by Julie Schlossinger, Lower School Director
At Back to School Night, Head of School, Mike Imperi shared a bit about the partnership between VMS and local nonprofit, UB.U, to implement a K-12 mindfulness program. UB.U’s mission is to “address the need for social emotional wellness, resilience, and character development in schools through mindfulness, movement, and relaxation.” They have experience working in a variety of classroom settings, but their work with VMS represents new territory as it is the first time that they have had the opportunity to implement a program with a K-12 scope in one location.
During Faculty Work Week in August, UB.U founders and teachers met with faculty and staff during our retreat at the Shrine Mountain Huts. They conducted exercises and educated our educators on how mindfulness can be used in classrooms to help students manage their stress and anxiety, and ultimately improve learning. As both an educator and a parent, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of articles focused on this subject, so to me, this could not be more timely. Titles like “12 Tips to Reduce Your Child’s Stress and Anxiety,” “Are We Stressing Our Kids Out?,” and “Is The Drive for Success Making our Children Sick?” to name a few, have caught my eye.
Those articles and posts led me on a search of scholarly research in the areas of student stress and the use of mindfulness in schools. Zoogman, Goldberg, & Miller, 2015 published a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of mindfulness education in schools. Their analysis looked at 20 research studies. Several of those studies concluded that mindfulness trainings in schools reduced stress, while others did not find mindfulness practices in general to be any more effective than other mental health interventions. However, it’s important to note that in the meta-analysis, mindfulness was regarded as promising and did result in the overall reduction of student stress.
So what does all of this mean for VMS’s lower school students? For the 2017-18 school year, Lower School Division Chair, Kristin Douthitt, will be leading lower school teachers as they work with UB.U. Mindfulness exercises will be integrated into classroom routines as one of the many tools used by teachers for classroom management. Lower school teachers might prompt individual students to initiate a mindfulness practice when they notice an increase in stress, or they may stop class and have the entire group follow their lead in an activity if they feel the overall stress level increase in the classroom.
A few examples of mindfulness exercises include: deep, measured breathing designed to activate the calming effect of the parasympathetic nervous system; using tools like glitter bottles that, when shaken slowly, settle in much the same way that we want the students to quiet themselves and focus; or yoga practice that encourages inward reflection and recentering.
We are hopeful these new tools will have a noticeable effect on the overall climate in each classroom, creating calm, pleasant environments that will help our students to do their best work. Our ultimate goal, which may be the greatest lesson gained by mindfulness, is to teach students to leave a space between trigger and reaction that allows for reflection and thus, a considered, thoughtful response.
Truth be told, I am hopeful that all of us—faculty and staff, administration, and parents alike—can benefit from these kinds of mindfulness practices which can help us all manage stress, reduce anxiety, communicate more clearly, and ultimately work in partnership in the best interest of each and every student.