Room To Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices: repeating the cycle of trying to force tuned-out children to listen, or to experiment with timeless inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed.
The first question is whether it’s already too late. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, can a young mindfulness teacher from Berkeley succeed in opening their minds and hearts?
Inner city schools across the nation are in trouble. Signs of distress are clear: ten percent of urban teachers are threatened with violence, there are 1.7 million non-fatal crimes a year in schools, ranging from assault to theft, ten percent of boys carry a weapon to school, a quarter of students 12-18 report gang activity at their school, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for those 15-24 years of age. In addition, one out of every ﬁve children has a diagnosable mental illness. The consequences for education are stark. In many major cities, about half of high school students drop out, totaling about 1.2 million students a year; similarly, about 50 percent of teachers drop out after just ﬁve years in the profession.
As former Secretary of State Colin Powell commented in his role as founding chair of America’s Promise Alliance, “When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem, it’s a catastrophe.”
The ﬁlm takes a solutions-oriented approach, focusing on a powerful self-regulatory technique that is being introduced into a handful of public schools across the nation. Based on the experiences depicted in this ﬁlm, this technique, called “mindfulness”, appears to have the potenUal to signiﬁcantly transform the ways in which kids relate to their peers, their teachers, and their world, to reduce violence and bullying, and to create marked improvements in academic performance and high school graduaUon rates. Recent studies by UCLA and other institutions corroborate what is seen in this ﬁlm, linking mindfulness to major improvements in learning, attention, emotional regulation, empathy, impulse control, executive function, optimism, and successful conﬂict resoluUon. Research also suggests that mindfulness leads to reductions in stress and improvements in social skills.
A survey from Mindful Schools shows:
- 92% personally beneﬁLed from the program
- 84% students calm more easily
- 81% students beneﬁt
- 84% will use mindfulness in the future
- 61% can focus more in class
- 53% mindfulness helps make decisions
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness is a form of social and emotional learning that can be described as a particular way of paying attention in order to bring awareness to one’s experience. Generally considered to be based on age-old practices from the time of the Buddha, scholars also believe that similar practices were advocated in older Hindu teachings, as well as in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim teachings. Today, mindfulness is often practiced in a secular way using concentrated breath work, body scans, and sensory and motor awareness to become fully present in the moment. Studies demonstrate that the benefits of mindfulness include better focus and concentration, increased self-awareness, stronger impulse control and feelings of calm, reduced aggression and violent behavior, stress, and loneliness, and increased empathy and understanding of others.
With these mindfulness benefits documented in adults, introducing mindfulness to students has the potential to improve academic achievement, mental health, and inter- and intra-personal relationships.
The Need for Mindfulness
The need for mindfulness in our education system is clear. Stress levels in students are high; pressure from within the school system as well as from parents for increased test scores takes a toll on both students and teachers. There are increasing numbers of suspensions and dropouts; kids are disengaged from school and don’t even want to be in school to learn. Many problems schools face are the inability of students to focus or control their impulses, stress and anxiety in both students and teachers, and a lack of connection between students and their school community.
Research on Mindfulness
Studies of mindfulness programs in schools have demonstrated a range of cognitive, social, and psychological benefits to both elementary and high school students.
The organization Mindful Schools, based in Oakland, California, and highlighted in Room To Breathe, has brought mindfulness to over 18,000 students and 750 teachers since its inception in 2007. Their programs include teaching mindfulness directly in classrooms or to the school staff who teach mindfulness to their students. Mindful Schools’ data teacher evaluation data indicate that 92% of teachers personally benefited from the program, 84% believe that their students calmed more easily, and 81% believe that their students benefited. In addition, 84% of students reported that they would use mindfulness in the future, 61% claim they can focus better in class, and 53% said mindfulness helped them make decisions.
For more information about learning mindfulness or bringing it to your school please visit our Resources page.