Every seasoned basketball player can describe it in precise detail: the routine she goes through each time she takes a free throw, to tune out distractions and give herself the best chance to make the shot. Every quarterback can tell you exactly what it’s like: when he’s completely in the zone, mind and body perfectly in sync, and it feels almost magical, the way his game is elevated to a whole new level. Every serious athlete knows: training your mind for peak performance is every bit as important as training your body.
The same is true, of course, for students: no matter how adept they are at learning, analyzing, communicating, and other critical skills, they won’t consistently perform their best unless they also develop the mental habits that allow them to be calm, focused, confident, and dialed in, even under pressure.
Those mental habits are cultivated through the practice of mindfulness, which is introduced to all Heathwood Middle School students through our “Mindful in The Hall” program.
Stressed in the Middle
National trends are showing us that students are often stressed, anxious, and suffering in classrooms all while trying to pay attention in school, get good grades, make and keep friends, have a presence on social media, and be perfect. These challenges often become particularly acute in middle school, which is a time not only of crucial intellectual development but also of significant social and emotional change. It takes great energy to be a middle schooler, but add to that the intensity of 21st-century life, and it can be paralyzing.
For a student to focus and think, decide and remember, learn and encode, the brain cannot be distracted by anxiety, fear, or danger. As middle school educators, we see on a daily basis that we must quiet the brain to allow the work of school, social growth, emotional development, and the evolution of the whole student.
Mindful in The Hall
A significant body of research suggests that for adolescents, enhanced mindfulness is one of the most productive paths toward both academic success and overall wellbeing. Cultivating mindfulness in students achieves multiple key objectives: it calms the mind, and it enhances self-awareness, emotional intelligence, confidence, and resilience in the face of stress, busyness, and the pressure to perform.
Mindfulness is being truly present in the moment. Mindfulness at school is teaching students specific strategies to focus their minds, to calm their bodies, to acknowledge their feelings and thoughts, and to affect their learning in a positive manner.
Mindfulness supports the integration of separate brain functions: self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making. These skills are imperative to successful academics, athletics, and for life goals. All of these important functions are directly enhanced through the practice of mindfulness, which builds and strengthens the synaptic connections that make them possible.
Additional benefits of mindfulness include:
• Brain plasticity, which allows changes in the wiring and firing of the brain
• Improved attention, visuospatial memory, working memory, concentration, and sleep
• Increased emotional stability, social tolerance, happiness, gratitude, empathy, grit, resilience, and perseverance
• Reductions in stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and hostility
The Mindful in the Hall program involves the following action steps:
• Weekly instruction and strategies focusing on posture, breath, body awareness
• Preparing students for learning by teaching executive functioning strategies, time management, time estimation, organizational, and study skills
• Weekly advisory to develop relationships with students and set goals
• Literacy Strands in each grade: Digital, Environmental, Health, and Civic
• Leadership experiences through Columbia Connections
• Creation of quiet spaces to allow introspection
• PEAK outdoor programs that are educational, connected to curriculum, and allow for leadership experiences
• Instill confidence through self-defense instruction, CPR, creating a positive digital footprint, and self-regulation with social media
• Yoga classes for students, faculty, and parents
• Professional development for teachers, students, and parents
Teach students to be present in the moment, to control their breathing, and to understand the science of the brain to know that they can affect the wiring and firing of their brains.
Inspire middle school students to embody greater awareness of themselves and those around them.
Work to reduce stress and dysfunction through an increased development of executive function skills.
Create middle school experiences that balance the intensity of middle school students with their natural energy and need for peaceful growth.
Inspire middle school students to be grateful and giving without making them feel guilty.
Engage middle school students with issues of social justice in ways that play on their natural desire for and understanding of fairness and empathy.
Teach and model resilience and self-regulation through relationships that translates into student grit.
Work to expose students to experiences that uncover their skills and passions to create mentally nimble students.
"Mindfulness for Children" New York Times, Oct. 30, 2017
"The Mindful Child" New York Times, May 10, 2016