Mindful Schools K-12 Curriculum Training

Mindful Schools K-12 Curriculum Training
Oakland, CA, Feb 22-24, 2013
Trainers: Megan Cowan, Vinny Ferraro, Chris McKenna

a report by Duane Retzloff

Friday Evening 6 – 9 PM
Welcome and Intros
About this training
What is mindfulness
Mindfulness in Education
Personal Practice
Getting Started
Demo of First Lesson

Saturday 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Short Sit
Practice Lab-Lesson 1
Role of the Teacher
Whole Group Practice Lab
Demo of Lessons 1
Demo of Lessons 2
Practice Lab
Videos, Q&A

Sunday 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Short Sit
Adolescent Guidelines
Demo of Lessons
Practice Lab
Science of Mindfulness
Moving Forward Q&A

I first found out about Mindful Schools from Lori Wong several months ago.  The mindful schools website is mindfulschools.org. I found out that a weekend course was to be offered in Oakland at the James Irvine Foundation Conference Center on Feb. 22 to 24th at the East Bay Community Foundation at a cost of $450. I thought I could benefit by taking face to face classes with the instructors, and so I registered for the classes a month in advance and was accepted.

In this training, we were taught by the example of the instructors and videos of actual mindfulness being taught in the schools how to teach mindfulness in the schools.  There were approximately 70 students in the room from all over the world and all over the United States. We then broke into groups of 6 and took turns teaching mindfulness to each other using the examples we were taught by the instructors.  We then evaluated each other to improve our skills.  The main purpose was to break the ice and do our first session of mindfulness instruction in a structured safe setting so that we would be more comfortable doing it on our own once we got back to our school settings.  The students were from a wide variety of backgrounds, from kindergarten teachers, to psychologists to PhDs in various universities to behavior counselors working in prison settings. My group included a man from Napa who worked with dysfunctional children, a lady from Washington of Hungarian origin who worked in a Montessori school, a girl from a university in Taiwan, and 2 girls with PhDs from Japan.

In the training, we learned the essence of mindfulness, the key lessons from the curriculum and how to adapt the curriculum for age and learning style.  We were taught mindful school teaching techniques and methods and were offered support for implementing our own program.  They trained us using demonstrations and video clips.  The instructors framed the content for presentation.  There were question and answer periods with small group exercises.  They taught us that mindfulness without heartfullness is not complete as heartfullness without mindfulness is not complete.

They taught us that mindfulness in education leads to better focus and concentration, and increased sense of calm, decreased stress and anxiety, improved impulse control, increased self awareness, skillful response to difficult emotions, increased empathy and understanding of others and development of natural conflict resolution skills.  They talked about mindfulness based stress reduction and how it can be used in hospitals to reduce the need for medications and can aid healing.

They showed how without mindfulness, stimulus simply produces a reaction, whereas when mindfulness is brought into the equation, it creates space which results in thoughtful and more wise response.

In our practice labs, each person in turn presented one of the 16 documented modules they choose to personally demonstrate. Each module was to be 10-15 minutes.  The presenter was asked to set the tone and the environment for the “role-play”.  We were to tell the group the age they should be and what environment you are in (school classroom, foster care facility, etc.)  When role-playing we were told to be nice, but throw the occasional curveball when appropriate, but focus overall on keeping the module flowing.  When the presenter was finished, feedback was limited to 5 minutes.  The presenter was to give one sentence on how it was for them. The participants were then asked to give one sentence on what went well.  We were told to avoid lengthy processing because watching other people practice is more valuable for the learning process.

Vinny then talked about the use of mindfulness for adolescents, specifically, incarcerated youth.  He had personal experience of being incarcerated which he could relate to. One of the guidelines for adolescent mindfulness was the importance of setting up the “container”, or the normative culture of the class.  It is important he said, to have agreements between the teachers and the adolescents about what is permissible and what is not.  He said that certain small things are very important, for example, the room configuration should be circled up tight with no spaces and minimizing traffic to find a setting free of distractions.  He also said the pitch was very important to get immediate engagement, to limit the role of personal disclosure and to use humor and naturalness. The adolescent mindful school curriculum modules were 15 minute lessons and, if you had more time, you could build around them.  The sample architecture given for a one hour class consisted of an intro sit (several moments of mindful breathing), check-in, weather report (how they are feeling), a 15 minute MS module of lesson and practice, 10 minutes for a game or story, 15 minutes for a council session and group process, a closing sit of several minutes of mindful breathing, and finally, a dedication of Merit during which they consciously acknowledged the positive work done during the session and dedicated it back. It was pointed out that his is not praying – it is the simple wish that other beings achieve peace, freedom and joy.  Once the youth know the dedication, one of them can lead it.  They would say it loud in a circle with everyone’s hands touching in the middle.

A sample game that they played is called “still chillin” in which the youth will see who can sit still the longest.  Everyone sits in a circle and the youth can breathe and blink, but no other movements.  If they move, you call them out.  The last person sitting still wins.  Prep the youth to focus on their breath in the present moment to help them sit still longer.  After they have processed the experience for a few minutes, they discuss how letting the body be still and not fidgeting is one aspect of mindfulness and that it takes time to practice and get good at it.

They also do something called Council Practice with the youth.  It is a relational arts practice that encourages deep and honest communication and is the most popular method for teaching mindful speaking/listening to the youth.  Based on practices common to many aboriginal and indigenous communities, council is a formal, structured process that includes sitting in a circle and passing a “talking piece” in response to a prompt from the facilitator.  The council practice revolves around four intentions.  The first is to listen from the heart, practicing the art of receptivity, suspending judgment, reaction and opinion.  The second is to speak from the heart with the heart, or learning to “speak into the listening” The third is to speak spontaneously without planning and only when holding a “talking piece”.  The forth is to “keep it lean” or get to the heart of the matter so everyone has time with the talking piece.

