The merits of mindfulness begin at a young age, as evident in Jen’s 1-2 class. As critical to their cognitive development and long-term strategies in the classroom, Jen’s students learn to thoughtfully appreciate their thinking, itself, a process rooted in the measured qualities of calming their minds, calming their bodies, and focusing their attention. The Stellar Jays at recess appear an exercise in Chaos Theory, and with good reason, since — during certain times — they need to run around and yell and fall down and react to each other at high rates of speed. But, in the classroom, the process of quiet focus also requires practice, and in Jen’s classroom it resembles an art form. Within Morning Meeting, and with the lights low, she calmly instructs them to sit in a mindfulness position, listen without talking for one minute, to gather what they hear. “What did you notice?,” she asks. Calmly, one at a time, they reply: “A truck outside.” “Middle Schoolers downstairs.” “My heart beating.” “Good,” she adds. “And why is this important for us to do?” “Because it calms us down.” “It refocuses us.” “My mind feels like it’s ready to learn.”
Jen turns the lights on, the students carefully reposition themselves to face a grammar lesson, and the concepts they’ve just voiced seamlessly blend into the academic realm. Composed and thoughtful, they describe the differences between interrogative and declarative sentences, recall grammar rules, practice decoding. Jen asks them questions about prepared statements to be revised. “What do we need to do? What needs to be corrected?” With hands up, they reply in specifics: “‘Meg’ needs to be capitalized.” “We need a question mark after ‘soccer.'” Knowing they’ll encounter individual practice sheets spread throughout the room, Jen invites them to disperse to their seats. “Wait,” she calls, “Come back and try again. We need to walk how?” “Quietly,” they remember, and they recollect their energies. Since they are refocused and confident in what they’re doing, Jen is able to address individual students in one-on-one instruction while the rest of the class works independently. It happened to be yearbook photo day when I observed, so the pics I snapped seem all the more representative of the calm decorum; one student wearing a tie and everyone’s hair neatly arranged fit right in with the general ambiance. When I was with them at recess two hours later, the students all returned to an appropriate state of calamity. But, in the morning, they were the model of quiet learning, resulting from Jen’s deliberate blending of practiced, thoughtful routine, and quiet care.