Chaos or Mindfulness?

After spending a week in Austria at the Salzburg Global Seminar on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), I was inspired to rekindle my attempts to make mindfulness a purposeful part of my life.

The inspiration came from leading voices from all over the world – from Manish Sisodia (Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi), who spoke about Delhi’s Happiness Curriculum; and from fellow panelists Marc Brackett (Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) and Grace Maina (Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development), with whom I shared a conversation about SEL in schools.

What struck me most about the discussion was the growing need to bring mindfulness to our classrooms. The pace of learning, the newness and intensity of so many of the experiences that shape young students’ development, and the rapid rate of change in their lives make years as a student clear targets for chaos. So the question is this: does school help students rise out of the chaos, or does it simply add more to the mix? The research and experiences of the panelists in Salzburg led our answers to fall on the side of the chaos; far too often, students’ experience of school is chaotic. The reasons clearly lie with what schools are – and, more importantly, aren’t – helping them learn.

Think about what makes life chaotic. When we boil those experiences down they relate to our struggles to understand who we are and what’s important to us; to grasp challenging concepts or to grow our base of knowledge and understanding; to communicate, collaborate, or think critically and creatively to solve problems or work out of challenging situations; and to connect with others and form relationships, or to manage the challenges that rise from them. Failure to alleviate these challenges for students is the core of inequity in schools – it’s a failure to provide each and every student with the same opportunity to overcome chaos.

Equity doesn’t come from treating all students the same, but from teaching what students need to learn. Teach self-understanding – help students discover who they are and what matters to them. Teach knowledge and competency – don’t stop at teaching students to know; teach them to do. Teach connection – help students connect with others and with the wider world all around them. When you do, the culture of chaos surrounding your students will change to a culture of mindfulness and calm, in which all of your students can learn what it takes to slow down and rise through the fog.

The reason I practiced mindfulness this morning and plan to continue to do so here on is the same reason mindfulness matters in schools – it’s the state from which we lift ourselves and others up out of the chaos and into the calm.