By Sam Piha
There is a growing body of research that suggests that the practice of mindfulness techniques by youth promote social emotional learning, character building, and "grit" - specifically, self-awareness, self-management, the development of empathy, and perseverance. Mindfulness is increasingly being taught in school-based settings but few have translated this into afterschool programs.
Temescal Associates and Mindful Impact have developed a 16-week mindfulness curriculum for afterschool workers and a two-day training – one day for the use of mindfulness techniques for the self-care of adult staff, and one day for staff who will lead young people in mindfulness activities.
We wanted to understand more about the use of mindfulness techniques in the afterschool setting. We posed a number of questions to leaders who are putting this to use on the ground: an afterschool leader for the Riverside County Office of Education (Allison Haynes) and a middle school teacher and former Director of Afterschool Programs for Delano Union School District (Ken Dyar). Both sponsored mindfulness in afterschool trainings for program leaders. Below are some of their responses.
Q: WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU BELIEVE MINDFULNESS BRINGS TO YOUNG PEOPLE?
Allison: I am sure that the research lays out many benefits. Through the lens of Allison, I say the best benefit is that students become more aware of self. I believe self-awareness builds confidence. Confident youth are likely to reach their potential. I need all youth to reach their potential.
Ken: Stress management, regulating behavior, lowering blood pressure, increasing positiveness, increasing hopefulness, empowering youth to feel that they are in control of themselves - these are all benefits that come from mindfulness activities. Mindfulness develops a growth mindset in kids. "I am not stuck forever in my current situation. I can control my thoughts, attitudes, and reactions to the events I encounter." It gives them a tool to move them forward emotionally and therefore academically.
Q: WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU BELIEVE MINDFULNESS BRINGS TO ADULT STAFF?
Allison: Mindfulness provides immediate feedback to adult staff. Taking a breath while letting the thought pass is indeed helpful when your inner voice is shouting doom and gloom. Interrupting the critical voices in one’s head allows a pathway for creative thinking (which is always necessary for afterschool programs adult staff). But engaging in a practice before arriving to engage youth is most valuable because it is during that time that intentions can be set, loving kindness administered, and a stronger connection to compassion forged. Mindfulness is a good way to start any day.
Ken: Teaching in an after school setting is very stressful. These are 3.75 hour positions with relatively low pay and no medical benefits. For most of my staff, this was the first "real" job they held. And what do we ask them to do? Be alone with 20 students from 2:15 until 6 pm. Five days a week. The staff had to learn curriculum, class management, instructional strategies, and grant compliance in a very short period of time.
However, we also knew that staff could not bring that emotional baggage in front of the kids. So how do we help them be in the moment, manage their stress, and improve their overall outlook professionally? I thought mindfulness was the answer. I still think it is a game changer in after school programs.
Q: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT MINDFULNESS IS APPROPRIATE FOR INTRODUCING TO ALL AGE YOUTH? IF SO, WHY?
Allison: YES. Why not? Why would we arbitrarily choose a number and determine that until one reaches that age they are restricted from engaging in a practice that includes benefits such as relaxation, self-regulation of emotions, self-awareness, and compassion for others? If we taught mindfulness to youth of all ages…what a wonderful world it would be.
Ken: I do believe that mindfulness is appropriate. I have introduced it to my eighth graders this year. The adolescent brain goes through huge changes. It begins to prune back connections that are no longer used or needed, and it grows new connections as it matures and learns new things.
This is a huge leap forward toward adulthood. Students in middle school are truly "stuck in the middle." Anyone who has worked with middle school students will tell you that these kids are both babies and adults. They will chase and scream and giggle like little kids. Meanwhile, they push adults away, while at the same time longing for meaningful relationships and guidance with those same adults. They need a tool like mindfulness to manage the swings in mood and emotion. They need a way to manage the stress that comes from "fighting the bear". I believe that educators who use mindfulness with their students will enhance the relationships they have with their kids. Sharing mindfulness with my students has certainly proven to them how much I care about them.
Q: WOULD YOU RECOMMEND MINDFULNESS TO OTHER AFTERSCHOOL LEADERS? IF SO, WHY?
Allison: YES. I’d recommend mindfulness to other afterschool leaders because this practice is good self-care. Additionally, I know afterschool leaders are role models who can’t give what they don’t have. I say, give them what they need and watch it spread.
Ken: When I share mindfulness with my kids, one comment I always hear at the beginning is that it is "weird." It's weird because no other teacher they've had has ever shared this with them. Taking a moment to do a body scan, be grateful, be in the moment, etc., is completely foreign to them.
It is my wish that mindfulness become such a regular part of education that it is never considered "weird" anymore. I wish every teacher on my site spent time using mindfulness with their students. I would certainly recommend the practice to any leaders involved in educating our youth.
Allison Haynes is the Administrator of Pupil and Administrative Services at the Riverside County Office of Education. She has worked in the field of Education for 25 years with the last five focused on Expanded Learning Programs. Her experience ranges from working with elementary, middle school, and high school students as a school counselor and/or a site administrator. Allison remains steadfast in removing barriers to learning via social emotional support; youth advocacy; and social equity. In recent years Allison has turned her actions toward influencing those working directly with youth.
Ken Dyar was named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006. He is currently a Physical Educator at the Delano Union School District. Prior to this assignment, he was Director of Physical Education and After School Programs, including DUESD's after school program - POWER. Ken has taught for over 18 years, teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades (13 of those years as a physical educator and department chair at Cecil Avenue Middle School in Delano).
Mindfulness in Afterschool is a training and curriculum offered by Temescal Associates, in partnership with Mindful Impact. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.