Mindfulness in Schools: Empowering Students For Success

Students and teachers who are more mindful in the classroom have reduced anxiety, stress.

Students and teachers who are more mindful in the classroom have reduced anxiety, stress.

As we get ready to head back to school for the new academic year, I am aware of a movement that is sweeping across the country to make students and educators more mindful of their learning and their teaching. It is flying right in the face of high-stakes testing and assessment, but is it really setting the stage for the ultimate battle of Man vs. Machine?

Studies throughout the world are demonstrating that mindful students are taking control of their learning, their emotions, and their general state of wellness, improving their communities and strengthening their independence as a result.

In a paper just published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (20 June 2013), “Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: Non-Randomised Controlled Feasibility Study,” researchers concluded that “the degree to which students … practiced the mindfulness skills was associated with better well-being and less stress.”

Programs like Mindfulness in Schools are changing the culture of our classrooms and are empowering our students to be mindful learners, aware of their own learning styles and practices.

What is School Mindfulness?

Being mindful in school (a strategy for both teachers and students) is simple to practice, yet it is often neglected because of the pressures of assessment, placement, and evaluation. Because of the overwhelming pressure placed on schools to produce positive and high-ranking data, it is easy to lose the focus on the individuals comprising the data.

The principles of being mindful are easy to learn and to put into practice, even before the first day of school arrives. The definition of awareness, as given in “The Awareness Principle” by Peter Wilberg, can be easily applied to any education setting. As you read this summary of Wilberg’s findings, be mindful of the classroom setting you are familiar with and how mindfulness can empower teachers and students.

We have the power to be aware of our thoughts and feelings, of the way we express them, of the way they affect our bodies and our behavior. We have the power to be mindful of the way they lead us to act and react to others, of the way they color our view of the world, and of the way they affect our sense of ourselves. Awareness of our feelings and thoughts is not itself a feeling or thought, nor is it by itself anything bodily or mental; like space, it embraces and transcends each and every thing we are aware of. It creates space for clearer thoughts to arise, along with a new sense of ourselves.

When teachers and students enhance their self-awareness in the classroom, they make a decision to bring greater focus and meaning to their work, thus becoming more accountable for the purpose and intent of their actions.

Can Mindfulness and High-Stakes Testing Co-Exist?

It is easy to place mindfulness and high-stakes testing as polar opposites, making it seem like there is some difficult choice to make: either be mindful and aware of your experience in the classroom, or succumb to the machination of uniformity in a curriculum that continues to limit individuality.

I argue that practicing mindfulness in the classroom is a win-win scenario, both for you and for the school system. As more studies continue to demonstrate a correlation between mindfulness and wellness, students and teachers with reduced anxiety and greater focus can engage in the rigorous curricular activities while maintaining a “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) attitude.

At the very least, this awareness makes classroom content more relevant and applicable to individuals, giving greater reason for them to be engaged more meaningfully.

Over time, practicing mindfulness in the classroom will lead to an application of the WIIFM experiences to long-term goals that align with authentic career choices. Individuals will be devoting their time in their teens and well into adulthood engaged in meaningful work and charitable acts.

It seems like a no-brainer to students, teachers, and administrators: mindfulness is an empowering strategy for success, and integrating opportunities for students to be aware of their learning in the classroom makes perfect sense for now and our future, where our communities are filled with individuals who are actually living an inspired life, aligned with who they really are.


Follow Your Passion

Shift Your Energy, And Everything Changes.

We all carry within us an enormous, limitless supply of energy and creativity. It has to come out of us in some form, and we make the decision time and time again how we expend it.

Some of us make these decisions consciously; others have thrown themselves at the mercy of their environment unconsciously and allow it to be used or released or wasted as others see fit.

I’ve tried to always be conscious of it, but I often get so caught up in what I’m doing, that I don’t realize that I’m wasting my energy as plainly as the person who never realizes how their creativity or energy is being used.

You know what I mean, right?

We’ve all been there. Think about a time when you felt so strongly about a job, a relationship, a program. You put an incredible amount of energy into it because you wanted that end goal so desperately: to be wealthy, to be loved, to be smart.

How’d that work out for you?

The energy and creativity were probably off the charts, but the end result? Not so much.

