My Journey To Becoming a Mindful Educator
In 2015, while teaching in Hanoi I started to become increasingly interested in Mindfulness in Education. My sixth grade class was composed mainly of Korean students and from my two years experience teaching in South Korea I was aware of the academic pressures that Korean students face from their parents and from their society in general. It was my experience that a true sign of success in Korea was rooted in academic excellence and thus the pressure to excel academically at a high level began at a very young age. This pressure only intensifies as Korean kids advance in their school careers and I was observing the impacts of this pressure on a few of my Korean students.
The first article I read about Mindfulness in Education was from an Edutopia article, “Teach Mindfulness, Invite Happiness”. This article piqued my interest and I continued to read and uncover further articles such as this Harvard Review article, “If Mindfulness Makes You Uncomfortable, It’s Working“, and resources such as “Go Noodle: Empower Tools” . I was learning so much about the powerful benefits of brining mindfulness practices to the classroom and I began to utilize the Go Noodle: Empower tools soon there after. Another article I stumbled upon from The Atlantic, “When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom,” is what opened the door to Mindful Schools.
Mindful Schools is an organization based out of Oakland, California, USA that offers a variety of Mindfulness courses to educators. They have carried out extensive research via pilot programs in the US to support the practices efficacy in school classrooms. I immediately wanted to enroll in the Mindfulness Fundamentals course as professional development for my current classroom. After all the reading and research I had done, I believed these practices could greatly benefit my Korean students (and all my sixth grades students) already riddled with stress and anxiety from the academic pressures of their families. Unfortunately, I was working in a Lutheran school at the time and they did not believe that mindfulness practices aligned with their own religious ideas and practices and I was not approved to take the course. In fact, I was actually called into the principals office and discouraged from using the word “mindfulness” in my classroom at all or implementing any mindfulness practices myself. I was confused and disheartened by these turn of events, but it did not change my perspective on the power of simple breathing techniques that could help students find stillness and a sense of piece in the moment. I did continue to use Go Noodle in my classroom, but I did not use the word mindfulness when introducing the various Go Noodle Empower Tools videos.
Later that school year I accepted a job at the Green School in Bali, a school that already believed in and utilized mindfulness practices (to some extent) in their classrooms. When I told my future principal of my struggles of bringing my mindfulness practices into my current middle school classroom and of my interest in taking the Mindful Schools courses, he was extremely supportive and offered professional development support. I enrolled in the Mindfulness Fundamentals course immediately, followed by the Mindful Educator Essentials course.
Upon arriving at Green School, I connected with another educator who had been working at the school for two years and trying to get a cohesive school wide Mindfulness program off the ground. She too, had enrolled in and nearly completed the Mindful Schools course. The completion of this course allowed us to obtained their K-12 curriculum pack for implementation in our own school. We worked as program co-coordinators to form a mindfulness committee that included members from each of the Learning Neighbourhoods at Green School (primary, middle, and high school). By January of my first year at Green School I was co-planning and leading Professional Development workshops for each of the Learning Neighbourhoods and helping to launch a school-wide mindfulness program rooted in the Mindful Schools curriculum.
As an addition to the daily mindfulness practices that were implemented within our schools classrooms, we also wanted to come up with a way to impact and encourage the entire school community to get behind our mindfulness practices. Being that we were working at the progressive (some might say “hippie”) Green School on the Hindu Island of the Gods, Bali, it did not take a lot of convincing with our school administrators to purchase a “Mindfulness Gong”.
The aim was for the Gong to sound once to provide all community members on campus at that time to stop, breathe, and take a mindful moment. The idea behind the gong was actually inspired by my time spent completing my masters degree from TCNJ at an offsite school in Bangkok called NIST. During that summer at NIST, a sporadic mindfulness chime would echo throughout the school over the loud speaker at various times throughout the day, which provided a moment of solace, a moment to stop, breathe, and reflect during some heavy grad school lectures and discussions.
The mindfulness program continues to run at Green School, Bali and I am still an acting school-wide coordinator of the program.