Today’s students have a lot on their minds. Busy activity schedules, family issues, social media, and teen relationships can crowd students’ minds with concerns they find as pressing as schoolwork.
Enter meditation in the classroom. After catching on in the business world, mindfulness and meditation are being embraced by some schools as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation. Research shows that mindfulness practices can be beneficial for children and teens with aggression, ADHD, or anxiety. And, some educators suggest that meditation might significantly improve school performance and help close the achievement gap between students from low-income families and those from wealthier families.
Although some remain skeptical, one California middle school appears to be reaping the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom. Students at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica have been going through a mindfulness program – 15 hours of training to learn how to meditate, control their breathing, and focus. Then on a daily basis, they use those techniques to calm and center themselves before class.
“Our students don't know how to slow down,” said Pam Siever, a seventh-grade science teacher. “They don't know how to unplug and this gives them five minutes a day in my class and a few minutes in everybody's class to learn a new skill of being self-centered rather than just go, go, going all the time.”
Reactions from the students have been positive. Many report feeling more equipped to focus and concentrate in class, relax more throughout the day, and even perform better in activities outside of class, like sports.
Principal Steve Richardson said students like the program and parents and others in the community also have reacted positively.
“I've been in education for almost 20 years, then at the helm for a lot of change,” said Richardson. “This was the one with the least pushback I have ever seen. In fact, there was virtually no pushback of it. I think because the teachers got a taste of it, to see how that breathing supports their executive function, their anxiety levels, their stress levels. They know it's good for kids, particularly at this age.”
While mindfulness is free, the program isn't. The school spent about $30,000 to get it up and running, but rather than just impose forced meditation on the masses, teachers voted to try it. That, plus a willingness to tinker with and tailor the program as it goes, has resulted in a lot of enthusiasm.
For a complete look at John Adams’ experience with mindfulness in the classroom, listen to our Upgraded by Hobsons podcast: