Mindfulness, empathy and self-care are essential elements of classes at Detroit Country Day.
Sponsored by Detroit Country Day School
Mindfulness is a concept that is increasingly understood to be enormously beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing. Mindfulness is a state where you become fully present, focused, relaxed and aware of your thoughts, activities and surroundings. It’s a kind of conscious serenity that helps us avoid being distracted, stressed or overwhelmed. The growing popularity of meditation, yoga and other activities that promote mindfulness, is a testament to its benefits. Those benefits include reducing stress, boosting awareness and focus, and helping to promote feelings of empathy and community connection.
Obviously, those are welcome attributes in any educational environment — beneficial for both students and teachers. Which is why Detroit Country Day School (DCDS) is leading the way in finding creative and consistent ways to bring mindfulness, empathy and self-care into the classroom. DCDS administrators have worked closely with our teachers to give them the information, opportunities and support they need to help DCDS students practice mindfulness in ways that are accessible to them.
Different teachers use different mindfulness techniques and strategies, based on the specific preferences and priorities of their students and schedules. Some have mindfulness meditation sessions every morning, some choose to take a mindfulness break only before exams and other big moments. Some use self-guided meditation with breathing exercises or scripted finger movements, others use mindfulness or meditation apps to help their students achieve a more mindful, relax and centered state of mind.
While the logistics vary from one classroom to the next, what is consistent across the entire DCDS community is a special emphasis on the empathy and self-reflection that is a powerful part of any mindfulness practice. In some cases, teachers present student with an empathy challenge, asking them to come up with an empathic response to a set of hypothetical circumstances, rather than defending or explaining or blaming. By helping students gets in touch with their own feelings, mindfulness practices also help them become more aware of the needs and feelings of others.
Teachers work with their classes to discuss mental health issues, to help them become more conscious about word choices, and to make emotional and psychological wellbeing as much a part of their daily routine as eating healthy or completing their schoolwork. By normalizing these issues and helping make sure that empathic thinking and mindfulness are a core part of the language, practices, and principles here at DCDS, we are able to cultivate a true culture of mindfulness that not only benefits students today, but for the rest of their lives.
The empathy and conscious consideration that is a part of the mindfulness mentality has translated to some genuinely exciting and inspiring student-driven outcomes. For example, our 8th grade robotics team took the initiative and developed their own project: using empathy to understand the problems people face both in school and in society at large and using creativity and technology to help develop meaningful solutions for those problems. Two teams of students developed their own self-care robot concepts, one that alerts students to overly loud or bright stressors in their environment, and another that walks you through a meditative breathing cycle as a way to reduce stress.
Firsthand experience with mindfulness here at DCDS has provided our teachers with some valuable lessons about what works—and what doesn’t. While helping students understand and practice techniques designed to enhance mindfulness is a priority, it’s critical not to “lessonize” mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that ultimate cannot be taught — it has to be experienced. In other words: don’t put mindfulness on the curriculum, make it a part of the classroom experience by giving teachers and students the tools and opportunities they need to experience mindfulness for themselves.
Avoid the rigor of mandatory or overly scheduled mindfulness sessions and be thoughtful about when and how you use technology to promote or enhance mindfulness. As DCDS robotics teams have shown, tech can be a valuable tool, but it cannot and should not be the primary driver of mindfulness. An app or a robot can be a means to an end but is not a solution in and of itself.
At DCDS, where we pride ourselves on providing our students with the kind of state-of-the-art facilities and engaging learning environments that promote and encourage empowered students and collaborative, social and self-directed learning, mindfulness is a powerful piece of the educational puzzle. It’s helping our students learn to recognize and solve problems in school and society. To improve their emotional state and better manage stress. To become more empathic and connected learners. In other words, at DCDS, mindfulness is not just a state of mind — it’s a way of life.