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Cultivating a School Culture of Applied Mindfulness through Innovative Initiatives

Cultivating a School Culture of Applied Mindfulness through Innovative Initiatives
Julia Feste, UWC Thailand Head of Mindfulness

Joining UWC Thailand as the Head of Mindfulness, has been both a privilege and a challenge.

The privilege is palpable: the staff's openness to mindfulness, the ongoing support from leadership to innovate, the daily interactions with insightful individuals, and the joy of guiding remarkable young minds—all with access to a dedicated mindfulness center.

Yet, it's also a challenge: following in the footsteps of talented predecessors, navigating the aftermath of COVID's impact on youth mental health, and steering the school culture towards a deeper integration of mindfulness, from mindfulness taught as a skill to mindfulness as a way of life —it's no small task.

In addition, a recent publication in the New York Times has highlighted cautions about stand alone mindfulness programs that may cause an exacerbation of youth mental health problems instead of helping them. Indeed, when mindfulness is taught as a skill over a few weeks, without immediate implementation in everyday life as part of the school culture, or ongoing support for students and staff with their mindfulness practice, it's likely to fail.

For those reasons, partnering with our Innovative Librarian Rebekka Pfaff last week to set up a mindful reading pop-up library - an outdoor space for relaxation while diving into the world of literature - has been an uplifting experience. 

It was an experiment of “applied mindfulness”, in the shadow of generous trees on our campus. An oasis of peace where we spread mats and cushions, and where we have welcomed Kindergarten to Grade 12, their teachers and their parents during a week-long series of workshops.

When asked “Ever felt like you're stuck, re-reading the same pages over and over, but missing its true essence?“ most of the audience nodded. We then shared several techniques and practices on mindfulness to enhance focus and enjoyment when reading:

  • Connecting with our surroundings, hearing the sounds of birds and wind in the trees
  • Taking a deep breath and setting an intention before starting our reading
  • Connecting with the book as an object, using our senses to discover the book as if we saw one for the first time
  • Using a pointer to anchor our mind on the words
  • Using a timer or a bell at regular times during our reading to pause, take a deep breath and checking in with ourselves hoe the story that we are reading is touching our inner world
  • Sipping in our heart a feeling of gratitude for all the conditions that led to have the possibility to read this book in this moment

Many of our students took away one or more of the techniques, others simply enjoyed a moment of relaxed outdoors reading in togetherness and quietness. 

The positive feedback that we received from our students, staff and parents encourages us to continue in the direction of offering our students more opportunities to apply mindfulness into their daily activities, different areas in the school, be it sports, math, or other subjects, while creating a supportive environment that allows and remind our students and staff to take a pause, breathe, and connect.