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Mindfulness Comes to the Classroom

STAMFORD – Last year, Emily Tully came up with an idea to help her 5th-grade students at Stamford’s Bi-Cultural Day School improve their classroom focus by reducing their levels of stress and making them less anxious, more confident human beings.

A tall order? Not for Emily Tully. For the energetic, upbeat secular studies teacher, the solution was obvious: introduce into the classroom the practice of Mindfulness – a series of techniques that foster a nonjudgmental, in-the-moment self-awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and surrounding environment. The practice of Mindfulness has been proven to enhance the quality of life for adults. When applied to children, studies show that it not only improves focus, but also reduces attention problems, lowers anxiety, mitigates the effects of bullying, enhances well-being and social skills.

“Mindfulness is an approach to being a full ‘human,’” explains Tully, who in addition to being a fifth-grade teacher at Bi-Cultural is also a certified Mindfulness and yoga instructor. “It’s an approach to understanding what is going on inside so that we can react less and respond more. It gives you greater clarity. You understand yourself more, and you understand situations with more of a big-picture view.”

And so, Tully set out to introduce into the classroom age-appropriate Mindfulness practices for students. Among them: guided meditation, mindfulness breathing, a visual four-color chart called a “Mood Meter” that helps children identify, process and manage their own emotions, and a Glitter Globe that illustrates for children how strong emotions left unchecked can cloud your thoughts.

The practice of Mindfulness in Bi-Cultural’s 5th-grade classroom was so successful last year, that this year administrators expand the Mindfulness curriculum to also include grades 1 through 4, with Tully leading the program.

A key part of the curriculum, says Tully, is to instruct teachers teach how to speak to children from the perspective of a ‘growth mindset,’ as opposed to ‘fixed mindset.’

“It’s basically a question of nature vs. nurture,” says Tully. “A fixed mindset makes children feel small, never good enough. It says you either are or aren’t good at something based on your inherent nature, A growth mindset says anyone can be good at anything, because your abilities are entirely due to your actions.”

Bi-Cutural’s third-grade teacher Dana Cooney is finding Tully’s Mindfulness strategies a boon for students and teachers alike.

“I have seen a difference in the children’s attitude and presence in class,” she says, but “the person that benefits the most from her lessons is me! Using our Mood Meter has helped me regulate my emotions and lets me convey my feelings to my class in a way they can relate to.”

CAP: Fifth-graders at Bi-Cultural Day School, and their teacher Emily Tully (far left, wearing glasses), gather around a glitter globe to watch as the bits of glitter swirl around and then slowly settle to the bottom, illustrating for the children how strong emotions left unchecked can cloud your thoughts. (Credit: Courtesy Bi-Cultural Day School)

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