“What are the four things you should ask yourself before you say or do anything?”
Seventeen hands fly into the air.
“Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? And — wait, I got this.”
Sixteen impatient hands suddenly wave for my attention.
“Is it beneficial?”
“Way to go! Now, how can you actually use these questions in your own life? James?”
“Well, I was about to say something the other day … but then I stopped myself because it wasn’t kind.”
I ask my sixth graders these questions every week at The George Jackson Academy, an upper elementary and middle school for bright boys from low-income families in New York City. Self-reflective questions like these are part of my school-wide initiative to help students learn what we should’ve all been taught when we were kids: the power of mindfulness.
Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and responding to whatever arises with compassion. Since implementing mindfulness into my classroom, I have noticed a significant decrease in student behavior referrals — with a corresponding increase in academic engagement. Mindfulness achieves such positive results by adding an ‘undo’ feature to life. Just as this feature allows someone to recall an e-mail within 30 seconds of sending it, mindfulness creates space between thoughts and actions. That way, students become more reflective rather than reactive.
Over the years, students have told me that mindfulness gives them a sense of freedom. This is because they no longer feel the need to act on every thought racing through their minds — especially if doing so might not be kind, necessary, true, and beneficial.
Mindfulness is not only proactive, but also a reactive way to yield a positive influence on student behavior. One of the best examples of this comes from the Coleman School in Baltimore. It has used mindfulness programs instead of detention and witnessed dramatic results. For over two years, the school has been suspension-free.
It’s important to remember that mindfulness is a muscle. As such, it needs to be exercised. If it is seen as just another chore to be shoehorned into an already-crammed day, students and teachers alike will be less likely to practice it — and thereby miss all its life-changing benefits.
This is where Allison Zmuda’s exemplary work in the field of personalized learning comes into play. Inspired by her approach, I’ve developed a curriculum that harnesses each student and educator’s unique skills and interests to help them craft mindfulness exercises they genuinely want to undertake.
Experience for yourself how personalized mindfulness can revitalize your classroom — and your life.