The following conversation took place between Matt Bieber of Real Clear English and Nick Mosca, a Personalized Mindfulness Coach
Nick, you’re working to introduce mindfulness into classrooms across the US. What does that involve, exactly?
First off, thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog with you. It is such a pleasure to hear about the success of Real Clear English and catch up!
Mindfulness involves easing into the present moment and choosing to respond to whatever arises with as much compassion as possible. It’s important to remember that mindfulness is a process — and it takes practice. But it’s worth it. The more tuned into the present we are, the richer our lives become. This is because the moment at hand is really all we have.
The first step of introducing mindfulness to an organization or school involves helping the leaders/teachers cultivate a regular practice. Once that’s established (which is no small task!) mindfulness will be embodied for everyone else and taught from a place of authenticity.
At your school – and in the other schools where you consult – how does mindfulness coaching relate to the rest of the curriculum? Is it a standalone activity? Or is it integrated into classes and “regular” instruction as well?
The reason I ask is that in my own classes on critical thinking, I’m starting to see a relationship between mindfulness and clear thinking. When our thinking goes awry – say, when we commit logical fallacies or succumb to cognitive biases – it’s usually because we’re not aware of what’s going on in our own minds. Instead of recognizing our thoughts as thoughts – just stuff that our mind is generating, and that will eventually pass away – we identify with those thoughts. Sometimes, we do so very deeply – fusing with them, becoming emotionally invested in them, and confusing them with reality itself.
This makes it very hard to imagine alternatives, much less consider them.
Yes, it is often easy to forget that we are far more than the thoughts we experience – let alone that we get to choose which thoughts we act upon.
That’s why I encourage project managers and teachers to begin every meeting and class with a 3-5 minute mindfulness exercise.
When mindfulness is not part of an organization’s culture, people will find a thousand excuses not to practice. And don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why they feel that way. We’re often snowed under by the endless needs of our jobs and families. But we truly can’t afford not to practice. Mindfulness is the foundation of all learning. It empowers employees and students to engage with complex material, and enables leaders to keep their cool under pressure.
I want to press this last point a little further: when I work with students, I see a direct relationship between mindfulness and the quality of my students’ thinking and writing.
Some of what I discuss with my students is technical stuff – grammar, syntax, etc. But many of our conversations are ultimately about students’ motivations, beliefs, and underlying psychology. I often find myself saying things like, “You’re arguing X. Why do you believe that?” or “It sounds like you want to convince your reader that Y, but I get the feeling that you don’t entirely believe that…”
In other words, guiding my students means helping them pay more attention to all the stuff that’s swirling around inside them. It’s hard to write a good persuasive essay if you don’t know what you think – and it’s hard to figure out what you think until you spend some time watching the complicated workings of your own mind.
Ah, the good old complicated workings of our minds; believing those thoughts swirling around it as if they were all equally true! Mindfulness creates some much-needed space between our mind and these wacky, fluid thoughts that come and go. When we regularly practice mindfulness, we are less likely to buy into these thoughts at face value and thereby gain more perspective on them.
But here’s the rub: people need to genuinely want to practice. If it’s seen as just another chore they need to shoehorn into their already-crammed day, they’ll be less likely to do it – even though its benefits range from insomnia relief to enhanced executive functioning!
That’s why I’ve spent the last few years developing a personalized approach to mindfulness practices. This methodology harnesses each person’s unique skills and interests to help them craft practices they genuinely want to undertake. There’s no right way to practice. Once you’ve got the fundamentals down (process, awareness, compassion), the manifestations are limitless
If you’ve heard about mindfulness and are wondering how it relates to your day-to-day life as a school leader, then this blog is for you. You may not realize it but you already have a lot of experience with mindfulness. Any time you’ve ever (desperately) tried bringing a wayward class back to a lesson, you’ve practiced it! Similarly, mindfulness practitioners attempt to gently redirect their attention back to the present moment.
In essence, mindfulness is classroom management – for your thoughts!
After consulting with hundreds of teachers and administrators, we've realized that mindfulness is a secular practice that anyone can cultivate. And it’s worth it.
When we are mindful, we become far more reflective than reactive. We are better able to appreciate students’ quirks because we are more aware of our own. Overall, the classroom transforms into an expansive space where we are less punitive and far more compassionate toward both students and ourselves.
When we embody values like this, something wonderful happens: students start reflecting them back. A feedback loop forms in which our mutual mindfulness fuels each other.
Unfortunately, school leaders feel they don’t have enough time to practice mindfulness – even though they truly can’t afford not to.
“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.”
One of our presenters asks 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, we 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 us 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.
We'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.
You can easily learn these techniques by contacting us today!
Experience for yourself how personalized mindfulness can revitalize your classroom — and your life.
As a high school senior, you’re swamped with college application deadlines, SAT prep, and school work. Honestly, this will probably be the most stressful time in your life – that is, until you search for a job or plan a wedding.
Luckily, mindfulness is a revolutionary practice you can use to thrive amidst the stress. Mindfulness is the process of becoming aware of each moment with a curious, nonjudgmental attitude and then responding to it with compassion. Over 25 years of scientific research shows that mindfulness reduces stress and boosts the immune system – all while making you happier! You can practice this revolutionary skill in the following ways during this stressful time.
Step 1: Find a quiet, secluded spot where you feel safe and can simply breathe without worrying about any distractions.
Step 2: Choose an activity that resonates with your skills, interests, and learning styles. For example, if you are an auditory learner, create a youtube playlist of songs you find relaxing. Before you begin, decide which instrument you will focus on and keep redirecting your attention back to it throughout the song.
Step 3: For maximum results, aim for about 20-30 minutes of mindfulness practice a day (they need not be consecutive; for example, listen to a different 5-minute song once every few hours).
Remember, it’s not so much what you do as the mindful way in which you do it. The trick is to gently keep bringing your awareness back to the activity at hand whenever your awareness wanders. Best of luck and here’s to dozens of acceptance letters!