September 4, 2014

What's On Our Minds

If you have entered the front door of our elementary school in the last couple of days, and many of you came to our elementary back-to-school night last night, it would have been hard to miss this banner hanging above the door. This is an important message for all of us to reflect upon. It is our school-wide theme for the school year.

Following our highly successful Gratitude Project for our 25th Anniversary two years ago, and last year’s focus on different character traits throughout the year, our teachers chose to devote this year to practicing and reflecting on mindfulness for themselves and with their students.

Mindfulness, as defined by the Mindful Life group with whom Friends’ School has teamed up, is “paying attention to the present moment with kindness”. (We couldn’t quite fit every word into our banner!)

Despite our best efforts, our children are growing up in a world in which there are ever-increasing levels of stress.  Kids today can be over-scheduled, get too much electronic media and not enough sleep, and are unduly pressured to perform.

At Friends’ School, and I’m sure in a lot of our homes, we strive to be an oasis from those societal pressures.  To help us with that goal, our teachers have been eager to learn more about mindfulness and how to integrate this practice, and researched findings, into their teaching.

Research has conclusively shown that practicing mindfulness increases stimulation in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  People who practice mindfulness exhibit better focus and concentration, greater compassion for others, and an increased sense of calm.  In a school setting, this naturally leads to increased school performance, more skillful responses to difficult emotions, more empathy, natural conflict resolution skills, and happier and healthier kids who can work together and on their own successfully.

Many of our parents tell me that it is for reasons like these that they chose a school called Friends’ for their children in the first place.

Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways, at school, at home, and in private. Our teachers have learned about more formal practices that include becoming aware of our breath, noticing our thoughts, paying attention to sounds, visualizations, and focusing on sensations in our bodies to name a few. They are incorporating these practices into our everyday here at Friends’.

Informal practices can include eating mindfully, walking mindfully, or dedicating time to be fully engaged and present with our friends or family.

The Mindful Life group has taught us that it is possible to train the brain to be more resilient, but it takes practice, the kind of practice outlined above.

As well as focusing on mindfulness in our classrooms, Friends’ is inviting you to get involved.  We have invited Kristen Race, the founder of the Mindful Life group and the author of the popular book Mindful Parenting to Boulder to speak to our parents and the wider community and to answer your questions.  Please mark your calendars for the evening of Monday October 27th. We will be sending you more information in due course.

Our teachers will also be sending home from time to time interesting and relevant articles about their work to keep you informed, and to help guide your conversations at home.

Our first Parent Council meeting of the year is on Wednesday September 17 at 8:45 a.m. in the Great Room.  I welcome your presence and look forward to a discussion about our mindfulness work and whatever else may be on your mind.

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