Teachers are faced with an increasing number of students with mental health concerns, especially anxiety and depression (Farrell & Barrett, 2007; Hayes, Bach & Boyd, 2010), and childhood trauma is also on the rise (Lilly & Hedlund, 2010). When students are coping with a mental health concern or trauma, it can be very difficult to disregard meaningless stimuli (other students talking, noises in the room) and to focus on the task at hand. The Administration for Children and Families and the US Department of Health and Human Services have recently released a federal report recommending that schools prioritize helping children build self-regulation skills. Researchers have identified the connection between self-regulation and the ability to manage thoughts and feelings, control impulses and problem-solve. The ability to self-regulate has the potential to mediate against the negative effects of living in poverty and experiencing trauma (Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, 2016).
Many schools across the country are turning to the ancient practice of mindfulness to help address this urgent need, and are simultaneously experiencing many additional benefits, including a more positive culture and climate. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). This definition is rooted in Buddhist traditions which are based on the belief that mindfulness can ameliorate suffering by calming and clearing the mind, opening the heart, and distilling attention. It is not only a practice, but a way of being in the world and a way of understanding the world (Rempel, 2012). Mindfulness-Based Interventions have nearly 35 years of research behind them, as they have progressively been implemented in health care, then mental health and finally in education (Mindful Schools, 2015).
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