Mindfulness Makes a Difference

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

We often talk about all that we are doing here at School. From the tremendous efforts that are taking place in the classrooms to the achievements that are happening each and every day, we are always working, along with our students, to improve and expand our learning. This is in addition to the exciting challenges that everyday life can bring at any given moment. As a School, we are not a “pressure cooker,” we are aware of our students’ need to balance numerous opportunities in academics, arts, athletics and leadership, with only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. In a recent national survey by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), anxiety and depression far exceeded all other potential health concerns reported in schools today. In our culture we are pressured more and more to “go, go, go” without taking necessary breaks.

It has become trite to talk about the concept of “Type A” behavior and personalities.  Type A individuals are achievement-oriented people. They want the best, they work hard to get it, and they have a hard time with the constraints that time puts on them. They always wish for an additional hour every day and an extra day every week or weekend. They believe that gift of time will help them get caught up and get ahead. They are often multitaskers and constantly feel the pressure to make a significant difference in a project or in putting together an event. Throughout our School and our culture, there is a growing sense of stress, and we are constantly thinking about how to help our students cope — and how to cope as adults. For many of us and our children, this struggle with anxiety and stress has become a normal part of life.

At Flint Hill, we have initiated an effort to counter some of this, and a lot of the credit goes to our Director of Counseling Barbara Benoit and her team. The Counseling Office has introduced the concept of “mindfulness” to our School. Mindfulness is a mental state, a mindset that can and will make a difference in our children’s lives. It is achieved by stopping and paying attention — on purpose — at the present moment, in a non-judgmental and reflective way. The entire concept of mindfulness is happening nationwide. I hear of more and more schools and universities that are integrating mindfulness concepts into their daily activities and seeing the benefits of it. I recently spoke with a parent who told me that mindfulness has been implemented at his business. At the beginning of each meeting, they ask everyone to close their eyes and take deep breaths before they begin their work together.

Here, we have tried to introduce it in a variety of age-appropriate ways. In the Lower School, there is a pilot program to bring mindfulness into each grades. In the Middle School, the counselors have introduced mindfulness in different ways at each grade level and in the Upper School, a mindfulness group provided a quiet place to sit and relax during the exams. There were mats available for yoga practice, relaxing music and a self-guided process for relaxation and mindfulness techniques. A number of students took advantage of that space, before and after exams, and saw it as a chance to relax and get into the proper frame of mind for their tests.

We also begin each leadership, divisional, and full faculty and staff meeting with a mindful moment. We quietly reflect on our breathing, listen intently to the sounds around us, or think of something pleasant or positive before we begin our work. Those few seconds can make a huge difference. It is not uncommon to walk the halls and see students, faculty, and occasionally an entire class, engaging in mindfulness for a short period of time. Our vision for every student is “Take meaningful risks. Be yourself. Make a difference.” If that action becomes a part of who we are, it will make a difference in our individual lives and it will help our students and faculty to make a difference in whatever they do.

Our Director of the Lower School Sheena Hall, told me a while back the story of a young boy in Kindergarten who was having a difficult moment in his class. He and his classmate were having a disagreement when suddenly, with great humility, the student went to his teacher and said, “I think I am going to go off on the side of the room for a minute. I need a mindful moment.” He walked quietly to the side of the room, sat down, closed his eyes, and just breathed for a few moments. Then he got up and was ready to charge ahead with all of his activities and make amends with his classmate. If we can find the way to recharge ourselves and focus on what is most important, then we are making a difference. I hope we will all keep that in mind as we charge into this very busy time before the spring break.

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster