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Mindfulness helps students manage their behavior so they can focus on learning

Students practicing breathing exercises   Student blowing at a paper pinwheel   

Two students laying on the floor with a stuffed animal on their abdomen   Student and teacher practicing calming yoga pose

It seems to be everywhere. Magazine covers, news stories, health clubs - everyone seems to be touting the benefits of mindfulness. So when a group of South St. Paul ublic Schools (SSPPS) teachers came together last summer to learn about ways to incorporate mindfulness and yoga into their classroom, some were skeptical, worried that it was just another fad.

But, like the volumes of research that support mindfulness for everything from better health to increased productivity at work, many SSPPS teachers are finding success with the strategies and applications they learned at the “Mindfulness, Movement and Socio-Emotional Learning” workshop in August.

“I absolutely think the strategies are helpful — not just to my students, but to all of the adults in our room too,” said Jessica Green, Lincoln Center special education teacher. “Taking quiet moments to breathe together helps everyone get on the same page and ready to move forward. Many of the strategies are so portable and simple that I’ve already seen both the staff and students using them outside of the times where it’s part of the lesson.”

The training, conducted by Kathy Flaminio, whose experience as a regular and special education teacher helped to create instant credibility with the SSPPS faculty, aims to build emotional, physical and mental strength in both students and teachers. The link between these three areas resonated with the educators in the room.

“Without these practices and meeting the students at their social-emotional state, they are unable to learn to their fullest potential,” said Lincoln Center special education teacher Allie Dawson. “It should be our goal as educators to meet all students’ needs, both academically and socially-emotionally.”

“The Move Mindfully training provides you with many tools to demonstrate kind, compassionate and patient teaching,” added Sydney Jacobson, Kaposia and Lincoln Center occupational therapist. “It’s easy to respond to unwelcomed behaviors in a negative tone or with a bigger reaction than necessary. When you work with students and complete the techniques with the students, you are regulating your body, which in turn leads to something we call co-regulation. Co-regulation occurs when two individuals in an interaction are able to lend and borrow each other’s calm. Both parties feel safe and trust is built.”

According to Jacobson, this year they have seen more success with the students they work with than in past years. “We believe the move mindfully ‘calm/active/calm’ structure makes movements in the motor room more purposeful and provides structure for and consistency between staff.” Her team is in the process of collecting data on specific student outcomes related to readiness to learn in the classroom. “We are looking forward to seeing those results,” she said.

For fellow occupational therapist Denise Frederick, who works at Lincoln Center and SSP Secondary, those results are already apparent. “I have seen that if kids can learn to be self-aware, quiet their minds and bodies, and educate themselves about their emotional, physical and mental health, they will become more competent in many areas,” she said. “After I facilitated a group activity with some middle school students about releasing breaths and active yoga poses, a teacher mentioned that one of her students completed an entire math worksheet, which he had not been able to do all year. This was very exciting to hear!”