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admin | next action todoist | 06.06.2015
We recently attended the Omega Mindfulness & Education Conference in New York City where we were inspired by connecting with our community of flawless activists. The conference began on a bittersweet note as we immediately bumped into an educator we have known for years who shared tragic news of a student who lived with serious behavioral challenges and had died from over-prescription of psychiatric medications. Our colleague Daniel Rechtschaffen founder of the Mindful Education Institute gave the opening remarks.
We were pleased to also run into our friend Rachel Goldstein, who we have worked with in the Yoga Service World. Flawless Foundation: Claire, you have been involved with progressive education for decades, now. More recently I wrote a book with my husband called Funny Food and together we do workshops making it fun to learn about nutrition. For families living in poverty,the issue is how to exist in a very challenging world, how to create a calm, focused space inside yourself that helps you handle questions of survival. I was really impressed with the young men from the Holistic Life Foundation who work exclusively with underserved kids. Several people spoke about the need to set aside a room or a space in the school that people can just go to for reflective time -- mostly it's the students but, you know, sometimes the principal needs to go there, too!
So the emphasis is on the teachers' understanding their own emotions first, before dealing with the kids.
FF: After attending a conference like this, what development makes you feel the most optimistic?


CW: A number of teachers spoke who work in poor schools, and they are really trying to bring this sense of calm to their kids and offer these tools to everyone. Claire Wurtzel teaches in a masters degree program at the American Museum of Natural History and mentors educators in NYC public and independent schools. Writing about the conference later, he said, "The research is piling up showing that a consistent mindfulness practice can help us to be more happy, focused, compassionate, emotionally regulated, and less impacted by stress. Thirty years ago, I worked with Linda Lantieri, helping to develop a curriculum for creative problem resolution -- working with teachers and kids on how to resolve conflict peacefully. One presenter discussed how in affluent families, the pressure is often to fit in and to satisfy the parent's ego, which means the parent isn't connecting with who their child authentically is. One of them told a story about a yoga class where it seemed many the students were not paying attention.
She had been sick and her granddaughter -- who'd been through the program -- sat with her and coached her with mindfulness and yoga practices. Patricia Jennings talked about how they spend time with teachers, long before they do mindfulness work with the students directly. Linda talked about observing a teacher who modeled self regulation by saying out loud 'I'm feeling very frustrated at this moment, so I'm going to take some time for a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders".
I thought that was fantastic.It was also interesting to get up to date with what's happening in the field in general with packaged mindfulness curricula and mindfulness apps where we never had them before. Funny Food, a book filled with healthy, creative breakfasts written with her husband, Bill, was selected as a best children's book of 2012.


We'll say, 'Forget that it's a cantaloupe.' We tell them to just be with it, consider its appearance, its texture and weight, how it smells and tastes --that's a mindfulness practice.
For these families, the mindfulness practice is for the parent to find ways to let the child be. The granddaughter helped her take deep breaths and find a comfortable position, so she wasn't feeling pain. Patricia teaches a course on this at UVA, because she found that teachers can learn all about classroom management in theory but then emotions get in the way in real life.
Sara Lazar talked about new research on how mindfulness practices affect the neurons in the brain. I can remember being a new teacher, myself, using what were good techniques but feeling angry with the student who was acting out -- which kids sense immediately and they shut down. There is a real need to quantitatively and qualitatively prove the value of these efforts and tools. The main point of mindfulness in education is that you have to acknowledge that there's an emotional life inside every child and every adult you work with.



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