Betsy Hanger

A Way of Teaching and Being

Meet Alan Brown, a Dean and English teacher at a progressive high school in New York City. He took a deep dive into mindfulness and it changed his teaching and his ability to create peace within himself.

Alan Brown teaches mindfulness to three high school students.I came to the Year-Long because I wanted first and foremost to bring a mindfulness tool kit to my students—something that could help with their academic stress as well as the emotional roller coaster of their social lives. While I understood this meant I had to practice mindfulness myself, I couldn’t have anticipated how much it would change my own life.

Our first retreat of our Year-Long began with a deep dive into silence and personal practice.  The panoramic mountaintop vistas and beautiful redwoods were easy to appreciate; it was much more difficult to just sit and examine my inner landscape.  Both my body and my mind were so agitated—fidgety, uncomfortable, unsettled—that by the end of the first day, I was strongly questioning my judgment in committing to a whole year of this.  But somewhere in the second day, continuing to pay attention to that agitation helped me see what I was actually agitated about—the parts of my experience to which I’d not given proper time or space before then.  I had no idea how upset I was with a colleague until I noticed the thought of arguing with him recur every five minutes or so.  I had no idea of just how much I was overeating until—with quite literally nothing else to notice—I saw that I was already full after my first helping and yet still went back for another portion.

To my surprise, the more I simply observed the agitation, the hunger, the anger, arise in my body, the more they also began to dissolve on their own.  This natural healing power of the body amazed me, and it gave way to a profound sense of stillness.  The teaching made sense in a whole new way, and only then could I understand that it was this sense of peace—not any breathing or bell-ringing exercise—that was the most important thing I could bring back to my students.  Before teaching them to breathe or calm down or focus or anything else, I had to show up differently as a non-reactive, present adult in their lives.  It was a way of teaching and being; not teaching a way to be.

New York City is a far cry from the quiet and peaceful mountaintop retreat setting, and upon my return to school, it took real work to cultivate that same sense of stillness.  But all of the stimulus of the city and all of the chaos of a school environment simply became part of my personal practice—noticing my reaction when I was frustrated with a student or how I felt when a lesson wasn’t going well.  In the face of all of these challenges, I learned to show up mindfully, both to my classroom and my life, and in so doing, I found precisely the tool kit I’d been looking for—one which had been there all along.

Alan graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2013. Stay tuned for more graduate stories in coming weeks.

Chris McKenna

Guest post from Danielle M., Mindful Educator

Thank you Danielle for bringing this work to life and making such a positive impact!

~ Guest post from Year-Long Certification participant Danielle M., an educator in New York ~

I truly feel that mindfulness has changed my life and I am LOVING my experience with Mindful Schools. In 2013, I took an MBSR course. After the first session I asked, “Why isn’t anyone doing this with children!?” Hahah, little did I know! Learning how to bring mindfulness into the classroom with the support of Mindful Schools has been more than what I could have hoped for. Without a doubt, it really has been one of the best learning experiences of my life!

For the past 6 years, I have served as a Literacy Coach for grades K- 5 in a NYC public school in Jackson Heights, Queens. I work with teacher teams as well as with students. I taught second grade for 9 years before that . . . and loved every single minute of it. During my undergrad work, I majored in sociology and elementary education. I went on to become a reading specialist and received National Board Certification in Literacy.

This year, in addition to coaching and teaching reading, I am teaching mindfulness to students at different grade levels. Since I am a coach, I have the opportunity to visit classrooms made up of students at all grade levels. The curriculum is so flexible that it allows me to work with kids at any age.  I also work with students with disabilities and students who are English language learners. I am able to adapt the curriculum to the needs of my students without too much difficulty. When I get stuck, I always have someone to turn to for help. The weekly teachings, videos and office hours have really helped me to reflect on what I have taught so far, and to plan for adaptations going forward. I am very, very fortunate to have so much support and to be working with an open-minded principal who trusts me and allows me to bring mindfulness to our school.

When I’m not teaching mindfulness in a school setting, I try to bring mindfulness to my community. Here’s a photo of me working with two little girls this summer (the sweetest sisters on the planet). While volunteering at a local event called, ‘The Night Out Against Crime’, I offered up a free mindfulness class for anyone interested. The girls plopped right down on the blanket and were curious to try it out. (They were awesome.)


:) And here is a photograph from a third grade classroom I have been working in. We were in the middle of a heartfulness lesson. ❤️ With our hands on our hearts as an anchor spot, we are sending kind thoughts to ourselves and to others.


Each step of the Mindful Schools program is incredible. You begin with a Mindfulness Fundamentals course online. Here is where you lay the groundwork for your personal practice. The online course is followed by Mindful Educator Essentials, which is offered both online or in-person. I took an in-person course over a weekend in NYC last year. This is where I really fell in love with the work. I was blown away by the team’s preparedness, intelligence, professionalism, passion and dedication to training educators in bringing mindfulness to children and adolescents. You are given a curriculum guide along with a workbook for the students as well as other resources. The Mindful Schools team trains you on how to teach mindfulness to children and adolescents through lectures, demo lessons and break out sessions that allow for structured practice, with support from the team.