In getting a classroom started Vinny said that some things to consider are creating a container of awareness and compassion, setting agreements, if necessary with compassion and curiosity and changing the seating arrangement, if necessary.  He also said it is important that you be the example of what you are teaching and to make sure the youth are aware that mindfulness in not be be used as a punishment or disciplining tool.  He said it was important to be mindful of the needs of the room and to meet them where they are and take them where you want them.

He gave advice on the role of the mindfulness teacher, which applies to all ages.  He said the teacher should appear to be authentic, not to take things personally, inquire with curiosity, and share your own experience from empathy, not from the desire to be liked. He also pointed out that it was important to read the energy of the room, to look for small and simple successes, and be willing to go off script.

Chris and Megan reviewed the research that has gone into mindful schools institutions and hospitals.  More than 30 years of research showed benefits in adults as well as in adolescents.  In adults, it was shown to decrease physical and psychological symptoms, increase the ability to relax, reduce pain levels, result in greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improve self esteem and promote an ability to cope more effectively with stressful situations.  Benefits shown in adolescents  and an MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) study on young adults showed an 80% reversal in DSM (mental disorders) diagnosis.

UCLA published research done on children and mindfulness is new, but growing and shows an increase in executive function in 2nd and 3rd grade students.  It showed that kids with the lowest executive function had the most vast improvement over time.  The research showed that children taught mindfulness were better able to focus in the classroom, had an increased ability to calm down when upset and made better decisions.

A mindful schools controlled study was done in 2011/2012 in collaboration with UC Davis– the largest study on children in mindfulness to date.  It was a randomized control trial measuring program efficacy and sustainability.  829 students and 47 teachers in three elementary schools K-5 were evaluated.  90% of the students were on free/reduced lunch, and 49% of the parents did not have a high school diploma.  All three schools were in a relatively high crime area of Oakland.  The results, called the Kinder Associates Behavioral Rubric, were compiled from statistics teachers compiled where each student was given 4 simple sub-scale ratings using 5 point scales in the areas of 1) paying attention, 2) calmness and self-control, 3) self-care/participation and 4) care and respect for others. The results were measureable. Paying attention increased by 10.7%, calming/self-control increased by 9.3%, self-care/participation increased by 8.6%, showing care for others increased by 6.3% with an overall average increase of 8.1% over all categories.

One mindfulness session was dedicated to how mindfulness and the brain are interconnected.  It was explained that the prefrontal cortex contains the 9 high level functions (Dan Siegel) and includes intention to pay attention, emotional balance and regulations, body regulation and intuition (visceral experience). On the other hand, the Amygdala (or primitive brain) contains the emotional center which controls the primitive reactions of fight, flight or freeze and where brain scans showed emotion activation and naming deactivation.  The hippocampus is responsible for memory.  Measurements done on the brain showed that stress activates the Amygdala which produces a hormone that inhibits the hippocampus from storing and recalling information and also affects the prefrontal cortex such that executive function is inhibited, making it difficult to pay attention, unregulating emotional and body balance and affecting the ability to use one’s intuition.  Resources for these studies include Dan Siegel, The Mindful Brain, Mind Sight and The Whole Brain Child as well ad David Black who has compiled a summary of all research on mindfulness with 40 studies coming out per month right now (ref. www.minfulexperience.org).

In closing, they gave advice for becoming a mindful teacher. We were told that we could say that we competed the Mindful Schools Curriculum Training and been trained in the mindful schools curriculum, but we could not say that we are a Mindful Schools Teacher or represent Mindful Schools.  There is a longer and more detailed program that can be taken on line and in person over a period of a year to get certified as a Mindful Teacher.  They said that what is needed, if we were to become Mindfulness Teachers, to integrate mindfulness into education is to have clear intention (know our spectrum of influence), do personal practice, both indirect and direct teaching.  They said that after we have had the training to 1) start small, 2) offer our services free, 3) approach schools using our contacts, 4) offer a free presentation at a faculty meeting, and 5) prep teachers and parents by letting them know what to expect and what their role is while you are there.

My purpose in taking this instruction in the long term is to eventually teach mindfulness in a regular Kindergarten – 5th grade classroom.  My short term goal was to be able to use this instruction to help me with tutoring and mentoring that I do for 2nd and 3rd graders at Bret Harte Elementary School in West Modesto.  This school is in a high crime area and the children for the most part are from dysfunctional families where they get little help from their parents, so part of my job, in addition to instruction, is to be a friend and a mentor for these children.  The format for working with the children is that there are 5 of us tutors and we take a single child for 15 to 20 minutes for 4 periods, so I work with 4 individual children one on one.  I used the curriculum given to me by the Mindful Schools to choose from the 15 classes given to teach mindfulness to my own 4 children and chose the most basic introductory curricula to start with. I only devoted about 5 minutes or less to mindfulness depending on how receptive the children are to the training.  I have had good success in teaching mindfulness to my children, some more than others.  I start each session by having my children get in their mindful bodies (after first explaining what that is), get centered using their breath as an anchor (which I also explained at length).  After one or two sessions, I ask them how they have been able to use their mindfulness training, both within the classroom and outside of classes.  One of my students told me she uses the mindfulness training every day to help her deal with bullying by other students or when she starts to feel anger coming on or when others, including family members, get angry with her.  She told me she has actually been teaching mindfulness to other children and other family members. I also noticed that the children are progressing much faster in my tutoring.  I believe part of that is because I have my children get in their mindful bodies prior to my instructing them. I am hoping that my mindfulness training will help them become better citizens and good examples for other children to follow.