Earlier this spring, in the post Becoming Mindful by Design, I introduced the benefits and strategy behind launching an effective, lasting mindfulness program in schools. I talked about the inspiration and philosophy that underpins my latest book, Mindful by Design, all about creativity-driven learning with an innovative mindset, empowering learners of all ages, whether in a school setting or workplace, to apply mindfulness with precision, clarity and impact.
I’ve been emphasizing the challenge of using one of our greatest limited resources, time, in a mindful way. When I started the research and writing that became Mindful by Design, I was struck by the number of teachers who told me they didn’t have enough time to add “mindfulness” to the list of things they were doing in a classroom. They were pained, sharing this, because they genuinely wanted to incorporate mindfulness in their daily practice, yet didn’t have examples of exercises with curriculum links, context, and personal meaning. On top of this, they were contending with a schedule and demands that often leave anyone in the profession of teaching frenetic, overwhelmed, and without enough reserves. They might have had a 1-or-2-minute mindfulness exercise in mind, yet then they were left without ways to build meaningful connections.
For me, this visible need from fellow educators worldwide was a calling and an invitation to provide mindfulness strategies, exercises, explanations and resources that had transformed my own classrooms and learning spaces into ones of colorful storytelling, expression, voice, poetry and active leadership. The four cornerstones of dignity, invention, freedom and agency are alive in these practices, with a mindset that drives the framework.
Stoneham Public Schools in Massachusetts began incorporating Mindful by Design trainings into their professional development, giving educators in middle school and high school a chance to practice new ways to use mindfulness in their classroom settings, counseling roles, and leadership positions, as well as in their personal lives.
One of these teachers, Kerriann Lusk, uses mindfulness every day in her classroom, and she’s actively incorporating new mindful ideas every day. Kerriann has been a teacher for five years, and her expertise is teaching students with special needs. She’s currently a full-time eighth-grade teacher at Stoneham Central Middle School, and she has taught grades 1-4 and grade 7 previously. For the past two years, Kerriann has consciously and explicitly been involving mindfulness in both the physical design of her classroom environment, and in the structures and routines she creates for students.
In Mindful by Design, I talk a lot about the environment and design of a classroom setting a foundation for quality learning. Relationships between teacher-student, student-student, and even student-self (the primary relationship!) are all part of the core dynamic resulting from good design. Kerriann’s approach to using mindful design strategies is a powerful example of making mindfulness and design principles visible in a classroom space, and hearing her thoughts about her own decision-making and philosophy give us all a window into how to make those initial choices that prioritize mindfulness, with big payoff.
Kerriann says mindfulness is much deeper than an add-on to her curriculum in place. “I feel incorporating mindfulness into our daily routine is essential for all students, but especially for those with disabilities. I believe all students benefit and need (though not all are exposed) to times to take care of themselves. School for a lot of students is overwhelming, difficult, stressful and scary. Students might act out to gain or avoid an aspect of school, or they might not have self-awareness developed to understand why they’re acting inappropriately. I have seen such an improvement in many of these students because they are becoming more aware of themselves through mindfulness. They can be proactive instead of reactive if they need a break or need help.”
Using mindfulness also has a personal advantage for Kerriann. “I know I benefit by practicing mindfulness. I used to be extremely overwhelmed rather easily, but I enter anything that could seem daunting calmly and clearly. When I am frustrated with student behavior I do not ever let it impact how I feel, but I am able to take a deep breath and calmly address the problem behavior.”
While Kerriann was already practicing mindfulness and familiar with core concepts, the Mindful by Design trainings were a useful reinforcement, and gave ways to stretch. “Everyone walked away refreshed. We all need those times to reflect, refresh, and learn something that can change our experiences. I think the part of mindfulness that has helped me the most has been taking care of myself. After experiencing the trainings, I learned there are a lot of other ways to incorporate mindfulness in my day to day life other than meditating. For example, doing a free writing exercise, pausing and listening to music. I incorporate mindfulness journals in my life and in my classroom. I also realize how significant teaching mindfulness is for students to get through their difficult days and enjoy their better days!”
The approach to mindfulness in Kerriann’s classroom involves a routine that has wellbeing at heart, and many opportunities for reflection. Mindfulness shows up in different ways, shapes and forms, all of which reflect Kerriann’s teaching style and the personalities of her students. “We do mindfulness every day. ‘Mantra Monday’ is where we come up with a special mindfulness saying for the week, ‘Mindful Tuesday’ is where we do different meditations. Wednesday is ‘Positive Word Wednesday’ when we give ourselves positive words of affirmations, ‘Thankful Thursday’ where we talk about what we are grateful for, and ‘Feel Good Friday’ to send positive thoughts to someone else.”
Colorful signs posted around the classroom serve as joyful proclamations of the daily themes, and students also have the chance to express themselves and concentrate on personal wellbeing. “We have mindfulness journals they write in. I think students need a social-emotional focus and that should be more of a priority than academics at this age group. In 8th grade, students struggle in many aspects and need time to understand how they feel and who they want to be. More and more we see students with anxiety, depression and attentional disorders. This is the time to work on their wellbeing in order to be functioning happy adults contributing positively to society.”
What’s resulted is a powerful mindset shift that has impacted every aspect of the learning environment, from overall mood to academics to camaraderie. Kerriann’s insights about her commitment to creating mindful learning opportunities for her students give new ideas that point to the future of mindfulness in learning.
Recapping some useful seeds we can each plant in our own environments, here are three ways we can each incorporate Mindful by Design methodology right now:
- Start keeping a mindfulness journal for yourself, and encourage students to use reflective mindfulness journals in class.
- Establish a routine, daily or weekly, that involves elements of mindfulness. Make it something that fits your style and lets students see your visible commitment to mindfulness values, which Mindful by Design identifies as Dignity, Invention, Freedom and Agency.
- Use your mindfulness practices as a gentle guide to stay open and positive, consistently, with patience, kindness, and courage. That persistence will pay off, as your visible mindset of open curiosity toward greeting each moment positively affects others in your community.
I remind myself, daily, of the ripples the can extend from starting with a few simple personal mindfulness practices and a genuine mindset. As Kerriann and I agreed, educators need to “secure our own safety belt first, before securing others.” How will mindfulness make a difference in your day?
To access detailed Mindful by Design methodology, journal prompts, mindfulness resources and daily practices you can implement into your classroom right away, visit www.caitlinkrause.com.