Meditation in Schools: Part 1

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I contend that effectively implementing meditation makes for more beneficial restorative practices in schools.

This three-part blog post discusses ways to articulate what meditation is for school audiences, why meditation makes for more beneficial restorative practices, and some characteristics of what an effective implementation of meditation might look like.

Based on my lived experience and work with diverse youths, I believe that meditation offers a fundamental way to navigate our social and emotional worlds, so that we can better function and achieve our goals. It has helped me with myriad aspects of my life, and it can help students more fully engage with their social and academic lives.

However, I’ve heard about and directly witnessed multiple failed attempts to implement meditation practices in schools. Across these failures, I’ve found that a poor articulation of the aims combined with mismatching efforts to the strengths of a setting, tends to trigger challenges. For example, when it’s not clearly explained how or why students and educators can benefit from an ongoing meditation practice, they’re apt to resist jumping straight into it, which could be perceived as a radical departure of behavior from their everyday activities and culture. In all cases of failed implementation, those who would likely benefit from a consistent meditation practice were left with derisible perceptions of meditation – in effect, as something less-helpful.

Here, I list 5 ways to framing meditation, so that it might resonate better with diverse school audiences, from students to teachers and administrators.

Focus on the essentials of meditation.

Folks are rife with pre-conceived images of what meditation is. Take a moment to think about what stereotypical images come to mind, and reflect how misaligned they are with everyday kids in everyday schools as schools currently are. Instead of triggering these images, try focusing on the fundamental mechanics of meditation, perhaps leaving out the word “meditation” entirely from early introductions.

Some essentials of meditation include developing:

  • the ability to attend to one thing by gently re-shifting focus back to the present task at hand (sometimes having a notebook to write down errant thoughts while meditating can help, if the practitioner knows they can come back to those thoughts later)
  • an awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations
  • an ability to think before acting when one feels a strong emotional reaction

Frame meditation as something directly useful to everyday school tasks.

Please take a moment to consider  how each of the essentials listed above has immediate relevance to everyday school learning.

How might re-shifting attention be relevant to finishing an assignment? Listening to a lesson?

How might developing awareness of one’s thoughts help students respond to an educator’s questions, increase their capacity for creative thinking, and contemplate alternate viewpoints on social issues?

How could  thinking before acting serve communication skills and resolving conflicts? Or even working through difficult tasks and procrastination?

How might these same meditation essentials help teachers perform better across their lives, so that they can be more present and effective at school? How could it give educators the tools to articulate their needs, so that the school might structurally organize to enable their success?

Creatively introduce ways to practice meditation essentials.

If we wanted to focus on attending to one thing, working on an assignment can be a meditative activity. As an academic at a university, I strive for 8, 30-minute productive meditations everyday while I work. This requires picking a single action-oriented task to complete, using a notebook to jot down anything that comes to mind to address later, and then shifting my attention back to my work, while using a timer to make sure I stay on schedule.

If we wanted to develop awareness of our feelings, needs, and bodily sensations, students might play a game while standing in line and waiting. They might all try to identify one feeling that they are having by locating it within their body, describing the sensation, and then attempt to identify the feeling.

If they wanted to develop an ability to think before reacting to a strong emotional stimulus, P.E. teachers might teach and then encourage students to use strategy in competitive sport activities. They might also help students process their emotional experience of sports.

Speak from personal experience.

When introducing meditation, speak from personal experience. I’ve been able to articulate these creative ways because I’ve struggled through trying to implement meditation in my hectic middle-class American lifestyle. I have also convinced skeptical educators of the benefits of meditation by speaking directly to what the impacts of meditation have been on my life, and the struggles I’ve engaged with.

Introduce meditation in context of relationships.

Meditation practices are simultaneously personal and difficult. For skeptical students and educators to embrace these practices, they need to be able to authentically connect to discuss vulnerable topics that may come from meditation expereinces. Personally, I struggle with identifying and naming feelings as they emerge and I find meditative practices that focus on these to be very difficult. The most progress I’ve made in getting better at this were with fellow adults whom I had already spoken with about emotions associated  with concerns, recent struggles, and celebrations. Students will be less likely to speak with a teacher about their struggles attending to a task if they don’t trust the teacher with personal information.

Part 2 of this blog series on meditation in schools will focus on why meditation makes for more beneficial restorative practices.