That’s what I’ve been doing for so many years, creating and using energy for projects that I was absolutely sure were going to bring me great wealth and freedom. I convinced myself that “do the work” meant “sell your soul” to achieve greatness. Even though I kept feeling like I was giving my projects CPR just to keep them barely alive, I thought that this is what it took to “make it.”

I was wrong. Completely wrong.

When you follow your passion first, and simply choose to live your life in a way that provides solace and opportunity for others, you and your projects are never on life support. They blossom and thrive in ways you could have never imagined. Your creativity and energy become the soil, the rain, and the sun for that passion to grow abundantly — for your community and for you.

Realizing this has made all the difference in everything I write, I create, I do. I am no longer desperately looking for answers to solve my problems; I am looking for opportunities to share my passion for creativity and living fully with others.

I trust the rest will take care of itself when I follow my passion first. I cannot worry about anything else. With motivations that are pure and genuine, I know that goodness will prevail.

A Leap Of Faith

I know this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do. We are so programmed to chase those goals, meet those standards, define our lives by success. Being encouraged to follow your passion seems so antithetical to everything we’ve been taught.

The beautiful thing is that you don’t have to quit anything. All you need to do is shift your energy and your creativity, ever so subtly, to the things you are most passionate about. Everything else will take care of itself.

Shifting that energy might be in the way you greet others, in the way you listen a little more acutely, or in the way you are patient during challenging times (yes! we use energy in practicing patience!).

Exercising your creativity might be in how you express your thoughts and ideas to yourself and to others, in taking creative dates or explorations, or going beyond your comfort zone with various art forms — watercolors, photography, sculpture.

There is no big plan or program. You don’t have to declare anything in social media. It’s just about you, shifting your energy, and following your passion.

And once you do, you’ll see everything in a light so vibrant, so pure, you will begin to realize the limitless energy and creativity within, always available to the genuine and passionate YOU!


Being Impeccable With Your Time: Making Every Moment Matter

It’s a colder-than-usual April morning, and I have been up since 4:47 a.m., reading and writing, thinking and learning, meditating and relaxing. It’s a ritual of mine that I have practiced for nearly 30 years, and it has made all the difference in living a full and inspired life.

I am a self-described early-morning person. I know that my greatest productivity happens as the sun is rising, and knowing this has allowed me to structure my entire lifestyle around my hours of highest energy and focus.

It’s not for everybody, this early-morning routine. There’s just something about making those accomplishments so early in the day that makes me feel better about everything else I might be doing later. It ignites my creativity and my confidence in everything else I do. In other words, it helps me make every moment matter.

vw finish line half mara

Here I am, crossing the finishing line of the Baltimore Half-Marathon in October 2012.

I do a lot, and I enjoy everything I do, simply because I choose to do it. Last April, I realized that my weight was becoming an issue, especially in getting older. I made the decision to lose weight and participate in the Baltimore Half-Marathon. Through hard work, careful management of my time, and keeping my focus on my goal, I was successful. I have experienced very few moments of pride and accomplishment that rival crossing that finish line in October.

That was six months ago, though. Since that time, I have shifted my focus to other things that I enjoy (with a continued emphasis on writing and working with building stronger communities). As a result, my health has suffered, and I find myself a year later in April readjusting my time and my priorities.

In just a couple of years I will be 50, and what I have realized in this past year is that, to be impeccable with your time, you need to be diligent in how you use every moment. For me, I cannot allow myself to lose that focus for a single moment, for any reason. If I do, I know I will succumb to rationalizations that somehow justify my failures.

I need to be vigilant, every moment of every day, to stay the course and reach my goals.

One of the reasons why I am writing this post is because, recently, I’ve made some decisions to shift my focus so that my energy and productivity will help a larger number of people, while allowing me to reach some new wellness and financial goals. This requires me to think about more aspects of how I spend my time, including taking better care of myself.

My first instinct is to find role models who are already doing this with their own lives. There are many famous examples for us all to follow, but they are so… inaccessible when it comes to chatting with them about the inner workings of really being impeccable with time.

So I looked locally for that “perfect” role model, and I thought immediately of a former student of mine, Sam Hawkins.

Who Is Sam Hawkins?

sam hawkins 2013

Sam was crowned Miss Appalachia 2013 in January.

