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What does a Mindful School really mean? A snapshot of what mindfulness looks like in one school and the impact it has on the lives of students and staff.

Mindfulness is all the rage. Articles about mindfulness feature serene people meditating in gardens amidst pink lotus flowers. TIME magazine titled an issue “The Mindful Revolution.” There is even an entire magazine called Mindful. Mindfulness is creeping into our daily vernacular. Parents at playgrounds are reminding their kids to “Be mindful of your behavior” or chiding “That’s not very mindful.”  

But what does mindful really mean? Here is a snapshot of what mindfulness looks like in one school.

A mindful school is more than a mindful minute

As you walk onto our mindful school campus, you will not hear a morning gong followed by a mindful minute. You are unlikely to see students practicing deep breathing. You might see yoga, but only in P.E. class. At our school, mindfulness is not about meditation. It is cognitive mindfulness. It is all about thinking.  

You will see teachers teaching lessons developed with not only an academic objective but also a mindful habit objective. You will see students reflecting on academic goals as well as mindful habits that they use to help meet their academic objectives. You will hear students identifying what mindful habits help them accomplish personal and academic goals.   

As you walk down the open-air corridors of Waikiki School, the cement floors are colorfully adorned with hopscotch and four square games.  Arching overhead, phrases such as “Flexibility in Thinking,” “Cooperation and Caring,” “Humor and Joy” are painted brightly in bold blue and white.  

Habits of the mind

In addition to learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, students at Waikiki School are explicitly being taught and assessed on “Habits of the Mind” (HOM) developed by Art Costa. The HOM was initially used as tools for adults, but Costa thought, “why not teach the HOM to children in schools?”

Habits of the Mind are a set of sixteen habits upon which students can draw to be better equipped for the challenges they may face in the future. These habits will help students navigate any challenging situation ranging from trying new foods to choosing what game to play at recess. These habits do not lose their usefulness in childhood but rather become more important as the child matures. These mindsets, when practiced at a young age, can help students develop into adults who are able to navigate challenging situations with intelligence, clarity, and poise. Costa describes the HOM stating “when we teach the Habits of Mind, we are interested in how students behave when they don’t know an answer.” 

One huge unanswered question in the state of Hawaii has to do with the installation of the thirty-meter telescope (TMT) on top of our state’s tallest mountain Mauna Kea. Some scientists think Mauna Kea’s location and elevation make it an ideal location for the TMT to make groundbreaking discoveries about deep space. Others disagree. To many Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is a sacred place. Many think Mauna Kea is not a suitable location for the TMT for a variety of reasons including environmental and cultural ones. Student opinion is also mixed. As a class assignment, students read a short article about the recent controversy and were asked what advice they would give to help protesters and government officials.

Student voices

Fourth-grade students with a maturity far beyond their years used the HOM to help inform their answers.

Many students advised protesters to use persistence to help solve the problem. One eight-year-old boy wrote, “I think the protesters and government officials will have to use persistence. First, because they have work[ed] together on making a deal. Next, they need to persist on [continued]agreeing and no arguments. Last, because they need to think quickly or else [they will] have more problems. They can not give up until they make an agreement.”  

Another student wrote that the HOM flexibility in thinking would be most helpful in making a difficult decision by offering “I think the best HOM is flexibility in thinking. One reason is maybe somebody will say a different solution after you said a solution, then you need to use flexibility in thinking and think about their ideas, too. Another reason is that you need to think of an idea with flexibility in thinking. If you never listened to other people’s perspectives, it would be boring. Those are the reasons that flexibility in thinking is the best HOM for this.”

Lastly, a nine-year-old girl shared her thoughts. She wrote, “I think listening with empathy would help because the protesters and government officials would have to listen to each other’s idea! Also, this is a big problem, so, there has to be A LOT of ideas to listen to. Plus, someone has this idea, and this person has another idea and they both want to do their [own] ideas. Maybe if they LISTEN to each other, maybe they can…bring their ideas together and can solve in reaching an agreement. Those are just some of the reasons why the HOM listening with empathy should be the most helpful.”

With a future full of unknowns, students fortunate to have nurtured the habits of mind will be blessed with lifelong skills they need to be successful.

Lory Peroff

Lory Walker Peroff is a fourth grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow alumna who believes writing is not only enjoyable but essential. She lives in Honolulu with her husband, two energetic and curious daughters, five chickens, two ducks, and one peahen.