Betsy Hanger

Building a Community of Self-Compassion

Certified Instructor Alison Cohen splits her time between working as a teacher coach in NYC public high schools and teaching mindfulness. Passionate about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, Alison is developing mindfulness-based bias awareness programming for educators. In this third installment of our Graduate Stories, Alison shares two moments that confirmed her zeal for teaching mindfulness.

At the Brooklyn public high school where I worked as an English and mindfulness teacher, the principal came in one afternoon during a guided practice on self-compassion. Alison sits cross legged smiling at her students.He quietly took a seat among my ninth grade students and closed his eyes. Though he’d encouraged me to start the school’s mindfulness program, he hadn’t witnessed our daily practice.

We were silently repeating short statements meant to cultivate self-compassion. “May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I experience joy in my life.” I offered students the option of putting a hand on their hearts. Maybe I imagined it, but I could have sworn that the principal joined us, slipping his palm under his tie.

At the end of the session, the two of us walked down the hallway together. “Alison,” he said, “what I realized is that those phrases represent exactly how I want every student in this school to feel: safe and protected, healthy, peaceful, and joyful. The day I do that, I will know I’ve been successful as a principal.”

Several months later, my students wrote anonymous evaluations of the mindfulness course they had just completed. I found myself reading and re-reading what one young man had written: “The other day I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I was about to cry, but then I stopped and sent myself some kind wishes.”

This is why I teach mindfulness. As a young adult, I didn’t know how to cope with an inner emotional landscape full of harsh self-judgment, confusion, and shame. I desperately wished I had an “owner’s manual for the heart and mind.” When I began to explore mindfulness, one truth arose early on: this compassionate, wise method of learning how to skillfully navigate the inner world, relationships, and life itself was what I needed from an early age. I could have never predicted how much mindfulness practice would soften my inner critic and would replace it, bit by bit, sit by sit, with deep compassion for myself and for other human beings. Each time I hear a comment like my principal’s, or read words like that honest young man’s, the healing continues, and my commitment to practicing and teaching mindfulness grows stronger.

Alison graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. Check out her page in our Certified Instructors Directory and her website. 

Betsy Hanger

Mindfully Intertwined

Emily Saunders, MSW, took a dramatic career step in moving from Brooklyn, New York, to Ajo, Arizona. Ajo is a very small town on the border between the United States and Mexico where many families have networks that span the border. Of her geographical migration, Emily observes,It’s normal for discomfort to arise when we approach a boundary, an edge, or a border. This is as true in the incredibly dense community of New York City as in the sprawling US-Mexico borderlands. I’m hopeful about the potential for mindfulness tools to soften our reactions to discomfort, allow us to acknowledge emotion in ourselves and one another, and prepare the ground for compassion.” Here’s Emily’s snapshot of one day’s lesson, learned the hard way, for both teacher and students.

Emily and three students giggle and hold each other up while balancing on one foot.
Emily and her students, balancing mindfully.

I might have noticed tightness in my jaw if I’d shifted my attention inward. Twenty-five wiggling second graders chatted on the rug in front of me.  The class had recently moved into a phase called: “We know you Ms. Emily and we know the routine and tomorrow is Friday so we’re going to start pushing boundaries a little bit.”

I had my own agenda, called: “I’m tired and it’s not even Friday so can you please just act the way I think you should?” Ideally, I would have noticed the gridlock ahead, climbed up the awareness ladder, gained a vantage point of the chaos below, and recognized that (rising blood pressure or not) the situation was actually NOT that serious.

Instead, I snapped.

“Girls, cut it out!” I blasted. Two unlucky students froze in their rug spots and the room got quiet. Just like I wanted. But now it contained 25 nervous second graders and a little less trust.

We continued through our mindfulness lesson, my chest growing heavy with regret. I recognized the bittersweet taste of control that can come with a position of authority. I recalled some of my privileges: white skin, US citizenship, English-speaking, literate, graduate degree, adult. I thought of the parents of these children, their siblings, their grandparents—all of them my neighbors. Chances were high that we had waited in line together at the grocery store, at the café, or even at the border crossing. We were all intertwined.

I took responsibility for the tension that filled the room. “I was angry and disappointed but it wasn’t okay to scare you or embarrass you,” I said, “I’ll try not to do it again.”

You shoulda seen them breathe.

