This Baltimore School Gives Kids Meditation, Not Detention — and the Impact Has Been Incredible

When I think back to being in school as a kid, I remember rules. Lots of rules. And while I was a “good kid” who never really caused any trouble, I remember very well the kids who struggled to do what the teacher said,  the kids who talked too much or acted out, or who just generally had a hard time sitting still and paying attention.

Now, as a mother of two kindergarteners, I worry what will happen if my own kids are the ones getting in trouble, but if the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore is any indication, it sounds like I might not have to. The Maryland school is one of a growing number across the country to introduce meditation and mindfulness techniques to its students in place of more traditional disciplinary or punitive methods like detention. In fact, it’s all part of a growing effort to nurture students’ social and emotional learning. And, as you might expect, it’s making a huge difference.

According to Upworthy, students who misbehave at Robert W. Coleman are encouraged by teachers to take some time in the school’s Mindful Moment Room — a room “filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows,” where kids can sit, breathe, and process what’s going on in their minds and bodies. And school officials have found that it’s been helping big time: Kirk Philips, who runs the after-school wellness program Holistic Me at Robert W. Coleman told Upworthy that students are really embracing meditation and breathing, and that even young kids in the program are now able to sit in meditate in silence. What’s even more impressive? Philips said that there were “exactly zero suspensions last year,” at Robert W. Coleman, and that there haven’t been any this year so far either. And honestly, that actually makes a ton of sense. By giving teachers a new way to empower students with tools that can help them better handle their own emotions, it seems only natural that those students would then be better able to listen and do what’s expected of them. And given that those kinds of skills are ones everyone needs in life, that sounds incredibly valuable.

But the shift towards mindfulness isn’t just happening in one Baltimore school, it’s actually a growing trend throughout the country. At Wayzata West Middle School in Wayzata, Minnesota, 8th grade math teacher Seth Brown starts and ends each of his classes with closed-eyes quiet time, to help them focus and calm themselves. Brown told CBS News that taking the extra time for meditation has meant that the time he spends teaching is much more productive and focused on learning. In turn, his students are much better behaved.

He explained:

“They are not all on the same page, so instead of disrupting everyone else, they can use the mindfulness on their own to start breathing and maybe not burst out or pick on the kid next to them, because that’s what teenagers do.”

But while the focus of these kinds of programs is often its effect on student performance, they can also have profound effects on teachers, and ultimately transform the entire school community. Ilana Nankin it the founder of Breathe For Change, an organization offering yoga and wellness teacher trainings specifically geared to educators. She tells Babble that teachers are often looking for effective ways to connect, help, and care for their students, but that they often get bogged down in their own stress, stemming from their workloads, administrative pressure, or even their own personal lives.

Image Source: Breathe for Change
Image Source: Breathe for Change

When teachers are taught meditation and mindfulness through school-based wellness programs, Nankin tells Babble they are able to bring their best selves to their classrooms, and are then better equipped to pass on those valuable lessons to their students and colleagues.

“[Mindfulness programs] provide an opportunity for the staff at the school not only to de-stress but to build a deeper sense of community, and a space for teachers to come together and be vulnerable and reflect on their intentions for their wellbeing,” continues Nankin. “When they’re given that space, they’re able to share parts of who they are that they usually wouldn’t because they’re often under a lot of pressure … but through breathing exercises and visualization, they’re able to reconnect to their passion and their purpose and why they began teaching in the first place. It’s really a holistic approach to wellness that infuses wellness into the whole school community.”

Image Source: Breathe for Change
Image Source: Breathe for Change

That shift is beneficial for everyone, since teachers who feel supported are better at their jobs, and are then also better able to be there for students, who benefit greatly from having teachers who are able to connect with them and help them build the kind of life skills that will serve them as they grow.

“Learning happens when kids are engaged and when they’re connected and feel loved and supported and inspired, but teachers just aren’t trained to cultivate that,” says Nankin. “They’re trying to figure out ways to do that, but they aren’t given the time or space or tools. But now that the tools are becoming available [through wellness programs] it feels like it’s naturally what should be happening, it’s what everybody is craving. It’s such a need across the board that just hasn’t really been explored before now.”

It might still be a while before “Mindful Moment Rooms” and staff-wide meditation classes become a regular occurrence at your neighborhood school, but it sounds like the benefits of mindfulness are really starting to take hold — and news is spreading. Given the fact that most adults could probably benefit from some meditation time of their own, the idea that our children could soon be growing up already equipped with ways to calm themselves in stressful situations seems like a really exciting idea. Maybe they’ll even be able to teach the rest of us a thing or two.

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