Our Plan in Action: Mindfulness Takes Root in the Classroom at Burke's

At Burke’s, “mindfulness” is much more than a buzzword — in the past six years, it has become an instrumental aspect of the school’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum.

“In the 2010-11 school year, our Challenge Success team made the recommendation that we teach all our students a simple mindfulness practice as a tool to help them manage the routine stresses of school,” says Rebekah Wolman, Director of Upper School. The mindfulness program at Burke’s was initiated the following school year with a series of lessons provided by Oakland-based Mindful Schools to Upper School students and faculty. The program has since been integrated into all classrooms, and to great effect.

Although similar to meditation in principle, mindfulness practice at Burke’s takes place in much shorter sessions of a minute or two. During this quiet window of time led by a teacher or fellow student, the girls are encouraged to “take a break” by tuning in to themselves and their surroundings. “During this time they can close their eyes or just look down, using what we call ‘soft eyes,’ and focus on what they’re hearing or their breathing or how their body feels,” says Alice Moore, Director of Lower School. “They can even practice mindful eating, where they really focus on what they’re putting in their mouths, and how the food feels and tastes.” Unlike just being quiet and staying still, mindfulness practice is action-oriented, Moore says, because “you’re calling attention to something.”

Mindfulness is a well-established part of students’ daily routines at Burke’s, with each girl engaging in the practice at least once a day, although the time of day and circumstances vary from class to class. “My advisory begins homeroom every morning promptly at 8:15 with a mindfulness practice developed and led by the girls,” reports Deborah Thomson, Upper School music teacher. “We begin by holding the silence with a bell ringing ritual, followed by ‘random’ readings from mindfulness books of quotes.” Some teachers find the practice helpful at a particular time of day, such as when students come back from lunch and need to regroup for the rest of the day.

Lower School art teacher Yara Herman views mindfulness as an integral part of the K-4 art experience and uses the practice as a “transition tool to help ground students and teachers,” she says. “Mindfulness enables us to shift our attention from the world outside the art room to the creative space within ourselves. Using the breath to connect to feelings of presence and calm, allows students to better absorb and interact with new information, be it the agenda for the lesson, an artistic concept, or specific skills and techniques.” The practice even takes place in Lower School assembly, when two fourth graders lead 235 students in a mindfulness session using either a pre-made script or one they’ve written themselves.

If we regard SEL as the non-academic curriculum that teaches how to be a good person who is in touch with her feelings and empathetic to others, it’s easy to see how mindfulness practice enhances that effort in the school setting. The students certainly see it, teachers say. “One of the programs we use in SEL is called the ‘Zones of Regulation,’ and that’s tuning in to your body and knowing if you’re in the right zone, whether you’re really fired up or feeling stressed, for example,” Moore says. “I heard that the Upper Schoolers will now ask their teachers if they can practice mindfulness before a test, because they know they’re feeling a little stressed. I’ve seen students who have argued with a friend, and then go find a quiet place where they can breathe. They offer up mindfulness practice themselves as a solution.”

Click here to see some examples of mindfulness in the classroom. You may find yourself feeling more centered as a result!
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Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

Burke’s

An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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