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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Mindful or Mindless: Where Are We Going In Our Relationship With Children?

By Katie Zahedi — August 24, 2013 3 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Katie Zahedi, Ph.D. Katie is a principal in the Red Hook Central School District in Red Hook, N.Y. However, her opinions expressed are her’s alone and not the opinions of her school district.

Lama Dawa Tarchia Phillips, a presenter at an 8/16/13 Omega Institute conference on Mindfulness in Education discussed the readiness of policymakers to institute systems aimed at a “better future” even if procedures increase stress and negative forms of competition. He countered reformist logic, suggesting that our present actions should match our beliefs about good practice mindful that cultivation of a better future may only authentically take place in the relationships and systems of the present moment.

As Daniel Goleman shared his work relevant to emotional intelligence with a rapt audience of teachers, it became clear just how unhealthy and counterproductive the national craze for more standardized test data may become. What is uncertain is how much more public money will be wasted in pursuit of education reform that is truly not the “wave of the future” but a fruitless swipe at a Taylorist past which is simultaneously undermining and bankrupting public education. America, are we really willing to sacrifice a decade of our children to slapdash tests created by corporations with their own distinct and bellicose interests?

Social Emotional Learning, (SEL) is more relevant to financial success than IQ”, said Philips as he presented brain research that also confirmed the positive role of trust and social attachment in all domains of student performance, even on standardized tests! Even without the data, this claim is intuitive since reformers typically enroll their own children in private schools which focus on SEL. Seemingly; wellbeing for other people’s students is dispensable in our racing to the top.

As Pal Dobrin, a researcher in SEL systems from Sweden presented programs used to promote inner resiliency, trust and empathy in Swedish public schools, I listened in embarrassment. I had already heard how Europeans laugh at shallow approaches in U.S. education policy, as they sardonically probe: which race and where is the top? Instead Pal discussed the qualities he wishes for the teachers of his children who he hopes will engage youth with wisdom, presence and vision.

It is disgraceful that we have allowed politically appointed newbies with no experience or wisdom relevant to schooling to impose systems that are bad for schools, teachers and students. Our host of experts at Omega, an organization committed to physical and emotional health, explained that the wellbeing and trust levels of students correlate with levels found in their teachers. Rather than improving school with internal education and SEL, current policy initiatives are making matters worse.

We’ve all heard the exasperation that attends a realization that we may not have been equipped with the type of knowledge that would have made the critical difference: “why didn’t I learn this in school?” In fact, those moments of truth seldom refer to gaps in standard curricula but to the relational life skills that give us the wisdom and inner resiliency to handle our realities. It is doubtful that adding more tests and competition will help us arrive at the high standards that we seek. Phillips suggests that we end that perennial question and infuse schools with more programs for social and emotional learning and wellbeing to see improvement for all students.

Mrazek, M. et al. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological Science.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.