HOLMDEL, NJ – The Holmdel School District’s commitment to innovate practices to elevate the social, emotional and academic success of its students continues to be realized through its commitment to mindful practices. A growing body of research points to the efficacy of mindfulness in helping students with academic performance, emotional and behavioral regulation, and personal well-being. As part of the district’s goal to “develop and implement mindfulness practices,” the district is implementing a multi-year strategy for whole school change, engaging an expert in the field, Mr. Alan Brown of Learning to Thrive.
In the 2017-18 school year, Mr. Brown spent a day with District administrators prior to the start of school and then returned to lead several voluntary professional development sessions for teachers during the year with more than 60% of the faculty participating in these sessions. Building upon the momentum and enthusiasm from the first year, Mr. Brown served as the keynote speaker for the district-wide professional development session in September discussing how to teach attention in September during the faculty in-service day. Following this day, faculty members were invited to submit their request to join the district’s first Mindful Educators Cohort--a pilot group who would make a yearlong commitment to develop their own personal mindfulness practice and then learn to incorporate mindful practices in their classroom as well.
From the pool of volunteers, a total of 25 educators were selected for the first cohort; five teachers and one administrator from each school in Holmdel and one district-wide administrator. This commitment included voluntary participation two online 6-week mindfulness courses (the first in practicing mindfulness themselves and the second in teaching mindfulness to youth), as well as three in-district training sessions as a cohort with Mr. Brown, and a willingness to voluntarily turn-key training with colleagues during faculty meetings.
“Many schools look to teach mindfulness to children but skip the critical step of providing the adults a chance to understand and develop experience with their own mindfulness practice” Mr. Brown stated. “Holmdel’s approach is at the cutting edge of social-emotional learning best practices, where the conversation more and more is shifting to how we resource teachers to have the same skills we hope to teach our students,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert McGarry added.
Members of the cohort took enthusiastically to mindfulness practice and noted the personal and professional challenge involved. Ms. Rosette Andrews, a third grade teacher and member of the first Mindful Cohort recently reflected, “Mindful Educator Essentials taught me the importance of giving the children time to slow down. In over two decades of teaching, so many changes have occurred in education, and this is especially true in the area of testing. It is important that I connect it to my life and to my students’ lives.”
In addition to their online study, the cohort has had support in person as well, where they gathered as a group to practice together and discuss what they'd learned and had a chance to support one another in the challenges of establishing a mindfulness practice. Brown notes that "for many teachers, thinking about their own self-care as part of their teaching pedagogy is real shift, and making time in their day for mindfulness can be a challenge; having a group of supportive peers to be able to share what's working for them and problem solve with what isn't can make all the difference.”
The Mindful Educators Cohort is currently completing coursework in how to incorporate mindfulness practices into their teaching. In their in-person support sessions, members of the cohort are discussing how to teach mindfulness in a way that makes sense within the context of their classroom or position. This ranges from a formal lesson on the way that strong emotions in the amygdala can hijack the more rational functioning of the prefrontal cortex, to an activity using characters from Disney's Inside Out to name different emotional states, or creating a building-wide gratitude wall or writing “brain breaks” into a math test.
Based on the success and interest in the first cohort, the District is now planning for the second Mindful Educators Cohort to begin next year. Dr. Dineen Seeley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, states, “Our district is committed to supporting the social and emotional health and wellness of our faculty and students.”