Guidelines for Secular Teaching of Mindfulness

Mindful Schools is committed to a thoroughly secular approach to mindfulness practice and the teaching of mindfulness. This commitment to secularity reflects our fundamental value of inclusivity, as a secular articulation of mindfulness is fully inclusive of all students and community members. 

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We must be very clear about our secular intentions as mindfulness educators before we begin teaching children. When we share mindfulness, we are not seeking to advance or inhibit any religious commitments or beliefs that any student or educator may hold, nor are we imposing a comprehensive belief system. 

A secular exploration of mindfulness does not explore metaphysical realms or experiences; we are not exploring anything other than what is directly observable through our sensory, emotional, and mental awareness. Our objective is simple: to support the well-being of students and educators by sharing simple awareness practices and psychoeducation, and to develop an attitude of curiosity and kindness around how the mind and the body work. 

With this in mind, we provide the following guidelines to ensure secular teaching for anyone using this curriculum:

  1. Mindfulness practices should be articulated in the primary instructional language or languages (in the case of bilingual education). 
  2. No classroom can be conducted in a completely value-neutral manner and it is reasonable to affirm humanistic values such as kindness, cooperation, empathy or concentration. However, mindfulness is not an attempt to teach a comprehensive ethical system
  3. Teach the practices in a direct, experiential manner whereby practitioners can examine the validity of the claims within their own subjective experience (e.g., when doing seated mindfulness practice, students can directly perceive the attention wandering away from the mindfulness anchor). The tone is one of encouraging curiosity as if conducting an experiment with one’s own mind and body. 
  4. Do not assert or intimate claims about metaphysics (e.g. ‘the nature of the universe is love’). If such questions or comments arise from students, support their curiosity while clarifying the scope of mindfulness practice and redirect the conversation to the subjective or empirical realm. 
  5. Frame mindfulness as a practice about subjective experiences rather than about overarching truths of the universe.
  6. Do not include symbols or artifacts closely linked to a particular religious tradition (e.g. making particular gestures with one’s hands, bowing, using religious props, etc.). For mindful listening, we recommend using a chime or vibratone; many other instruments, such as singing bowls, have close associations with particular religious traditions and therefore we don’t use them.
  7. Do not substantiate the practices on the basis of religious figures or texts. At the same time, take care not to denigrate religious practices or texts. 
  8. Teach in a manner consistent with current scientific understandings of human biology and behavior.

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About Mindful Schools

Mindful Schools’ vision is for all children to learn in “mindful schools” that nurture a new generation of leaders to create a more equitable and thriving world. The mission of Mindful Schools is to empower educators to spark change from the inside out by cultivating awareness, resilience, and compassionate action.

The Mindful Schools program began in 2007, when a small, passionate team began teaching mindfulness in Oakland, California public schools. Within three years, the program expanded to fifty schools in the Bay Area and was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Today, Mindful Schools supports schoolwide implementation of mindfulness programs nationally and provides hybrid professional development and K-12 curriculum training for educators.

Developed by educators, for educators, the Mindful Schools approach provides an accessible pathway for adults to be grounded in mindfulness practice while developing competencies that support classroom and schoolwide implementation for their specific community and context. Recent program innovations include alignment of a new K-12 Mindfulness Curriculum with The Domains of Mindful Teaching, an intentional inquiry-based process for teachers to foster inclusive, trauma-sensitive, and engaging learning environments, and the Mindful Schools Rubric for Assessing Schoolwide Mindfulness to help school teams determine and implement the best approach for supporting the well-being of the communities they serve. 

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