully understand the importance of becoming part of the garden experience. Students notice the beauty of nature and their relationship to it.”
She has found that if her students are practicing mindfulness and reflection before she begins teaching them for the day, the classroom settles down with a focused energy which has a restorative impact on the rest of their day. This is allowing students to have a deepened understanding of the interconnectedness of self, others, and the world.
This change isn’t just happening in her classroom, the entire district has taken notice of the changes and many teachers have implemented her Mindful Moments. These teachers who have come on board with the idea are also finding similar results. Ms. Wright believes that helping students learn mindfulness and stress defusing techniques will have a “ripple effect of good” on the student’s lives.
It should be said that with so much chaos and stress surrounding us, it is great to know that the future generation is being taught different, BETTER coping mechanisms for handling the hard moments in life. Maybe our children will be able to do more than cope, maybe they will be able to rise above stress and live in mindful awareness in every moment of their life. But to get there, to give them the chance to have a different lifestyle for them to know a less stressful existence, educators and parents need to make a mindset change. Schools of today and tomorrow need to embrace a new culture of learning and thinking, whereby classrooms become mindscapes for engaging and drawing upon the inherent creative and intellectual capacities of all learners. It is now necessary to deconstruct the current educational framework and dialogue on reconstructing ones that better address the challenges of learning and thinking in the 21st century.
Dr. James Trifone, Academic Director for The Graduate Institute’s Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking Degree Program. For more information, visit: www.Learn.edu