The ABCs of Mindfulness in Schools

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on June 4, 2019

The benefits of mindfulness are well-known, and at Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS), they want to get kids started early on a path to mindful living.

A 2019 pilot program at an RCPS elementary school included a short guided meditation as part of the morning announcements, led by Laurie Seidel, M.S.N., a nurse educator in Carilion Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

The voluntary program has been so successful that it will be expanded to additional RCPS elementary schools in the coming school year.

What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice that helps people focus on their physical sensations as a means to “ground” them in the present moment.

The body responds to deep, mindful breathing with lowered blood pressure, relaxed muscles and lower levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream. That helps the mind relax, leading to an improved sense of well-being and more measured responses to the stresses of daily life.

Just a few minutes of mindful breathing lowers blood pressure and reduces stress hormones in the bloodstream.

Seidel sees those results every day. An instructor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and an adjunct faculty member of Jefferson College of Health Sciences (now part of Radford University), she has conducted several research studies on mindfulness in health care and leads regular mindfulness meditation sessions at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Mindfulness in School

School-based mindfulness programs reduce behavioral interruptions, leaving more time for teaching and learning.

One morning each week, Seidel taps a rubber mallet on a small bell over the school intercom. She waits until the ringing grows quiet and then begins to invite students and teachers to close their eyes and slowly inhale and exhale.

“Feel the air come through your nose, filling your chest and belly,” she says in a steady, clear voice. “Calmly, slowly, you can breathe out, relaxing your whole body.”

She continues to guide the participants for another few moments, and then gently rings the bell again to close the session.

The Roanoke Times reports that the RCPS program is “part of the school division’s efforts to become trauma-informed, or more aware of how adverse childhood experiences can influence behavior and learning.”

The school’s principal told the Times that the program has had a positive impact on student behavior and the school as a whole. When students at the school do act out, their teachers often engage them in a brief mindfulness session instead of sending them to the principal, leading to fewer interruptions in learning.

Mindfulness in the classroom results in less time spent on discipline and more time spent on learning.

Mindfulness at Work
Mindful breathing and meditation can have the same positive physical and mental effects at work as it does at school, even if you didn't learn how to do it in elementary school (or even if you have never done it!).

three men in construction gear and hardhats sitting crosslegged and calmly meditating
Mindfulness doesn't require you to sit cross-legged and maintain a pose. A few conscious deep breaths will do!

Taking a moment or two between tasks to stretch, breathe deeply, perhaps go for a short walk can help you lower stress levels, refocus more clearly on your work and even become more productive than you were when you felt frazzled.

Mindfulness at Play
Mindfulness has also been shown to boost creativity and has been associated with the intense focus children have when playing, building or drawing.

That may be one reason why adult coloring books are so popular. They are one way adults find it easy to return to a calm, meditative state.

Mindfulness at Home
Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., specializes in oncology nutrition at Carilion Clinic. She helps her patients use mindfulness to change unhealthy relationships with food."A focus on breathing offers an ever-present way of calming and centering ourselves—a reset tool that allows us to connect with our senses," she says. "For many, this pause may open into a sense of gratitude or giving thanks. We are asked to pay more attention as we choose, prepare and savor our food—the tastes, smells and textures—which can minimize mindless selections and overeating."

The Carilion Clinic program at RCPS is based on the international MindUP program, which has resources for schools, teachers and families. Visit MindUP for information and resources to increase mindfulness in your family.