Mindful teaching is many things. I think it can, and should, put our power and privilege to work in the service of our young people and local communities.  It should help us to hold, non-judgmentally, the ten thousand daily emotions, expectations, and wounds that enter a classroom. Complicated, yes. But what an incredible vantage point (if we choose it) from which to see the interdependent responsibility and restorative potential of our schools.

Emily graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2014. Learn more about Emily on her page in our Certified Instructors Directory, on her blog and @emilylsaunders

Randima Fernando

Sparking Authentic Connections on Giving Tuesday

Our goal this #GivingTuesday is to use the event to start conversations with a handful of thoughtful donors who share the mindful approach and values that flow through our entire community. If you are one of those donors, or know one, please contact our Executive Director Randy Fernando (randy@mindfulschools.org) and we would love to candidly share more about what we’re building next.

The challenge is communicating our story and track record to the right donors — and this is where you can help if you choose to. By liking and sharing this post, or using the short email template below, our community can give our message a better chance of reaching people who’d like to help financially to take our work to the next level.

Thank you as always for your support and consideration!

Dear _____,

I wanted to tell you about a non-profit organization that you might find interesting. It’s called Mindful Schools (www.mindfulschools.org), and they provide online mindfulness courses, community, and content for educators.

<Add a sentence about your personal interest here>

They’ve grown 10x over the last 7 years, using just over $2 million in total donations, resulting in a $3 million organization that’s brought mindfulness skills to over 10,000 adults and 300,000 children. By June 2016, they expect to reach over 700,000 children.

If you’d like to learn more about their strategy and fundraising needs, please contact Mindful Schools Executive Director Randy Fernando (randy@mindfulschools.org).

Take care!

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.

Randima Fernando

2016-17 Year-Long Certification Launched

We are writing to announce that we are now accepting applications for the 2016-2017 Mindful Schools Year-Long Certification. This course is designed for dedicated mindfulness practitioners interested in playing leadership roles in their school communities and in the Mindfulness in Education movement. The program filled early and with a wait-list last year, which kept quite a few of you from taking part. This year, if you are thinking about participating in this program, we strongly encourage you to apply early.

This is an in-depth program with various details to consider. We’ve broken this message into two parts for easy reading.

Logistical Considerations

  • The program runs from Summer 2016 – Summer 2017. It begins and ends with a 6-night in-person retreat. You have the choice of joining either the East or West Coast cohort. See the course page for retreat dates/locations.
  • In between these two retreats is 10 months with over 300 hours of rich content and learning – you will gain access to practice support groups, weekly consults with the teachers, short curriculum exercises delivered by video, classroom handouts, and guest webinars on research and neuroscience. The course page has an outline of how the program content is organized. In the coming weeks, we will also be sharing samples of course content on our blog and Facebook page.
  • The program is limited to a total of 190 seats. The first 100 people accepted between now and March 15, 2016 will receive the Early Bird tuition rate ($3,300). A limited number of scholarships for educators with a demonstrated commitment to serving high-risk youth in under-resourced schools are also available. See the bottom of the course page for pricing details.
  • Completion of this program (along with a video-taped teaching practicum) results in certification. As the Mindful Schools network continues to grow both nationally and around the world, graduates of the program are actively helping to meet the growing demand of institutions searching for highly-trained mindfulness educators.
  • Prerequisites for this program are our Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials courses. If you want to be considered for the 2016-2017 Year-Long Program, you must complete these courses before filling out your application.

Intention of Program

As an organization, Mindful Schools aims to balance accessibility with depth.  On the accessibility side, we offer introductory mindfulness training online for educators who are new to mindfulness and eager to share it with children and adolescents.

At the same time, we recognize that many of you want to go deeper. Many of you have complicated, nuanced questions about how to integrate mindfulness into the culture of your school and how to modify and customize and combine different curricula into a program that works. You also have questions about your personal practice — you are hitting the edges of your own psychological conditioning and you need the ongoing support of good teachers and a supportive community to be able to do the deeper work.

The Year-Long program was designed to provide you with the extended knowledge and training needed to deepen your personal practice and to play a leadership role in the growing Mindfulness in Education movement.

If this resonates with your goals, we deeply and wholeheartedly welcome you to apply to the Year-Long program. We also encourage you to talk directly to your colleagues who have gone through the program. Finally, we encourage you to email us and set up a call to talk about the program and learn how it can serve your work in mindfulness and education.