When I taught Sam a few years ago, she was our newspaper’s photo editor, an organized, focused, and likeable individual who always finished what she started. She took incredible risks with her photography, entering — and winning — local and regional contests. She needed no motivation or inspiration; she tapped into the energy within her to determine what she wanted, how to achieve it, and then succeed in reaching her goal.

Not so long ago, Sam decided to enter the world of pageantry, and like her ambition and drive in high school, she applied her will and determination to succeed in this arena. She was recently crowned Miss Appalachia 2013, and she is working hard at becoming Miss Maryland this June.

What does Sam do? A lot. She is currently taking five college classes with a 3.95 cummulative college GPA. She is a Humanities Scholar at UMBC and a member of the UMBC Honors College. She studies piano once a week at Peabody, volunteers with the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, and organizes fundraisers for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She just received an Undergraduate Research Award to write a book on Baltimore (tentative publication is early 2014). She trains at the gym, works out with a personal trainer, maintains a strict diet/nutrition plan, and frequently attends other appearances related to Miss MD. As if that is not enough, she has an active social life and a boyfriend.

So What Is The Secret?

I asked Sam, directly, what the secret was to her success. Like everything else with Sam, she was direct.

Let me first say that I’m no expert and this is something that I’m continuing to improve upon. But, the way I see it, everyone has the same amount of time in every day. You and I have the same 24 hours per day that Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, and Bill Gates had. Look at how much they accomplished!

It’s not an issue of having the time, it’s an issue of making the most of the time that you have. This is where priorities come into play.

I think the key to be high-achieving is to make a list of 5 priorities. For me, they go: 1. Health (physical, emotional, sleep, and essential relaxation), 2. Academics, 3. Friends, 4. Miss Maryland, 5. Work and other activities.

When it comes down to what I need to do in the day, I take care of things according to the priority list. For example, the first thing I do is make sure I have all my meals packed and ready for the day and make sure that I’m well rested. If you aren’t eating well or haven’t gotten enough sleep, you won’t be good at doing anything else.

Next up is academic stuff– I try to sit down and do whatever homework is due for the next few days an hour or two every day. This is done a lot of the time when I wait for the bus, am eating lunch, or whenever I designate time throughout the day. Friends and family are important too! I make time every few days for an evening where I don’t do anything but hang out. It helps you retain your sanity! Miss Maryland stuff I schedule in advance and then work my schedule around. It gives you a way to map things out, make to-do lists, etc.

Be Proactive In Your Planning

Sam continues:

Planning and preparation are truly the key for success. Figure out what you need to do and start knocking things out! Conquer your highest priorities first. If you’re just starting out with trying to increase your productivity I would suggest trying to keep a log of what you are doing on a daily basis and then looking back at it. Are you spending 3 hours every day on Facebook? Are you watching television instead of doing homework? Are you putting off work until the last minute? Chances are, you have the time available– you just don’t realize it.

The next step would be to make goals. I try to make 3 week, 3 month, and 3 year goals. WRITE THEM DOWN! Make goals, make a plan, put it into action. Rework your time to fit your goals. Instead of spending 3 hours watching television or playing on the computer, use 2 of those hours to make progress toward your goals.

Set time aside in advance and hold yourself accountable! If you want to get to the gym more, make it as important to you as a job interview would be. Set a time and then get to it! Always remember your priorities and that will help you stay focused.

Being super productive is not easy– if it was, everyone would be! But it’s totally possible and 100% worth it. You only have one life so make the most of it!

Be Impeccable With Your Time And Live Fully

Sam concludes:

Accomplish everything that you want to and never have what if’s. I promise that you’ll remember the moments where you worked hard to achieve a goal over the moments where you wasted time away staring at a screen. Make a point to go to bed every day satisfied and with the knowledge that you’ve accomplished something. Make steps to be the person that you admire and soon enough you will be that person. Good things don’t come to those who wait for them, they come to those who work hard and put in the time to get them.

Sam Hawkins, participating in Read Across America Day.

Sam Hawkins, participating in Read Across America Day.

For more information about Sam and her volunteer work (as well as her journey to the Miss Maryland Pageant in June), you can follow her on her website and on Facebook.