Mindfulness at HArts

As a practicing meditator since my early college days, I have always known intuitively that when humans take just a small time out of their day to quiet their minds, examine thought process, and unite the mind and body, that a powerful emotional, physical, and spiritual transformation occurs. Self-awareness is increased, relaxation kicks in, a tremendous concentration and focus happens, while empathy and compassion are nurtured. In essence, a much-needed pause from the accumulated stresses and exigencies of life takes place. These are the results and outcomes from my own personal experience with meditation, Zen Buddhism in particular.
Then it occurred to me that maybe these students they refer to were never taught HOW to pay attention.

When I began working with high school students in 1987, I kept hearing the often-repeated refrain made by teachers everywhere that “students just don’t pay attention.” Then it occurred to me that maybe these students they refer to were never taught HOW to pay attention. There has been this unstated expectation that students would come prepared to school and have the internal controls to tune out or compartmentalize all distracting thoughts and emotions and just “pay attention.”

I view mindfulness, whether ones uses a simple breathing technique, guided meditation, yoga movements, or the higher level visualizations taken from Tibetan-style meditation, as a natural and foundational way in which to teach all people, regardless of age, to learn how to focus and concentrate in a deep and meaningful way.

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Becoming the principal of HArts Academy in 2013, of course I jumped at the opportunity of having all of the 500 students learn the art of meditation. Before the school year began in the summer of 2014, I approached my entire faculty staff of 22 teachers and asked how many of them would be willing and able to add mindfulness, or meditation, to their daily practice as educational professionals. After a 15-minute presentation at the faculty meeting, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that eleven teachers, half of the staff were open to it. We began to have regular meetings. We would open the meeting with a brief meditation and then began to share best practices.

I wanted to see if we could measure the impact of mindfulness on the learning process and see if student achievement can be correlated to students meditating. I deployed a pre and post-test on students using a variety of credible surveys that measure Mindful Attention Awareness, Resiliency, and Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness. Preliminary data suggests that with continued mindfulness practice does have a positive effect on student achievement as evidenced by increased graduation rates and a decrease in the D/F rate.

Although I don’t view meditation in schools as a panacea, I do believe that coupled with other socio-emotional learning modalities that students would definitely benefit from meditation as it enhances instruction in a more personalized manner. Students learn to regulate their emotions, and develop the necessary coping skills needed to deal with their internal battles as well as the demands that the universe constantly presents to them. One noteworthy anecdote that validates how students themselves see the value and benefit of mindfulness is when a teacher who uses meditation in his classroom was away for a day and the students asked the substitute to make sure that they had their daily meditation before the lesson began.

Not only do students benefit from mindfulness but what is equally important is to embed it into staff and faculty meetings. The adults at school sites are in just as much need of meditation to help them cope with the stress and fast-paced demands that the stakeholders (students, parents, administrators, school district, state, etc.) placed on them. On occasion we have implemented mindfulness into our faculty meetings to give pause and help the staff relax so that we can be better at nurturing mutual respect and listen deeply when communicating.

Greg Fisher, principal

Greg Fisher is the principal of Harts HS, a pilot school in the LAUSD. Greg was accepted into the first cohort of the Los Angeles New Administrators Program (LANALP) in 2014. LANALP is a U.S. Department of Education funded administrator induction program created out of a partnership between the Center for Collaborative Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Part of LANALP requirements is the implementation of a research-based field project at the school site that is geared to improving student achievement and the teaching and learning process. Inspired by the LANALP Habits of Mind, for his research-based field project, Mr. Fisher implemented a long time aspiration to instill a school-wide mindfulness program to support his teachers and students. He has just completed the LANALP induction program. His write-up above reflects this continuing journey.