Warm regards,
Billy, Christina, Chris, Megan, Vinny, and Randy

From Graduates of the Program

richard-dutra-st-john“Some of the most embodied facilitation I have seen… this faculty sets the gold standard in the youth mindfulness field.”

Rich Dutra-St. John
Founder of Challenge Day and the Be the Change Movement

sandra-delaney“After 30 years in Education, this is the best training I’ve ever been to. This is the real deal.”

Sandra Delaney
Former Principal,
Asst. Superintendent,
and Educator

luisa-alvisu“I am humbled by my experience. It’s been so brilliantly crafted, so simple, so easy, so seamless… We feel like family, really.”

Luisa Alvizu
Transitional Life Coach and Mindfulness Educator

Randima Fernando

2015 Graduate Survey Results

Each year, we conduct an Annual Graduate Survey to learn more about the impact our graduates are having, how our courses have affected them, and how we can serve them better. The infographics below summarize the results our graduates reported after our Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials courses. We’ll be using this data to inform more rigorous research over time.

Curriculum Training Results

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CT-Benefits-Students-v2

Mindfulness Fundamentals Results

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Chris McKenna

Guided Practices for Education Week Readers

Below are two guided practices for Education Week readers looking for a simple, practical introduction to mindfulness. The first is intended to help settle the body and the nervous system and become grounded in the present moment. The second explores the theme of developing kindness. Below each video, there is an mp3 audio file of the practice available for free download.

Download the audio file of Grounding in the Body.

Download the audio file of Cultivating Kindness.

To learn more about our core offerings, please visit our Mindfulness Fundamentals, Mindful Educator Essentials, and Year Long Certification pages.

Monthly Mindfulness Article Highlights

Our complimentary, concise monthly newsletter includes a summary of recent mindfulness articles & research, stories from educators, new offerings, 10% off our courses, upcoming conferences, and much more.

To join, click the “Subscribe” button and fill out the fields:

Our Mindfulness Fundamentals Course

For an introduction to mindfulness, try our 6-week online Mindfulness Fundamentals course (recommended by 98% of graduates), which has helped people from 50 states and 60 countries reduce stress, increase empathy, and learn the science behind mindfulness.

Randima Fernando

Silicon Valley Gives Event

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A huge one-day fundraising event, called “Silicon Valley Gives,” is running today. We would love your help to get the most of this great opportunity to generate visibility for our work with high-profile foundations, companies, and individuals looking for a great cause:

1. Share this post and add something like the following text to your post (any added personal endorsement is also great):

“Please consider supporting Mindful Schools in today’s Silicon Valley Gives event. Mindful Schools provides online and in-person mindfulness training for educators, bringing mindfulness skills to over 300,000 youth to date. They have a $10,000 matching grant, and 100% of donations they receive will be used for scholarships.”

2. Given how powerful our community is, we can probably win the prize for most unique donors, adding a ton of extra visibility to our work (the leaderboard is on the Silicon Valley Gives front page). If you’d like to help with that, a $10 donation will get the job done. (You don’t need to be local to donate.)

Thank you so much for your consideration. Thank you also to the 1440 Foundation for their $10,000 matching grant! Let’s show the world what we can do together!

Randima Fernando

Mindfulness, Neurobiology, and Children

About this talk

In this “Talks at Google” presentation, Mindful Schools Program Director Chris McKenna shares exercises and strategies for bringing mindfulness into parenting and family life, including a discussion of young children’s neurobiology. He starts the talk with just a few minutes of warm-up practices, which we highly recommend. If you prefer not to do them at this moment, please jump ahead to the 11:00 mark in the video for the main talk.

Want to join the Mindfulness in Education movement?

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  1. Build your own mindfulness practice
  2. Learn how to teach mindfulness to youth
  3. Help generate awareness, assist with networking, donate, or volunteer

Many thanks to Bill Duane and Kathleen Pedersen for the opportunity to present at Google!

Randima Fernando

Scholarships for Courses

Scholarships

Mindfulness is such a valuable tool that we want educators and parents everywhere to be able to take our trainings, regardless of their financial situation. Because of this, we use a subsidized pricing model where the fees of full-paying participants, combined with scholarship grants from foundations, make financial assistance possible for anyone who needs it.

How to Apply for a Scholarship

Please fill out an application to apply for one of our Mindful Educator Essentials scholarships.