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  • Writer's pictureShanthi Project

Updates from the Classroom: What the Past Year Taught Us

With only a few weeks until schools are back in session, our staff is eagerly looking forward to the upcoming school year. Soon after classes resume, our instructors will once again bring Calm+Kind+Focused, our mindfulness curriculum, back into the classroom. But in the lead-up to autumn, we’re also taking the time to look back and reflect on the previous school year, too.

Every year, we collect data from classrooms to measure the impact of our mindfulness programming. We use what we learn from analyzing the data to inform our future classes and fine-tune our existing curricula. We believe that curriculum-building is an ongoing process, not an endpoint—which rings especially true for social-emotional learning, which changes with context, individual, and background.

Data analysis also lends itself to our mission, which leans on the strong scientific foundations of mindfulness practice. The case for mindfulness education becomes more robust when we can show the research that backs it up—a philosophy that extends to our own programming.

So with the data from 2022-23 collected and sorted, we thought we’d give you a peek inside our findings, plus share some of the insightful observations of our instructors who visited classrooms each week to teach mindfulness skills.

First, a Refresher: What Is Calm+Kind+Focused?

Calm+Kind+Focused is Shanthi Project’s 16-session children’s mindfulness program. We offer it twice per week for a total of eight weeks to students in grades K-8. Each session is a short, digestible 15-20 minutes, and we teach the program in-school, with the classroom teacher present.

C+K+F follows a curriculum developed by Shanthi Project, which is based on the Mindful Schools and Mind-UP curricula, both of which have extensive outcome research that shows consistent increases in self-awareness and attentional capacity, self-regulation, and social skills.

Despite a common curriculum, each of our teachers also has their own personal practice and brings a unique understanding of mindfulness to the classroom. One of our instructors, Jo-Ann, describes her experience of mindfulness as “an intentional awareness, at this moment, of my feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and environment through a gentle lens. When practicing mindfulness,” she tells us, “I open myself up to greater discernment, compassion, and an intelligent, empowered sense of choice.”

Diving Into the 2022-23 Data

Our data from the past year are representative of a generalizable sample rating of approximately 874 students in 38 different classrooms, across 9 different Lehigh Valley elementary and middle schools. This is a vast array of data points—so what did we learn from them?

First, our analysis showed us that mindfulness education translated into constructive classroom behaviors.

After participating in Calm+Kind+Focused, classroom teachers rated 78.5% of their students as paying attention “most of the time” over a 2-week period. Student participation also shot up, with teachers rating 89% of students physically engaged in “all” or “most” activities.

Social-emotional metrics impressed us too. When teachers reflected on student interactions, we found that 81% of students showed care or respect to teachers and students “most” or “all” of the time, post-program.

Overall, the widespread effects were evident – 76% of students benefited from Calm+Kind+Focused “extremely” or “very much,” according to their teachers.

We were also eager to hear directly about classroom teachers’ experiences with the program. Quantitative data can only demonstrate so much, and we think that anecdotal evidence does well to illustrate the real-life, concrete effectiveness of our in-class programming.

One classroom teacher, Jacqueline Jimenez at Clearview Elementary, shared that she had already been trying to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom prior to our program. But with the addition of our biweekly sessions, she told us:

“I enjoyed learning new ways to integrate mindfulness and see what my students benefited from. My students showed growth in leadership skills, self-control and empathy throughout the program. I’ve been able to immediately incorporate ideas and lessons into my daily routine, and I feel that Calm+Kind+Focused has made me more intentional about mindfulness.”

Lisa Ralston, a fourth grade teacher at Shafer Elementary, also shared how she appreciated the mindfulness programming, saying “I’ve learned so many mindful strategies that are helpful to myself and the class.”

It’s a Two-Way Street!

It’s not just students and classroom teachers who found value in C+K+F; our own Shanthi Project instructors have grown over the past year, too. Each new school year, semester, and individual class brings successes, challenges, and curveballs to help us develop.

As trained mindfulness instructors, our teachers also notice details that our data may not always detect or be able to express. Their insights into our programming are priceless to us, so we’re sharing their experiences with you, too!

One Shanthi teacher, Sally, told us this story: “One time this year, it was clear that mindfulness had really ‘clicked’ for my students. It was after the lesson where they learned that taking belly breaths can calm down the ‘watchdog’ part of their brain that activates the fight, flight, or freeze response. During the following lesson, several students shared specific examples of how they had been using belly breaths to calm themselves down, rather than just reacting automatically like they had in the past.”

Another instructor, Marguerite, shared a magical moment from her last day at Broughal Middle School. “A student surprised me by raising his hand and giving a spot-on answer to every question I asked during their final mindfulness lesson,” she said. “He gave every answer to every question after not having participated at all the entire 10 weeks we were meeting.

I was shocked, but I had been warned not to assume that a lack of engagement meant that students were not listening. It had been highlighted in the Mindful Schools training and echoed by our Program Director, too—that just because someone appears not to be interested, you may still be reaching them.

I will never forget how fun it was to let him keep answering. It was so startling, I just kept calling on him. It became a thing, a beautiful thing. It was a great last lesson and a great last day.”

As we read stories from our teachers, compile this blog post, and reflect on the past year, the entire Shanthi Project staff is reminded of our deep gratitude for everyone involved in making Calm+Kind+Focused possible: from school administrators, to classroom teachers, to our ever-thoughtful students. And, of course, we hold a special place in our hearts for our instructors, too, who show us every day how lucky we are to be doing this work.

Annie, another one of our instructors, says it best:

“I am so grateful to be a part of Shanthi Project. I know we are offering something impactful to the individuals we teach—to their overall lifetime skills of being happier, healthier and more present. I know we are a part of something necessary, something good.”

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