Renee Metty is the founder of The Cove School and With Pause. She speaks nationally to educators working with pre-K through 3rd grade students.
When I started a preschool in Seattle, I wanted to create an atmosphere where preschool students and faculty could thrive, placing well-being and healthy relationships above a narrow focus on readiness for kindergarten. I have the responsibility for setting the vision for the school. Based on seven years of public school teaching, I knew we needed a radical shift to focus on the whole child.
But moving in this direction took three pivotal shifts in my perspective. Establishing a mindfulness practice served as the foundation.
Committing to Mindfulness & Social Emotional Learning
We had to commit completely to implement mindfulness and social emotional learning, so I trained with Mindful Schools and took an intensive week-long workshop on social-emotional learning. I knew that not all families would support this change. Initially, the school drew families that were very interested in what their children could accomplish, more than in how their children treated others. Though families paid lip service to learning kindness and fairness, they wanted a school that could position their child to get into the best school—testing into gifted programs, capturing coveted spots in private school. Some families left. But we persevered, and changed the admissions process to be more emphatic and clear about our values and goals.
A Focus on Contribution vs. Competition
I realized we needed to focus on contribution rather than competition. When I first started my school, I set out to be better than all the other preschools; I wanted the best program in town. But my intention changed. I began focusing on what value I could contribute to our community, our society. By providing the best foundation for children through our focus on mindfulness, growth mindset, and compassion, we were making a crucial contribution.
A Commitment to Personal Practice
I trained with Mindful Schools to teach mindfulness to children, but soon realized the profound importance of my personal practice. Creating time for this in my life allowed me to meet difficult experiences at work with more equanimity. Before I started practicing, I felt I needed to please every single family. After learning mindfulness, I could be more neutral and focus on our vision. I became a better advocate for the school by not viewing the parent or staff member’s needs as personally threatening. Practicing increased my confidence to trust my intuition. As my passion for what I do grows, it radiates outward and is infectious. Now we have a phenomenal group of parents who are really grateful for our program, and they see how it impacts their children.
At the school, we provide many opportunities for staff to learn more about mindfulness as they are ready, while aiming to embody this way of life day to day. As I grow my capacity to serve the families I work with, my practice helps me in every way, navigating the challenges that are inevitable in the life of a school.