Growth of Mindfulness Practice in Organizational and School Systems in the US
The implementation of mindfulness practices and skills is fast becoming a BIG deal in organizations and schools across the country. One key reason for this expanded interest is the impact of mindfulness on organizational and school climate. Organizational climate may be viewed as the social and emotional tone of a system; therefore, it includes personal and systemic social-emotional variables. Under pressure to compete academically and make schools (for example) safe and more productive, emotional climate influences everything from personal suffering (stress reactivity and dread) to personal happiness (satisfying calm abiding within a caring system). These variables impact all members of the system, from students coming into school all the way “up” to core administrative personnel. When a school is stress-prone, social-emotional stability is harmed, students do not learn well, and teachers and administrators may move into avoidance behaviors to protect themselves from the highly negative psychological and physical effects of chronic stress. Not many people smile or laugh as norms in such systems. More people are absent due to illness and fatigue, and parents and taxpayers are dissatisfied with outcomes versus costs. More people escape stress-prone schools by finding employment elsewhere, thus adding staff replacement costs to already out-of-control budgets.
School climate is top-down AND bottom-up: just like the way the human brain works. Policies, demands, and pressure to “do good” sometimes coupled with anxious leadership move downward in the school’s hierarchy; students and parents coming into school with serious psychological (and often financial) problems add yet more pressure on the overwhelmed system. Such conditions do not set great expectations for educational, social or emotional outcomes. The higher executive brain deals with executive functions, and the lower emotional brain deals with emotional functions. For optimal social-emotional satisfaction and learning schools must balance stressful demands with healthy psychological and physical realities of students, the work force, and the community.
Regular mindfulness practices and skills enhance the ability of an individual to find inner peace and joy. Regular mindfulness practices and skills reduce negative thinking, negative emotional reactivity, and thus negative classroom and school climate. The regular practice of mindfulness in schools over time enhances brain plasticity in habit formation, helpful habit formation. Will it be dread, fatigue, and dissatisfaction OR will it be joy, productivity, and happiness? The famous Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron (from Canada) has noted that organizational and even world peace comes from within individuals. There cannot be peace and equanimity outside the self if there is not peace and equanimity inside the individuals who make up the system – all systems. In our schools today, we face great challenges! These challenges need to be met via regular mindfulness practices as norms in the following areas: school administrators, school union leadership, school structure and process, teacher and classroom structure and climate, effective mindfulness curriculum and QUALIFIED trainers, effective teaching skills, and optimal motivated learning by students. We can find joy, satisfaction and happiness in schools.
One last comment: All mindfulness interventions, formal training, and teaching MUST be 100% secular in nature to avoid unhelpful reactivity by others who may wrongly see it as a form of religious imperialism in schools. Keep everything secular!!! Science, especially neuroscience, supports the use of secular mindfulness as one way to improve systems – including schools.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
CLICK HERE to Order!