In the Grade 9 Dining Room, Lily, one of Shore’s “seniors,” asked us to close our eyes and bring our attention to our breath, to hear the sounds around us, to accept our thoughts as they come and go, and to concentrate on breathing. The entire ninth grade, with seriousness and dedication, followed her instructions, and we all emerged from the experience more serene and ready for the day. This is a scene that visitors to the Grade 9 room will see most days. Why?
One of the most important developments in education for the past two decades is the arrival of mindfulness in schools. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga all aim to encourage us to become aware of our habits of mind, train our attention, and understand and relate to our feelings and thoughts. Ensuring students become individuals who can self-regulate and practice self-care is the surest path to helping them manage the stresses of school and life.
Long-term success is not the product of receiving fleeting positive feedback; it results from giving students the ability to respond to negative feedback. In other words, a student’s long-term success is the product of learned resilience, and in order to be resilient, they need to be able to have perspective and self-control. The idea that happiness is the product of self-control is as old as philosophy itself. Seneca wrote, “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears…. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us.” Mindfulness and meditation promote long-term success and well-being.
Still, we live in a rapidly changing world, and many fear that old truisms will no longer hold for our children. Under the deep pressures of a global economy, many independent schools have become what the New York Times called “epicenters of competitiveness.” Fortunately, Shore has always been at the forefront of addressing the negative impacts of stress.
Shore first incorporated mindfulness as part of our Grade 8 wellness curriculum; more recently the Lower School has successfully adopted the Yoga 4 Classrooms™ program. In order to bridge the gap between Lower School practices and our Upper School culmination, and after much consideration, this year we have incorporated mindful practice in our Grade 8 and 9 Morning Meetings, which take place four times a week before the start of the school day.
In addition to our daily practice, this year we have introduced a Yoga and Relaxation Club that meets once every seven days. The purpose of this club is to give students interested in expanding and owning their practice a space to do so. Lastly, in the spring, Grade 8 and 9 students will receive a week of stress management and mindfulness training through Wellness Collaborative, an educational consulting firm dedicated to promoting health and preventing addiction. The approach to substance abuse prevention embraced by Wellness Collaborative is anchored in the idea that self-regulation is critical for stress management: “When self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and mindful decision-making are taught to students, it not only helps them succeed in school, but in all areas of life. Studies show that kids who possess these skills are happier, more confident, and make better students, family members, friends, and workers. They are also less prone to substance abuse [and] depression.”
Throughout the school year, Shore is thus offering a comprehensive and well-articulated mindfulness program for Grade 8 and 9 students. It is our hope that we will expand upon what we learn this year by promoting mindfulness in Grades 6 and 7 in coming years. Experts recommend this type of gradual introduction for mindfulness in education; they urge schools to keep things small, use mindfulness as a central part of the day, keep it secular, expect long-term results rather than short-term gains, and have students share their experiences. We are very proud of the steps we have taken to help students manage stress and behavior, and we look forward to expanding our offerings in this critical area.