What if, instead of sending bullies, mean kids, and disruptive students to detention, principals sent them to a meditation room, where they learned mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques, and were encouraged to talk about the incident that landed them “in meditation?”
What if, instead of rolling their eyes (or claiming “I didn’t mean it that way”) students who mocked, taunted, and ridiculed their classmates (and those classmates who were hurt by/acted out in the face of such social aggression) were offered the option of doing yoga, practicing breathing exercises, and exploring the stressors that led to behaviors that shamed their classmates?
What if guidance counselors received training in these practices, and/or mental health experts in schools were qualified to provide mindfulness instruction to students? Or if schools partnered with mindfulness institutes like the Holistic Life Foundation to create programs that sent students who were socially and/or emotionally disruptive to a “time out” space—a room with essential oils, overstuffed pillows, yoga mats, and an ongoing loop of exercises that promoted mind-calming stress-reduction skills?
This is exactly what a handful of schools in the U.S. and the U.K. have begun to do. CNN reports that in West Baltimore, at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, "meditation-interventions" have become part of the school culture:
"Into a room of pillows and lavender, an elementary school student walks, enraged. He's just been made fun of by another student, an altercation that turned to pushing and name-calling. But rather than detention or the principal's office, his teacher sent him here. "
MNN.com reports that in England, beginning the first week of February (Children's Mental Health Week), up to 370 schools will participate in a three-year trial involving mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and student sessions with mental health experts.
Meditation has been shown to improve physical health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Its particular effectiveness addressing anger, anxiety, and even ADHD are increasingly well-documented. Mindfulness slows the breathing, and turns attention away from racing thoughts and toward the sensations of the body. Sitting quietly—in the here-and-now—students are encouraged to feel their feelings, and let them go; to allow thoughts and emotions to arise, and to watch them, without judging. As they become alert to various sensations in their body, and slow their breathing, they change their relationship with the stressors that have landed them in “meditation.” When students begin letting go of physical tensions, they begin developing the skills that foster self-regulation, and the perspectives that scaffold acceptance—of self and other.
The initial results have been overwhelmingly positive: Coleman has not issued a suspension in two years—the same amount of time they’ve been experimenting with teaching mindfulness and calming techniques to students. Their partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation (the “holistic me” plan) includes a 15-minute daily meditation at the opening and close of each day, a pillow-filled Mindful Moment Room where disruptive students will be sent by their teacher (or where students can voluntarily spend time), and after-school yoga classes. Other schools, like Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, which began its meditation program over a decade ago, have had similar results.
Although these results are not based on clinical trials, the schools that have served as laboratories are satisfied to allow the proof to be in the pudding. Their programming has bypassed the need for strict definitions and control groups, comparing current school climate, absentee numbers, and rates of suspension to those in prior years. To principals and teachers, this is sufficient evidence that mindfulness programming can have a positive impact on their students, which in turn has improved the climate of their schools. Bullying still occurs, but when it does, there are ways to address the dynamics in play before situations spiral out of hand.
If you are interested in exploring mindfulness programming in your school, resources include the Mindful Schools organization, which has been training teachers and facilitating mindfulness in US schools since 2007. In the UK, the Mindfulness In Schools Project has been providing teacher training in education since 2009.
Special thanks to Psychology Today Education for giving this advice