I am currently enrolled in the Year-Long Certification program. It started off with an incredible retreat in California this summer. This week really inspired me to continue my personal practice and commit to the mission of bringing mindfulness to my students back home in Queens, New York. It included a few days of silence, community building activities, lots of lectures, mindful walking, mindful eating and much, much more. The remainder of the coursework is done online, which can be challenging at times. (I have to remember to be gentle with myself when I fall behind!) There is a lot of information to digest and a commitment to continue your personal practice. You’ll find that there is support from the team, as well as from your cohort. We check in with each other on a weekly basis through online office hours. We have specialists in the field of mindfulness visit our office hour meetings as guests speakers. There are videos posted, weekly teachings, suggested readings and reflections. The year-long program will end how it began . . . with another outstanding week-long retreat.

I am doing my best to savor each part of the process. Each time I teach a mindfulness lesson from the Mindful Schools curriculum I think to myself, yes. . . this is exactly what the students need — regardless of the classroom that I’m in or the students that I’m standing in front of. I look forward to becoming certified as I continue on with my training this year. I really do feel so fortunate to be a part of this amazing work.

~ Danielle M., Mindfulness Educator, New York

Chris McKenna

“Just Breathe” Original Film

This incredible video was filmed and created by one of our Mindful Schools graduates, Julie Bayer Salzman. We’d like you to watch it and then share it with everyone you know. It’s that good.

Artist’s statement:

The inspiration for “Just Breathe” first came about a little over a year ago when I overheard my then 5-year-old son talking with his friend about how emotions affect different regions of the brain, and how to calm down by taking deep breaths — all things they were beginning to learn in Kindergarten at their new school, Citizens of the World Charter School, in Mar Vista, CA. I was surprised and overjoyed to witness first-hand just how significant social-emotional learning in an elementary school curriculum was on these young minds. The following year, I decided to take a 6-week online course on mindfulness through Mindful Schools, figuring that if my son was learning about this, it only made sense that I should learn too. Within the first week, I felt the positive effects of this practice take root not only on my own being but in my relationships with others.

As a filmmaker, I am always interested in finding a subject worthy of filming, and I felt strongly that Mindfulness was a necessary concept to communicate visually. Thankfully my husband, who happens to be my filmmaking partner, agreed. We made “Just Breathe” with our son, his classmates and their family members one Saturday afternoon. The film is entirely unscripted – what the kids say is based purely on their own neuro-scientific understanding of difficult emotions, and how they cope through breathing and meditation. They, in turn, are teaching us all …

– “Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films)

Chris McKenna

Meet Joanie: Educator at PS 126, Chinatown, NY

We’re excited to introduce a new blog series featuring our Mindful Schools community members. This week we spoke to Joanie Terrizzi. Joanie is an educator at a low-income school in Chinatown, NY. She reaches 840 students, pre-K through 8th grade, each week.

She is part of our first Year-Long Certification class, where she is receiving in-depth training in bringing mindfulness to youth. The program includes retreat practice, online instruction, and small group mentorship over a 12 month period.

For practitioners like Joanie, Mindful Schools is proud to offer scholarships to applicants who work in public schools, agency environments, or serve high-risk populations. We’re currently accepting applications for the 2014-15 Year-Long Certification program. Learn more.

April 2014
Mindful Schools Interview with Joanie Terrizzi
School Librarian, PS 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology
Chinatown – New York, NY

Year-Long Certification 2013-14 images courtesy of Joanie Terrizzi

MS: Tell us a little bit about your experience with the Year-Long Certification training. What has it been like for you?

JT: It has been the most incredible opportunity of my teaching career. Through this experience it feels like everything has changed but there’s nothing about my life that’s changed externally – everything is as fast-paced and challenging as ever… My life hasn’t changed, I have changed. The difference is internal, and I know it’s because of the work and the support of Mindful Schools.

MS: Were there specific moments in your training that stand out for you?

JT: I think it’s really been a combination of everything … one thing that’s been the most meaningful to me is the genuine connection with other participants – all over the country and the world – and other people doing this work in general, finding meaning with others in what I find meaningful. Somehow even when I get behind in my training homework I feel really connected with the community and the work that everyone’s doing. It’s been really rewarding to build relationships around bringing mindfulness to our youth.  I’ve been inspired, cheered on, and lifted up by these colleagues-turned-friends, and have had the opportunity to be supportive to others in their deeply human moments.

Year-Long Certification 2013-14 images courtesy of Joanie Terrizzi

MS: You mentioned: ‘It’s you who has changed.’ Can you talk about that a little more?

