Mindfulness practices move into elementary classrooms

Mindfulness is both a term and a practice that is catching on in the Niskayuna Central School District. Hillside and Glencliff Elementary schools are using mindful practices in the classroom daily and administrators say they’re seeing a positive impact.

Mindfulness essentially means being fully present. When you’re mindful, you are not focused on what happened in the past or what will happen in the future. You’re focused on what’s happening right now. Benefits include a reduction in stress, the ability to pause and think before responding, and an overall feeling of gratitude and well-being.

The mindfulness initiative began at Hillside Elementary in the summer of 2016 after the entire faculty and staff read the book “Teach, Breathe, Learn” by Meena Srinivasan and subsequently visited other schools to see how they were using mindful practices.

“It really gave us a baseline understanding of what mindfulness is and how we could use it in our school,” Hillside Elementary Principal Dr. Shireen Fasciglione said. “We realized mindful practices are things any child can do or use and it can be beneficial to all. It helps them stay on track, stay focused and ready to learn.”

After Glencliff Principal Dr. Shelley Baldwin-Nye and some of her faculty heard national presenter Dr. Jennifer Bashant speak about the benefits of mindful practices at a conference, they decided to implement them at Glencliff at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

“We had noticed an increase amount of stress in our kids and teachers, across all backgrounds, and we wanted to be able to provide a more positive environment for all,” she said.

Mindful activities with children teach social and emotional skills such as caring about others’ feelings, learning to be aware of one’s own feelings and an increase in focus and attention. Research shows that mindfulness has a positive impact on attention control/focus, emotional self-regulation and self- awareness.

At both schools, mindful practices include a variety of things like breathing, stretching and relaxation techniques, use of a chime for purposeful listening, playing soft music, coloring, glitter jars, quiet reading, drawing, mindful listening, etc. These types of activities are usually done to start the day or before the start of a lesson and when transitioning from one activity to the next.

“The reality is, is that these practices help the adults in our school as well,” Dr. Baldwin-Nye added. “It’s important to take small breaks, and it’s not something that’s negative. It’s a positive because we are being proactive and it benefits all.”

According to a survey of Hillside faculty members in December 2017, approximately two-thirds were using mindfulness either daily or weekly. In that same survey, 100 percent of respondents said they noticed at least somewhat of a positive impact on student behavior following the use of mindful practices, and 23 percent of those respondents noticed that the impact was significant.

“Many of our teachers have actually been leading the charge with this initiative and teaching what they’ve learned to others,” Dr. Baldwin-Nye said. “We’re still learning and we’re hoping to continue to expand our knowledge in this area.”

“I’m really excited about how this initiative has impacted our building overall,” Dr. Fasciglione added. “Since we began, it hasn’t felt like a building of 400. It just feels a lot calmer.”