From Surviving to Thriving: How a Mindful Teacher Creates Safe Spaces for Students

Meet Jason Tackett, one of the most creative and resourceful teachers we know.

Jason strives to make school a safe place for his students – a place for them to thrive. Jason’s love and respect for his students’ unique creativity comes shining through in every moment he spends with them.

Name: Jason Tackett
Cohort: Mindful Teacher Class of 2016
My work with kids: Special Education Teacher, Behavior Support – I work with 3rd-6th grades at Franklin Elementary and 6th-8th grades in Resources One to Another, an after-school group.
School: Franklin Elementary in Salt Lake City School District
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Connect with me: Facebook, Instagram

How has mindfulness changed your work with kids?
Every student I work with has emotional and behavioral needs unique to their life’s experience. Many have experienced trauma, so they find it difficult to manage their emotions and behavior; focusing and concentrating are difficult. At our Title I school, where more than 90% of our student body receives free and reduced lunch, financial burdens weigh heavily on their families. My students feel the weight their families carry.

“I would promise myself to not raise my voice the next day, and then blow it.”

Doing this work, I noticed my own impulsivity and reactivity, I was blazing through my students’ invitations to connect; I found myself raising my voice. In deep reflection I asked myself, “How am I using my energy? Where did I learn this?” I would promise myself to not raise my voice the next day, and then blow it.

Through practicing mindfulness I started to settle in to my own being, to observe myself. I realized, watching myself with my students, that I could hear the invitation to raise my voice and I could decline to accept it.

Has mindfulness caught on in your school?
When I was developing my own practice, I was doing it just with my class, I didn’t tell my school – I just started doing it. Then the other teachers noticed. When they visited my classroom, they asked, “What’s going on with your kids? Can you come into my classroom and do mindfulness?” I started going into the regular classrooms and from there it grew organically. Now 21 of our 26 teachers at Franklin have gone through Mindfulness Fundamentals.

What kind of kid were you?
I grew up in a village outside Columbus, Ohio. My Kentucky-born parents instilled the value of hard work and kindness in my three brothers and me. I was fortunate to grow up in a loving home.

I find that when we’re young, we do what comes naturally, we choose our toys and interests based on our clean and clear preferences. As a child, I noticed that what came naturally for me was different from what came naturally for my brothers. While they were playing with trucks and G.I. Joes, I was off twirling my glitter baton and playing with Barbies. And having a fabulous time, mind you!

“As a child, I noticed what came naturally for me was different from what came naturally for my brothers.”

I started out bright-eyed, creative and expressive, I used to write plays and get my reluctant brothers to perform in them. But when I got to school, I found out that was not okay. I couldn’t recognize any other boys or men like me, not on TV, at school, nor in the community. I couldn’t see my experience outside of me and struggled to validate it and make sense of my world.

In middle school, I experienced cruelty and quickly abandoned any difference that would draw attention to myself. I had been a kind and tender child, confident and even bold. But it didn’t feel safe to show up as who and how I was, so I began to retreat deep within myself. I often couldn’t tell if I was on the inside looking out, or the outside looking in. My focus fixated on surviving my experience.

So I learned to be present and attuned, adept at reading people’s body language to keep myself safe – I was developing mindfulness before I learned to call it that.

Now when I lead my students in mindfulness and they close their eyes, I know they feel safe – safe to close their eyes and be with themselves. I didn’t feel safe in school, so I want to extend that to my students.

Was there a moment that you thought, yes, I have to keep doing this?
One particular kid came to me and said, “I can’t close my eyes, I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin.” I urged him to try with me, and he managed 5 seconds. Then he tried again, and lasted I0 seconds. What happened over time was amazing. He was able to stay longer in his regular classroom when he learned to notice his responses and was able to tolerate them better.

Another student was wise beyond her years. After we did a sit, she asked me, “What am I supposed to feel when I do this? I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.” I asked her, “What were you feeling?” She said, “I’m think I feel sad.” “Tell me more. Did you feel it anywhere in your body?” “ I think in my chest…” This sixth grader was gradually able to disclose serious trauma from 2nd grade.

“She began to notice the difference between thriving and surviving in the world.”

After months in the group, she began to notice the difference between thriving and surviving in the world. At first, she was able to raise her hand and say, “I think I’m just surviving.” When she tuned in to what she was carrying and learned how to be with her feelings, she started slowly to make conscious choices that allowed her to thrive. Now everyone sees she’s doing beautiful work; her confidence is different, and she speaks more in class.

Your “Resources One to Another” program has a wealth of creative activities for students to build better habits. What mindfulness tools do you develop with them?
Our group takes a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Personal power, self-expression, arts, movement, and mindfulness are all in the mix. Every student documents our year by creating their own resources book, to celebrate their insights and growth.

Our feelings are ours to have. They will wait for us until we’re ready to have them, really be with them. Or we can build up a life of resistance and bad habits that don’t serve us or other people.

Tuning into our inner resources – how we feel about what’s happened to us, how we resist our lives – provides valuable information and insight about who and how we are in the world. When we have all of life’s experience to look at, we can begin to make conscious choices about how we want to be and the life we want to create for ourselves. Are our actions in line with thriving or are they habits of survival?

I ask my students to work with their intentions. Perhaps they set out to do something but it didn’t turn out the way they wanted and they feel discouraged. I ask them to tune into and be clear about the intention they had, and take comfort in knowing their intention was good even if things didn’t turn out the way they had wanted. This enables them to feel encouraged even when they are experiencing disappointment.

Do you have a favorite game or activity with kids to help them smile and see the lighter side of things?
My favorite “game” with the kids is to do improv together. One of us holds the camera/phone and shouts out the context of the scene, immediately followed by “Go!” For example: “You’ve just arrived for your doctor’s appointment to see if he can help you with your strange condition. You’ve been laughing nonstop for the last three weeks and don’t know how to stop – GO!” or “You’re walking down the street with a friend when a spaceship lands and an alien steps out and whispers something that will change your life forever, GO!”

Those of us being filmed quickly jump into character and have 30 seconds to a minute to improvise. We end up laughing and exploring ourselves through the characters we create and giggle even harder when we watch the videos.

What’s your favorite fun thing to do with friends?
My favorite thing to do with friends is to head to the desert, unplug, and sleep under the stars. Twice a year, my “desert family” meets up in Goblin Valley and camps for a long weekend. I walk barefoot in the day, and bundle up close to the fire at night. I absolutely love falling asleep under the stars and waking up to the sun each morning. The experience is made even more wonderful by the precious group of people I share that time and space with. We get real, get relaxed, and restore ourselves to the fullest.

Thanks Jason for sharing your story!

If you’re interested in sharing your own story with our community here, or if you want to learn more about joining our community, simply reach out to us at We love hearing more about your experiences and what you’re learning.

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, and to analyze our traffic. To learn more, please visit our Privacy Policy.