Two weeks ago, I participated in an inspiring meeting in New York City: Creating a Mindful Society. There was palpable energy and excitement in the air; a packed crowd of people working to make their own personal lives more mindful, but also working to bring a mindful approach to their work and relationships. It was the articulation of a vision of society’s potential given what we know about the power of simply bring heartfelt, non-judgmental, present-moment awareness into what we do in this world. As a representative of the pre-K-12 educational system, I would like to continue this conversation with readers through this blog.
What changes do we want to see in the world of education? What would things look like? I envision peaceful, happy places that inspire and motivate children (and adults!) to explore and develop to their fullest capacity, where individual temperament, learning style, strengths and weaknesses are all respected and worked with in a humane way that brings out the best in all of us. Ultimately, this vision would extend beyond education because for it to take root in education, it will need to be sown in the greater society.
When you’ve worked with young children as long as I have, you learn to deeply respect and appreciate the innate characteristics of human beings. From birth, our brains are pre-wired to connect deeply just by looking eye to eye. As young as eighteen months babies display compassion, wanting to help someone in pain. When such capacities are nurtured, children grow in a healthy way. When they are exposed to violence, fear, hatred, and anger, they grow up to feel threatened easily, defensive, and sometimes aggressive.
Today our schools are full of children in the latter category. Poverty, neglect, abuse, over-exposure to violent media take its toll on this capacity. We find that helping teachers bring their calm, caring presence to the classroom catalyzes a dramatic change in the classroom social and emotional environment. The adult is the model for the child. Mindful adults help children be more mindful and calm. They become what British Psychiatrist John Bowlby identified as a “secure base,” supporting children to safely take the little risks that are necessary to learn, to be creative and to think outside the box. I envision a new education that promotes these capacities among teachers and the skills and knowledge to integrate a mindful approach into learning activities that will enliven the curriculum and engage the innate human motive to learn and grow.
So, this is my vision. But there are a lot of details that need to be worked out here, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
Teachers, please share your experiences. How are you helping to build a more mindful educational system?