Engaging a School Community with Mindful Moments

CHRIS STARR, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH:

At The Peck School in Morristown, parents (in addition to students) are learning that the practice of mindfulness improves cognitive abilities and increases brain density in areas associated with improved attention, learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, happiness, and compassion.

At the forefront of this movement is Peck’s Mindfulness Trainer Suzy Becker. This past December she held a four-week course exclusively for parents entitled, “Introduction to Mindfulness.” The workshop not only presented neurological and psychological studies supporting the tremendous benefits of mindfulness, but also taught parents specific mindfulness techniques and introduced them to online and offline tools that support a practice of mindfulness.

We are often our own worst critic…

For this parent session, an emphasis was placed on the importance of self-care and self-compassion. According to Becker, “We are often our own worst critic, setting much higher expectations for ourselves than we would for a dear friend or family member.  By giving ourselves the gift of stillness and providing an opportunity to bring full attention to sensations in our body, we can calm the mind and reduce self-judgement.”

Parents also learned that human beings are born with a “happiness set point” that mostly remains constant throughout life. Major external events – whether positive or negative – such as winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed in an accident cause only a temporary spike in happiness or depression. Research has shown that eventually most individuals regulate back to the “happiness set point” they were born with.

Changing the interior landscape of our minds and bodies, on the other hand, through mindfulness training, can actually shift and improve our level of happiness permanently. This increase in happiness is attributed to neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. As the saying goes, “We are what we think” and mindfulness practice offers an opportunity to form new patterns that facilitate lifelong learning and character development.

…mindfulness practice offers an opportunity to form new patterns that facilitate lifelong learning and character development.

The definition used for mindfulness within the Peck community is, “Mindfulness is paying attention to the here and now, with curiosity and kindness.” To be “mindful,” one must be open and aware of their surroundings, feelings, sensations, and responses. Curiosity is a trait that reaps benefits in Peck’s student-centered, design thinking focused curriculum.Kindness is a trait that bolsters Peck’s mission and values and supports the underpinning concept of the school’s character education program, “Consideration of Others.”

Several dozen parents attended the special workshops and the sessions will become an annual offering at the school. This will be in addition to mindfulness workshops and exercises that the school incorporates into Peck students’ academic routine. “I am so pleased that Peck is offering mindfulness training for parents, as well as students. I am a huge fan! Attending the workshops has truly been a life changing experience for me,” reports Joane Patrick, parent of Peck Grade 8 student Owen Patrick and Peck alumnus Jonathan Patrick ’15.

The New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS) invited Ms. Becker and Peck’s School Psychologist, Dr. Zan Struebing, to present a workshop at their recent conference.  Their session, entitled “Mindful Moments, Engaging Your School Community” introduced fellow educators to the benefits of mindfulness, shared mindfulness exercises, and helped participants identify steps to facilitate implementation of mindfulness programs in their own schools.

Becker is a certified mindfulness instructor with the Mindful Schools Organization (mindfulschools.org). She also serves as Peck’s Technology Support Specialist and Registrar. As a staff member involved constantly with modern technology, she offers her students this quote by Anne Lamotte: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.”

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