Schools have a wonderful opportunity to build lifelong skills that support a student's education, and their psychological and emotional well-being. Far from being fringe, or liberal, practices such as mindfulness and gratitude transcend ideology and their benefits are rooted in sound data. Imparting these practices in the classroom is currently challenging based on the nature of goal-setting in education. However, with the right approach, practices supporting well-being can be integrated directly into the structure of school.
School districts and schools often create lofty visions like: "The mission is to be a continuously improving, learning community, providing quality services to enable all children to master the knowledge and competencies necessary to function skillfully throughout life." In reality though, most educators don't know of the vision, and more importantly, don't know how to impart that vision into their daily practice. The vast majority of teachers want to do right by their students, but receive surprisingly little support in learning improved practices based on current research and data. Teaching, oddly, is surprisingly professionally isolating. Once the bell rings, a teacher is alone in their classroom with their students, not itself a lonely proposition. But teachers often don’t have the tools to best make use of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and how to have true meaningful conversations about the day-to-day challenges in teaching. That is, PLC time is often focused on lesson planning and common assessments, and not on delving into modern educational practices, and evolving as educators.
Instead of developing visions in isolation, school districts could grow a vision, that is then supported by SMART goals. The vision above provides many nice expectations for what the district hopes to achieve, but then daily teaching practices aren’t measured based on goals that help achieve the vision. Instead, we ought to set specific goals that focus on not only some measure of academic achievement, but also related to “function skillfully through life.” Suppose a goal for the year is that “All students and staff of x school will spend five minutes per day on mindfulness meditation for all of the 2017-18.” Moreover, the school’s principal can then model gratitude, and make it an aspirational part of the school’s mission.
As most organizations, including education systems, do not connect visions to over-arching goals, and daily practices in a systematic fashion, the opportunity to impart real change is often lost. The very tangible possibility that an organization could realize, more specifically in education, is that if faculty, staff, and students are brought into a conversation about the community’s vision, and appropriate goal-setting is done, that the entire community can focus single-mindedly on achieving the stated goals. The school district leaders have a responsibility to educate the community of WHY gratitude and mindfulness are important. Lay out a vision. Invite conversations. Collaborate on how to achieve the stated goals. Have clear markers of success, and be explicit in explaining how we measure said success. Then, we can start to build a culture of excellence that teaches how to instill well-being practices in our daily lives. Change is often hard, but with inspired leadership and active community participation, change can be exciting and compelling.