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The Practice of Mindfulness

04 Feb The Practice of Mindfulness

Bridget Parker, First Grade teacher, and Nora Goddard, Next Schools and Community Relations Coordinator, attended the three day Learning and the Brain Conference on the Science of Character in Boston, Massachusetts. Here, Nora recaps the conference and shares how this work impacts Advent’s curriculum.

Nora Goddard

Next Schools and Community Relations Coordinator Nora Goddard

Bridget and I attended this conference as part of our work on the Social Emotional Curriculum Committee, one of Advent’s faculty committees. This year the committee–which is comprised of teachers, specialists, and an administrator–is exploring how social emotional learning supports academic growth. From that exploration, the committee will identify ways teachers at all grade levels, across all disciplines can reinforce these skills through consistent lessons and strategies that are either independent lessons or weaved into Advent’s curriculum.

The Science of Character: Importance of Self-Control
Presenters at the conference focused on self-control and self-regulation. In his famous Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel, PhD finds that children who demonstrate self control in the moment for bigger rewards later exhibit more prosocial behaviors and have more social connections as well as added academic success later in life.

To resist eating the marshmallow, children used many strategies that altered their perception of the candy. Mischel shared one child who when first presented with the task ate the marshmallow within 30 seconds. After experimenters recommended that this child turn the marshmallow into a picture, she withheld from eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes. When asked how she was able to resist eating it for so long, she responded, “You can’t eat a picture.” We all have the ability to demonstrate self-control, but often we need help along the way.

Yet, self-control or willpower in one area can deplete it in another. For example, a student who tries so hard to resist the urge to get out of his seat may experience less success on a math test. So how do we go about enhancing self control without depleting our students to the point where they cannot perform in other areas?

Mindfulness supports the development of self-control, along with other prosocial behaviors. Weaved into the study of mindfulness is increasing one’s ability to acknowledge and move on from extraneous stimuli, along with feeling grateful and proud of oneself. From there develops generosity.

In a study conducted at Northeastern University, David Desteno and his lab assistants found that students who completed a mindfulness program were more generous. In the experiment, a subject sat in a room into which an actor walked in on crutches. Those who received mindfulness training were three times more likely to give up their seat for the seemingly-injured person compared to those who did not go through the training.

Advent School photos by Christopher Huang

Advent students explore yoga, meditation, and mindfulness with Ms. Bissanti each week. Through this practice, she teaches the importance of setting an intention and focusing on the present moment. This year, she is asking students to notice when they are using their yoga or mindfulness practice outside of the yoga classroom. Students’ remarks demonstrate their abilities to calm down when frustrated, to re-focus during a test, and to settle disagreements with peers, as well as other prosocial behaviors:

What’s valued in schools?
There appears to be a disconnect between what kids think we as adults (teachers, parents) value and what the adults actually value. In a survey, students revealed that they believed academics were valued first over happiness and caring, when in actuality, adults valued caring the most. The Making Caring Common Project writes about this misalignment and is working to realign our priorities.

Promoting a Caring Community
By understanding similarities between community members, students exhibit more compassion. To bring the Advent community together more regularly, the faculty Community Share Committee is working on reinvigorating Advent’s tradition of “share” during which students from different grades showcase their work to the whole school. Our older students also act as buddies to younger students, connecting kids in various grades. Finally, during after-school, students in Fourth through Sixth grades have the opportunity to practice their leadership skills by helping out in younger classrooms and supporting teachers in other classes.

However, it’s important not to praise students for their caring personas (as counter-intuitive as that may seem), but rather just expect it. Praise comes up a lot in education these days. How do we praise kids so that they continue growing, rather than make them think they have reached their limit? In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck gives the following example for when a student completes a task quickly and easily: “Whoops. I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!”

As Dr. Darcia Narvaez pointed out in her talk, we need to encourage perseverance, process, and hard work to help students develop a growth mindset – not succeeding at tasks that are quick and easy.

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” -Pablo Picasso

As students develop these qualities, they also come to recognize their signature strengths–strengths that they are most proud of and core to the person. By highlighting these strengths and using them to build upon other qualities, students begin to find their purpose. As Pablo Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Without a purpose, we would be lost. Even the youngest of student needs a purpose to continue being an artist in whatever that purpose is.