Hewitt News

Developing Presence and Empathy Through Mindfulness
Hewitt News

This summer, several Hewitt faculty members participated in two courses run by Mindful Schools, an organization that trains educators in integrating mindfulness practices into their classrooms. In the first course, Mindfulness Fundamentals, participants developed a personal mindfulness practice to deepen self-awareness and increase well-being. The second course, Mindfulness for Educators, built on this foundation while focusing on ways to teach mindfulness to young people as a method of building attention, self-regulation, and empathy. Seven Hewitt faculty members participated in the online courses, and each reported a meaningful and impactful experience. Below, they share personal reflections on their learning and detail how they are incorporating mindfulness into their teaching practices and classrooms. 

Lindsey Brown, Kindergarten Teacher 
As an educator, it is important for me to have a personal understanding of the material I am teaching my students, and the best way to achieve that understanding is by engaging in the same practices I’m asking my students to use. This course helped me create a solid foundation for the mindful listening I use in my personal life and at school. It has allowed me to pay more attention to what someone is saying to me, rather than thinking about what I want to say or how I should respond. Being mindful helps me feel more present and attentive in conversations with colleagues and students.

Chris Han, Middle School History Teacher
The Mindful Schools courses gave me a basic understanding of how certain parts of the brain affect emotion and thus behavior. For example, mindful breathing helps to anchor us to the present, allowing us to think about and recognize how certain stimuli affect the brain. Mindfulness practices encourage us to respond rather than react to stimuli in our environment.  

Anusheh Hashim, First Grade Teacher 
Many of my first graders had already learned about mindfulness practices from their kindergarten teachers, and it has been really wonderful to be able to continue this practice during their second year at Hewitt. Every day after lunch my students excitedly enter their dark classroom. They sit on the rug in a mindful pose (straight backs, plenty of personal space between them) and get ready for their daily quiet time. Before every quiet time, a different student teaches us a breathing technique she enjoys or has invented herself. One of our favorites is “cake breathing,” which involves holding an imaginary piece of freshly baked cake and inhaling its delicious aromas, then exhaling and blowing on the cake because it is too hot. Some days we discuss and write about how we feel after we breathe together. We also make sure to celebrate when we hear a friend (or teacher!) use deep breathing techniques to work through a difficult moment. 

Brandon Lazarcheck, Second Grade Teacher
I introduced mindfulness to my second graders by using a community building resource called Class Dojo, which uses short animated films to teach students about growth mindset, perseverance, empathy, gratitude, and mindfulness. The second graders understand mindfulness as being aware of their emotions and knowing how to respond to those emotions in a productive way. My students rely on mindful breathing to work through moments of frustration or disappointment during the day. 

Tyler Paul, Lower School Science Teacher
The Mindful Schools courses were an incredible educational opportunity for me as an individual and an educator. I learned methods for slowing down throughout the day and remembering to be more aware and thankful for each moment. The experience was extremely calming, and I enjoyed collaborating with other educators on the best ways to bring these practices into our classrooms.

Elaine Schreger, Fourth Grade Teacher 
Not long after the academic year began, it became clear to me that the two mindfulness classes I took over the summer would play a significant role in my classroom. The fundamentals course, designed for educators to work on their own mindfulness practice, has helped me to remain present and available for my students. During stressful moments I use a steady tone of voice to help maintain a calm atmosphere in the classroom and to model for the girls how being mindful helps me to respond, rather than react, to a situation. More importantly, the practices I have shared with my students thus far have helped them to pause, refocus, and return to a lesson feeling refreshed. I find the breathing exercises particularly effective after recess, as students prepare to transition from physically invigorating activities to our literacy period. Having these "mindful moments" has resulted in increased concentration and improved impulse control for my students.

Samia Soodi, Third Grade Teacher
Mindfulness is not about clearing or stopping thoughts – it is about shifting our attention and focus. We process between 50,000-60,000 thoughts per day and 90% of those thoughts are repetitious. The Mindful Schools courses highlighted how much more creative or productive or at peace we might be if we were able to free up our occupied minds. I’m teaching my students to be more mindful when they are caught up in repetitious thoughts by encouraging them to label those thoughts and let them pass without judgement.