ESD teachers continue authentic and engaging learning for students who are working at a distance within their classrooms, outside on campus, and across the internet. Teachers continue to stretch, adapt, and evolve at a remarkable pace with noteworthy results. Facing all of these challenges, however, can take its toll. From the very beginning, we knew that going remote for any extended period of time posed a threat to our community values and the emotional well-being of our community.
Going remote in 2020 was even more problematic. Living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while facing serious political tension and a national racial-social justice awakening has led many of us to be functioning in a prolonged state of chronic stress. In order to achieve our goals for learning and teaching, all of us have had to remain focused on community wellness, remaining flexible, and supportive along the way. In addition to keeping our doors open, engaging the community in surveys for feedback, modifying how we work where possible, and adjusting the calendar and the daily schedule, our counselors reinforced activities to strengthen our resilience as a community.
In an effort to provide our faculty and staff convenient options for self-care and stress relief, ESD began offering weekly mindfulness meditation sessions and yoga instruction. These sessions are faculty-led by those with experience and skill in leading mindfulness meditation and yoga. Why mindfulness, you ask? According to The Greater Good Science Center, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. During this practice, we are asked to tune into ourselves through a nonjudgemental lens. Mindfulness involves acceptance, such that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Practicing mindfulness in this way helps us stay in the present rather than focusing on the past or future. Research has shown that consistent practice of mindfulness can change the brain’s pathways in ways that can strengthen the immune system, help reduce anxiety and depression, relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties. We are excited to provide this as an option to our faculty and staff and thrilled by how it has been received thus far. Discussions are underway to expand the programming to our upper school students in the coming fall.
Even our youngest students are exposed to the benefits of mindfulness. Each spring, Cara Holmes, Lower School Counselor, brings the MindUp curriculum to the kindergarten and primer classrooms. This empirically-based program establishes core practices, including deep belly breathing and focused attention, which are designed to promote self-regulation, enhance self-awareness, and reduce stress. MindUp begins with familiarizing students with the basic parts of the brain involved in helping students think and respond to stress. By understanding how their brains respond to stress, children can then practice strategies for quieting their minds, allowing children to prime their brains for learning and improved self-regulation. With brain basics and core practices in place, the program next focuses on sharpening students’ senses. By being mindful of their senses, students can strengthen their focus and use sensory experiences to enhance memory, problem-solving, and relationship skills.