By Guest Blogger, Paige Berardo, Program Officer at the 1440 Foundation. (Originally published by The 1440 Foundation.)
In September, the Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning hosted a gathering of program providers and researchers. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the intersection of two types of programs; those cultivating social and emotional learning and those cultivating mindfulness. Attendees shared best practices, discussed research opportunities that could provide innovative evidence, explored age-specific appropriateness of whole-person development and the role of practice in program design.
Both SEL and mindfulness programming are designed to effect holistic growth and pro-social behaviors in children (and adults), like empathy, resilience and self-awareness. These skills have been identified as critical for tomorrow’s leaders.
We spoke with several attendees about the convening. Here's what they shared:
Roger Weissberg, PhD, Chief Knowledge Officer and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of CASEL, felt the convening was positive. “The meeting was attended by smart, hard-working people with a common vision of what can be done in schools to educate children to be responsible, caring, and happy people,” he said.
Weissberg said that program designers seemed open to sharing practices and hearing outcomes from other fields. "They identified places where both fields can learn from each other and push each other,” he said. He believes that SEL designers want to incorporate mindful practice in useful ways, and mindful practice providers are working to figure out where what they do fits into SEL program design.
Weissberg indicated that the form of practice was a topic of conversation. How much is yoga, how much is mindful awareness practice or meditation, how much is compassion and interpersonal practice? “The other piece of this is what is appropriate developmentally, from pre-school through high school,” Weissberg said. He noted the sequencing of these activities needs to be carefully considered. The takeaway is that CASEL leadership is interested in the synergy created when mindful awareness practice is integrated into the framework of SEL programming.
Mark Greenberg, PhD, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research, Penn State University, and Chair of the Advisory Board of PATHS® Education Worldwide, felt the meeting provided a sense of how mindful practice can help deepen aspects of social emotional learning. “One aspect of mindfulness practice that adds value to SEL is the focus on repetition and practice of skills,” Greenberg noted.
From his perspective, mindfulness programs are beginning to evolve to incorporate a wider breadth of practices, beyond developing attention through awareness of breath and body. For example, expanding to include mindful listening and other inter-personal outcomes. To Greenberg, practice could also mean practicing kindness or awareness to others. “Implicit in the idea of mindfulness is right-mindfulness,” Greenberg said, which includes a deep concern for others, and a belief in the universal idea represented in the golden rule.
Greenberg thinks a shift in mindfulness programs toward outcomes like compassion and ethics is exciting. Furthermore, as mindfulness programs become more focused on inter-personal awareness, he thinks they begin to have more breadth and are more akin to the focus of SEL programming. He predicts that a new generation of mindfulness programs for students that embrace a compassion-focused approach will be developed, and that the maturation of mindful awareness programs will bring about a greater emphasis on interpersonal outcomes
Laurent Valosek, Executive Director of the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education (creators of the Quiet Time program), was also encouraged by the positive conversation. Valosek welcomed the viewpoints representing the different theoretical approaches of each program. Most SEL programs and many mindfulness programs, he posited, use a skills-based approach, delivered through a cognitive-behavioral pedagogy. In this way, students are taught to consciously focus on being more aware and sensing, through instruction that informs and provides opportunity to demonstrate understanding and behavior change.
In some mindfulness-based approaches, Valosek noted, the emphasis is on mind-body integration, and the practices are what he refers to as psycho-physiological. The routine of culturing more balance, not the act of thinking or learning about what you are doing, is the emphasis. Behavior change such as increasing kindness, Valosek explained, is a spontaneous byproduct of becoming more integrated.
He believes pro-social behaviors are cultured by mind body integration practices, and has seen evidence of this in select San Francisco schools, where the Quiet Time program has had a transformative effect on several schools, including Visitacion Valley Middle School.
On considering the future evolution of SEL and mindfulness based programs, Valosek said, "The two types of programs are synergistic and complementary.” He proffered that the framework of SEL programming might expand to include more mindfulness based approaches. He believes there are inherent synergies between SEL and mindfulness and between skill based training and psychophysical integration programs. In the future he sees that it is important for rigorous research to be conducted that differentiates the impact of different the types of interventions.
Linda Dusenbury, Senior Research Scientist, CASEL, noted that more research is needed on mindful awareness programs, but that the initial evidence appears promising, citing the four mindfulness programs were reviewed in CASEL's 2015 Guide to Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs (Middle and High Schools Edition). The guide inclusion standards are rigorous, as are evaluation criteria.
Dusenbury felt that CASEL could add value by developing standards for research and by supporting communication efforts to share the value of programming with educators. No matter what it is called, Dusenbury noted, the important thing is to provide students with practices that help them achieve a neurological balance and strategy for calming and readying themselves for learning.
We look forward to hearing more about this collaborative effort and will share what we learn.
Paige Berardo, Program Officer at The 1440 Foundation, supports local champions in making the most of the resources and funding provided through their relationship with The 1440 Foundation. Paige served as an elected Trustee of the Saratoga Union School District from 2010-2014, former member of the Saratoga Los Gatos Chapter of National Charity League, Rotary Club member, past President of the Saratoga Education Foundation, and dedicated mother of 3 wonderful children, ages 17, 14 and 11.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.