Wednesday / May 29

Becoming Mindful by Design

Part 1 in a series about mindfulness in schools

As a featured blog series about Mindfulness in Schools, we’re placing a spotlight on Caitlin Krause’s new book Mindful by Design: A Practical Guide for Cultivating Aware, Advancing, and Authentic Learning ExperiencesWe’re also looking at mindfulness practices and educator reflections at Stoneham Central Middle School in Stoneham, Massachusetts, where some faculty and staff recently took part in Mindful by Design trainings with Caitlin Krause as facilitator. The first piece in the series, written by the author of Mindful by Design, is all about time.

When I ask teachers what their most valuable resource is, the answer I most often hear—applied to both school and personal life—is time.

Time seems to be in short supply these days, with so much going on that’s both disruption and distraction from the task at hand. Even the phrase “task at hand” makes me shudder a bit—it sounds more operational than experiential, more robotic than human. After all, mindfulness is all about awareness, and the ability to consciously approach the quality of the present moment, without judgment.

In learning worlds, the chance to be present—to celebrate our humanity, and learn how to develop a sense of calm, focused well-being, and awareness in midst of any situation, is a prime skill for the 21st century and beyond. In this fast-paced climate, if teachers and students can foster mindful well-being in their daily lives, both in and out of school, this will allow them to take back the day, feeling whole and connected.

It’s time to invite this chance to be even more human, which is brazenly aspirational in a digital age, where fostering traits of creativity, care, and curiosity make all the difference. And, in that way, to take back some time for ourselves, truly living in each moment, and able to have a greater quantity and quality of meaningful experiences.

This sounds so fluid, so smooth, but what does it actually look like when we dedicate ourselves to using mindfulness in the context of our everyday lives, in the midst of often busy environments and external constraints that sometimes seem designed to challenge our best intentions? It’s time to bring up some practical use cases and examples that can guide us as we create more sustaining learning worlds—for ourselves and our students.

With that in mind, Mindful by Design celebrates its launch with Corwin Press this month.

I decided to write this book because it was a text I wanted to read—a focus that I didn’t see available anywhere else. Mindful by Design is all about building awareness and a designer’s approach to mindfulness. If we’re each a designer of our experience, we get to develop it in a way that works best for us, then allowing that energy to reach out to our learning communities. In the book, I talk about three A’s involved in mindfulness: awareness, advancement, and authenticity. Developing these facets is part of practicing mindfulness, and there are many ways to do this that offer variation, choice, and deep reflection. It’s individual rather than formulaic. There are tips to develop a personal practice, and exercises to engage in with teams, classes, and groups across all disciplines—which underscores the importance of lifelong, diverse, inclusive learning.

There’s no better way to illuminate Mindful by Design than by shining a light on some of the ways it has animated active learning communities.

I recently joined educators at Stoneham to facilitate “Mindful by Design” trainings and interactive workshops. I had the chance to tour around middle school classrooms, meeting students and seeing some of the ways mindfulness is already playing an active role in shaping their classroom experiences.

In this first post in the series, I’d like to bring up some questions considered in the beginning stages of putting Mindful by Design into action:

Where can we start from, to involve a whole learning community in a mindfulness program?

Since “mindfulness” is a buzzword that’s often in the mainstream of media, we started with a simple survey that gave me an idea of who was already familiar with the term, who had been to a mindfulness retreat, and who might have experienced some coursework such as mindfulness-based stress reduction. (M.B.S.R.). We also talked about individual and collective needs, wishes, and observations.

I recommend having some sort of community pre-reflection, because, in addition to letting me know about each individual’s background, familiarity, and desires, it can serve to make the objectives of the program even more clear and evident. An online survey is nice because it can easily be anonymized, too, and you can return to it, as a coordinator or facilitator, to reflect upon your community’s intentions and values.

What are some of the standout learnings from the pre-workshop survey?

The pre-workshop survey that Stoneham teachers completed told me quite a lot. Teachers were generally enthusiastic about mindfulness, and there was a wide range of familiarity with the topic, from those who were reading books like Dan Harris’s 10% Happier to those engaging in daily apps like Calm and Headspace. Some had been to trainings, and others were brand new to the subject.

One question asked what word-associations come to mind when hearing the term “mindfulness.” The most common answers included “presence”, “awareness”, and “calm.”

When asked about their goals for the program, teachers’ responses were illuminating:

“reducing stress in the moment”… “engaging students in the learning process”… “increasing energy and stamina throughout the day for myself and my students”… “incorporating these practices into classroom activities” … “how to create a school culture that supports mindfulness” … “MAINTAINING mindfulness.” (Yes, maintaining was all-caps for emphasis!)

I listened carefully to these intentions and reflections, as a facilitator. And the feedback reinforced my view that mindfulness programs in learning need to be personal, flexible, and filled with a blend of practical and philosophical. Programs should address teacher’s needs as well as students’—and, the two complement each other. The community is involved, and the individual’s personal insight and reflection comes first. This is the spark that ignited Mindful by Design initially—the feeling that each of us can foster individual awareness, advancement, and authenticity, then extending that bridge to reach others, in our classrooms and larger learning communities.

How does Mindful by Design differentiate itself from other mindfulness resources?

In Mindful by Design, we focus on the philosophy of mindfulness first, and then we get very concrete and practical—applying it to personal life, classroom design and setup, and daily practices, in and out of school. Then, we extend to focus on ways to integrate mindfulness into specific curriculum areas, with practical exercises built-in. There are many variations, and a reader is invited to take the role of designer, modifying the structures and exercises to fit what feels good in her environment. As mentioned, we look specifically at the “Three A’s of Mindfulness: Awareness, Advancement, and Authenticity” as the prime facets that guide the ways we approach mindfulness-related topics in learning.

Mindful by Design is a hands-on resource, as well as a book that can be read to understand the theory and background of mindfulness practices. So, it satisfies the “what”, “how”, and most importantly, the “why” of using mindfulness to increase well-being in personal life and learning worlds.

What’s next?

Next, in this series, I’ll be jumping right in and featuring classrooms in Stoneham Middle School, talking 1:1 with teachers about the challenges and benefits of using mindfulness with purpose, every day, as they focus on the demands of curriculum, and the individual needs of their students. When mindfulness comes to life in real use cases, it animates Mindful by Design in a remarkable way, with the goal of inspiring teachers around the world to try out some of the practices for themselves. As you’ll read, the time engaged in mindfulness practices opens up greater freedom in learning environments, as the quality of learning experiences increases multifold. Talk about time well spent!

Written by

Caitlin Krause is a globally-recognized learning expert, author, and keynote speaker. In her book Mindful by Design and through her organizational consulting, she helps individual leaders and teams leverage mindfulness, storytelling, and design principles to connect more deeply with their audiences.   As founder of the MindWise consultancy, co-founder of the Center of Wise Leadership, and a virtual reality specialist, Caitlin contributes to building products and experiences that promote humanity, innovation and emotional intelligence. She speaks extensively in Europe and North America, leading professional development and learning workshops. She holds a BA from Duke University and an MFA from Lesley University, and believes in embracing creative constraints, living a life filled with moments of wonder, and connecting with passion, purpose and presence.

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