Schools need to be mindful of mindfulness

Lucy Moran, Staff Reporter

Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center in a national survey of around 21,000 high school students reported in January 2020 that nearly 75 percent of those students reported negative emotions, such as stress and fatigue at all times. 

   It’s no secret that school can be stressful. Almost every student is familiar with this feeling along with those other feelings of overwhelmedness and procrastination, and these feelings may even be more overpowering now given the COVID-19 pandemic. 

   It’s more important than ever, then, for students to learn how to take control of their thoughts and get rid of a little bit of this stress, and schools can help students achieve this by incorporating the practice of mindfulness more regularly throughout the school day.

   Social Worker Christopher Novak described mindfulness as “the practice in training the mind to be in the present moment and not judging whatever arises.”

   Studies have found that practicing mindfulness can be beneficial in many respects. It can help reduce stress and anxiety while increasing academic performance and well-being.

   While mindfulness isn’t going to solve every problem one may have, it can help a person learn how to feel more in control in the moment while also practicing gratitude.

   Novak, who participates on various committees associated with mindfulness, including the Coalition of Schools Educating Mindfully and our school’s Get Your Mind Right club, spreads these practices by focusing on not only students but also school personnel. He leads school staff members in mindfulness practices and helps them incorporate these practices into their classroom settings.  

    “When I go to classrooms, I feel like there is a need for [mindfulness],” Novak said. “It seems to me that students really appreciate it.”

   Wellness Teachers Brett Wilhelm and Michael Vukovics, who see themselves as mindfulness and gratitude advocates and who incorporate such concepts into their classes, emphasized the need for these practices in each person’s life while recognizing what form those practices take can look different from person-to-person.

    “With adults and teenagers, we are so technologically-oriented nowadays, and it’s an opportunity to not care about social media or anything school-related [for a time],” Wilhelm said.

   This seems like timely advice after many students spent a large chunk of last school year glued to a computer screen during remote learning. It can be hard for some to transition away from technology, yet it’s important to escape from that in order to center one’s attention on one’s self in the present moment. 

   In recentering like that, one might discover this point made by Vukovics. 

   “If you have control over something, control it. If you don’t, let it go,” he said.

   And that’s some advice many need to hear in a pandemic, or even in the day-to-day happenings of a school, where much can feel out of one’s control.

   Though practicing mindfulness may seem like an easy task, it can become difficult to consistently and persistently implement. Because of this, some may find it unmotivating and not worthwhile, especially among teenagers who may show resistance or frustration toward a practice that may require some discipline and focus. They might ask: what’s the use of taking 10 minutes out of one’s day to sit there just to think and breathe?

   But just like anything worthwhile in life– from playing a sport to a musical instrument– mindfulness takes time. 

   “I’ve been practicing a little over 15 years now,” Novak said. “They say you’re always a beginner, so you have to practice to see the benefits.”

   One place students can be given the time and space to practice this is at school. After all, 

school is where students are supposed to learn, and why not add learning mindfulness to the list, especially if mindfulness isn’t about changing someone’s life but more about how they should approach it? 

   Some students might resist the idea at first, but they can come to realize that mindfulness does not need to be limited to guided practice, which Novak has offered for staff and students. Instead, one can think of mindfulness as anything that gives someone a feeling of contentment by getting them to focus on what they are doing in the moment. 

   The first step, then, is simply to acknowledge the potential benefits of mindfulness efforts and to be open-minded to trying it through avenues already in place– such as by joining the Get Your Mind Right club. From there, teachers and students can continue to educate each other about mindfulness, specific courses could be created for it, and even better, many of the courses already in place at the school could incorporate it into the curriculum.

   But first, let’s just start by recognizing this: the past is gone, the future is not here yet, so let’s start focusing on the present just a little bit more.