Since July 2014, MPS has worked to develop and refine a comprehensive plan to improve student outcomes. To achieve this goal, the district developed eight strategic objectives, all linked together to create a cohesive and interdependent plan, in what we call the MPS Eight Big Ideas. One of the Eight Big Ideas, "Educate the Whole Child," has four lines of effort: providing social-emotional learning supports, promoting healthy choices, strengthening student-teacher relationships, and expanding early childhood opportunities. Within social-emotional learning supports are creating a social-emotional learning framework for educating the whole child, expanding behavior interventions and anti-bullying curricula, connecting the MPS Violence Prevention Program and the City of Milwaukee’s trauma crisis team, and implementing the districtwide mindfulness initiative.
What is mindfulness? In MPS, we are defining mindfulness as the "purposeful awareness of our thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and environment in the present moment, without judgment."
Mindfulness is a research-based practice that has shown positive outcomes of improved academic performance, improved academic task completion, reduction in externalizing behavior, decreased anxiety, increased pro-social behavior, improved self-efficacy, and increased persistence.
There are two areas of mindfulness. First is the informal practice, which is the daily practice in all that you engage in. This involves focusing on being in the moment with everyday activities, including driving to work, answering emails, taking a test, lining up to go to recess, etc. You want to focus your mind on being mindful in the moment and building a resistance to the stresses that are involved in these everyday practices. Being mindful in the everyday moments can help you avoid becoming overstressed. The other area of mindfulness is the formal practice, which is taking specific time to engage in a mindfulness activity, including breathing exercises, morning meetings with students, meditation practice, internal body scans, yoga, and others.
In Milwaukee Public Schools, we are implementing mindful practices within our multi-tiered system of support (which in MPS is PBIS) as a trauma-sensitive practice. A multi-tiered system of support traditionally has three tiers or levels of layered supports. First you have the supports that are offered to all students, called Tier 1. For mindfulness, these supports include morning meetings, visuals throughout the school, mindful lessons for all students, and integration of mindful practices and mindful language throughout the day. After that, you layer on top the supports that some students receive, called Tier 2. These supports are for those students who have already received Tier 1 supports and are in need of greater support. For mindfulness, these can include integrating a mindful practice such as a morning breathing in check-in/check-out (CICO) or social academic instructional groups (SAIG). Finally, each school has supports that are for a few students, called Tier 3. These are for the students who have already received the supports at Tier 1 and Tier 2 but are still in need of greater support. These are the most intense supports and are usually provided one-on-one and can include Educational Wraparound and RENEW with individualized student action plans having mindful practices incorporated throughout. All of these supports along the continuum are layered on top of each other to ensure that all students receive the full support they need.
Mindfulness looks different in all schools and even in individual settings and classrooms. There are a variety of mindful practices that can be incorporated within the classroom that align with the PBIS classroom best practices of building relationships; setting expectations, rules, and procedures; teaching expectations, rules, and procedures; redirection/setting consequences; and acknowledging students. Some of the mindfulness practices that can be incorporated within the classroom as part of regular routines include breathing, listening, awareness, appreciation, journaling, compassion, perspective taking, sitting, standing, and walking, along with others.