What if our students were taught a life skill throughout their K-12 education that developed their ability to control their emotions, solve problems creatively, increase their attention span and have more empathy?
And what if they were trained by teachers who were first taught these skills and learned to reduce their own stress levels, improve their health and bring and embody a sense of peace and calm?
We need to look no further than Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, southeast of Cleveland, to find the answer. In 2008, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan was struggling with the stress of working on Capitol Hill and attended a five-day mindfulness retreat conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Ryan found the experience so profound that he authored “Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us,” and earmarked nearly $1 million in federal funds to create the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in his school district. He has continued to champion SEL and mindfulness practice in schools and on Capitol Hill.
If you’ve ever had the experience of driving or riding your bike to work or school and you arrive without being able to recall the trip, that is an example of being on autopilot. Being consciously mindful is the opposite of that. It means that you are able to stay focused in the present moment.
In a recent “Humankind” interview aired on NPR, Congressman Ryan said that a study of more than 200,000 kids practicing SEL showed an 11 percent increase in test scores; a 10 percent increase in good behavior; a 10 percent decrease in antisocial behavior; and a 20 percent increase in the “mood” of the school, measured using mental health screening tools and rating scales.
This study looked at the results of SEL but didn’t include the outcomes of mindfulness training; Ryan believes that if it did, these numbers would reflect even greater improvement.
SEL and mindfulness training begins with four full days of teachers learning to manage and improve their own emotional health. Ryan appreciates the challenges teachers face and finds that when they are empowered with tools to better care for themselves, they have more focus and vitality to bring to the classroom and are excited to share the information with their students and other teachers.
If you think your family and community could benefit from SEL and mindfulness meditation, please look to those who are having success with it. Read Congressman Ryan’s book and look further into the work being done in Youngstown, Ohio, for guidance.
Of course, new and unusual ideas such as these aren’t implemented overnight. The fastest way to help your family and community adopt new social and emotional learning tools and mindfulness practice is to bring it into your own life.
There are many books as well as live and online courses one can attend. My current favorite can be found at soundstrue.com/mbsr. This eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course, created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, can be done in the comfort of your own home. From my own experience it is powerful and effective. Let’s raise a generation of children who are emotionally healthy and vibrant, because they are our future leaders.