Mindfulness has become a core social and emotional learning strategy in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) in Texas. The district has even created a mindfulness specialist position, filled by James Butler, the district’s 2014 Teacher of the Year.
There are various understandings of mindfulness, but most focus on being nonjudgmental and present in the moment.
Mindfulness in the Secondary Classroom: A Guide for Teaching Adolescents,” (c) 2019 by Patricia C. Broderick. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company.
Many of the risky and potentially dangerous behaviors of adolescents—procrastination, disruptiveness, disordered eating, cutting, drinking, violence, taking drugs, technological addiction, and so on—have a common denominator. They likely involve avoiding unpleasant emotional experience by trying to make it go away. The extent to which we do this is a measure of our distress tolerance (García-Oliva & Piqueras, 2016; Simons & Gaher, 2005). We all have our limits, but individuals who are highly intolerant of distress and unable to cope adaptively have quick triggers and are more likely to suffer from a range of psychological and behavioral problems (Zvolensky & Hogan, 2013).
Even though the goal was to help students use mindfulness, faculty found they viewed things more positively as a result of the work we were doing in our FLC. The second camp focused on how the students were responding. In general, students liked the practices. They found value in them. This was something that grew over time.
Teachers are turning to the practice as a simple way to restore calm to the classroom, help students find some quiet space, and build self-regulation skills. Some teachers say their personal mindfulness practicehas helped them respond more calmly to students and helps them keep perspective.
“This isn’t about calming down,” said Sam Himelstein, a clinical psychologist, trainer and author who has spent most of his career working with incarcerated youth. “Calming down is great and it is a skill that youth can get better at. But if we’re talking about mindfulness, at its core, we are just talking about being present with whatever it is.”
Larry Rosenberg the dog-mind versus the lion-mind.
Reacting with the mind of a lion allows a person to say, “I’m angry right now,” and that little bit of metacognitive space between the person and the thought allows them to choose how to respond.
TRAUMA SENSITIVE MINDFULNESS
Students don’t take the activity seriously
Students are triggered by silence because it feels like a storm is brewing, so they don’t want to be quiet
Students feel too many requests are made of them without the requisite trust being built up
Students exhibit avoidance behavior
Guidelines for teachers using mindfulness:
Don’t force it
Don’t focus on the logistics like sitting with eyes closed
Somatic awareness, like counting breaths, could be a good place to start. “There’s different types of awareness. Sometimes we’re really aware of what’s going on in the mind and sometimes we’re more aware of what’s going on in the body,” Himelstein said.
Think about the child’s window of tolerance and whether he is already triggered or not. “It’s good to strike when the iron is cold in a lot of these cases,” Himelstein said.
Cultivating a trauma-informed classroom is much harder when educators themselves are burnt out. Building relationships, not reacting defensively to student behavior and taking time to listen to students can feel nearly impossible if the adult is barely making it through the day.
several categories of self-care, according to Himelstein:
Regular cultivation of relaxation response (3Rs): things like watching TV, going into nature, getting a massage.
Effortful training: These are things like more sustained meditation or exercise where the payoff comes over a longer time period.
Creativity: something that gives purpose and adds vibrancy to life. Writing, reading, painting or other passions are examples.
Advocacy: everything from learning to say “No” (set boundaries), to working at a higher level to impact policy or structural change.