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Mindfulness at School: Breathe Easy, Everyone!

04/08/2015 04:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

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Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Focus on your breathing. Become present with what is. Imagine your thoughts are but clouds upon a deep blue sky; each passing along, to be noticed, observed, but without attaching yourself to any one in particular.

There is a peace with that. And a storm brewing. The battle lines are being drawn. The separatists of 'church and state' are once again raising their walls of discontent, as the debate over values and morals in school give way - temporarily - to a more mindful morning for students of schools in America.

Mindfulness. At school. Come present with it.

Mindfulness is the latest attempt to bring classroom chaos under control through the opening of a more peaceful portal to the pursuits for our children while at school. Seen as a new trend, growing in popularity in the workplace, it has its origin in Buddhist practice that dates back several thousand years. Monks have been practicing mindfulness meditation to still the mind and open the heart, 'come present with what is.' Now, this gift of being present may hold a key to the future sanity and success of the classroom.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as 'paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.' Sounds like a proper antidote for the classroom craze incited by everything from our children's sugar-rich diet to the addiction to external chatter in all its forms. And perhaps an answer to the cries from our heroic teachers who face the daunting challenge each day of managing the 'circus,' better yet attempting to educate them.

Google employs this. So does Apple. Successful companies and organizations across the country - and globally - are turning to a more mindful approach toward the work environment. And the benefits have been many.

Improvements in work engagement and work performance. Stress management has improved. So has employee well-being and job satisfaction. Decision-making and creativity, as well.

The workplace has begun the adoption process. And the conversation is now turning to the hallowed halls of our beleaguered schools.

From primary to university, the early findings from mindfulness practice are equally compelling.

  • Increased attention span

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • More peaceful classroom environments
  • Greater self-esteem, self-awareness
  • Better performance on exams; improved grades
  • Mindfulness practice can improve attention, intention, attitude and performance. Sounds ideal. Blissful even. A Nirvana of knowledge-builders, with a capacity for greater creativity.

    And for teachers, a chance to actually teach, and not spend the majority of their day 'herding cats' and playing catch up.

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    So what's all the fuss about? With so many benefits that would appear to tilt the scales in the favor of effective teaching and learning -- and dare we say a more balanced being in the making -- why would anyone find issue with incorporating mindfulness practice in schools?

    Mindfulness is a form of meditation. And meditation has spiritual implications -for some. And in America, where the 'land of the free' may not always lend itself to free thought (freeing thought, in this case), new ideas bring new opportunities for fear to raise its constrictive voice once again. The detractors claim that any form of meditative practice would be akin to religious study. And on school grounds, that just doesn't cut it (roll the tape on the endless scrum where the issues of morals and values education are concerned).

    So, once again, here we are. With perhaps a breakthrough in the answer to our most pressing questions, concerns in the education of our children today, are we prepared to turn our backs on the mounting data and continue forward as is - seen as backward by many - requiring our teachers to navigate the norms of today with nothing more than 'a wing and a (dare we say) prayer?'

    Tomorrow is at our doorstep, everyone.

    A new day is upon us.

    And it would be wise for us to pay attention. Mindful even.

    For only a nation and its future is at stake.

    Meditate on that!

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    David Scott Clegg is the author of the award-winning novel The Longest Distance. He is the Managing Director of The HEAD Foundation, a global education think tank; and Founder of UNITE Education.

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