JT: Just sticking with this work and really going in and embodying the practice, day after day after day; it’s one of these aggregate things. My whole mind is a different place than it used to be and based on feedback from many others in my life, this fact is truly noticeable. My whole approach is really different in a very good way – the way I see, the way I respond, how much less reactive I am… I’m a very different person than I was a year ago and I know I owe it to all of the mindfulness I’ve been doing. It’s my ability to REALLY go with whatever moment is happening. I work with 840 kids and 82 staff members. There is a lot that comes at me in a given day. There are a lot of challenges in education in general: a lot of non-stop, shifting gears. I can see that my skill level in so many areas has totally transformed.  Here’s how I recently described it:

When mindfulness takes over your teaching: It’s that moment, with that child who knows just how to wriggle his way under your skin, the one who can derail your entire lesson, the one so dis-regulated that she spins into a torrential tantrum over the seemingly-nothing … and you’re up there in front of twenty-some-odd young pairs of eyes trusting you to “fix” things, and you’re feeling so triggered. You feel that familiar prickly-hot feeling rising, and you open your mouth (the one that sometimes betrays you and lets the words out too harshly, the one that gets so FRUSTRATED by the things beyond your control in children’s lives, the one that just wants to finish your sentence) … and out pours soft words and sweetness, compassion you can almost taste … and you look around, almost wondering where it came from, and you find yourself smiling at a child you thought of mostly as a challenge, mirroring her look of surprise that you didn’t just reprimand her. Instead, you managed to make a light thing of his behavior, a thing that made them all smile – you navigated a tricky moment, and swooped the attention of the class back around to you, like a dance almost – and it all comes out so genuine, so natural, with no ‘trying’ – and sure it doesn’t happen all the time, but like a good friend you haven’t seen in a while, it comes to visit more and more and more often. That’s what it feels like: like opening your mouth and your best self shows up to talk.

That’s really how it feels. There are still moments when I’m quite triggered, but there are so many moments where I open my mouth and something unexpected and delightful comes out. Lately, it just comes out right. It’s quite natural.

“Let Shawn, one of my 1st graders, teach you about the parts of the brain. I taught this lesson once, and Shawn got up immediately and taught it back to his class – I was SO proud and SO delighted. At this point, most of my 1st-5th graders have this languaging down, and it has had dramatic results on our interactions. Grateful, Grateful to Mindful Schools.”

MS: We’ve talked about your personal practice and how much of an impact that’s had on your approach to teaching. If we can shift now and talk about implementing the lessons and how that’s going …

JT: I’ve been lucky to be very supported by my administration in this. I’ve fully integrated it into the library curriculum. I’m in a pre-K through 8 school in a very low-income neighborhood in New York City’s Chinatown. Grades 1-5 receive the Mindful Schools curriculum on a weekly basis. I do some mindful games but not the full curriculum with PreK and Kindergarten; I have one class of 7th graders and some individual students that I have also recently started offering mindfulness to. I am delivering the curriculum and also trying to bring it to other teachers. It’s been going really well and has transformed the climate and language in the library completely. I was pleasantly surprised how, from the beginning, it landed really well with the kids.

MS: You’ve sent us a video clip [above] of one of your first grade students, Shawn, giving a lesson back to the class. Tell us about that.

JT: That morning I watched a video of Megan [Mindful Schools Co- founder and Program Director] giving the same lesson and I decided I was going to teach it. I taught it and then I pointed to our brain picture and I asked the first graders, ‘Can anyone teach this back to us?’ I didn’t expect first graders would be able to, but I was curious and open-minded about it. Then Shawn just got up and taught it flawlessly. You can hear the other kids in the background getting excited and being supportive. Shawn’s mom is really proud and was so happy to give additional support and share the video with others. And Shawn loves it. He loves talking about the brain. And the kids really remember it. I have a drawing of it now that I keep to the side and I try to reference it with each class every time they come. I’ll point to it and say something like ‘Is that your amygdala taking over right now?’ or ‘You might use your hippocampus to remember when we…’ They get it, they love it, and are really empowered by it.

MS: Any other breakthrough moments that come to mind with the students and the MS curriculum?

JT: There have been moments when I’ve had second graders cry tears of happiness during the mindful breathing which just blows my mind. I’ve been able to talk kids down from pretty activated or angered states. I had a student try to leave the room and another student said ‘Hey, that’s your amygdala telling you to leave; don’t listen to it!’ I have another student who every time he gets frustrated he gets up and tries to leave the situation and I tell him the same thing – he’s starting to get it. A second grader just told me today:

“Yesterday when I was sleeping, I looked on top of my bed for my mom, it’s a bunk bed, and my mom wasn’t there and little tears came out of my eyes, and I used my mindful breathing and I knew my mom would say that I’m a Big Girl.  And so then I fell asleep.  I’m going to rub my eyes now.” I said: “It’s okay, you can rub your eyes.”  She continued: “I’m just rubbing my eyes.  I’m not crying.  Stop it, water!”

The last thing, and the most important thing that I want to say is that I’m just so tremendously grateful.

Year-Long Certification 2013-14 images courtesy of Joanie Terrizzi