Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Violence, Mindfulness, and Your School
September 2016
In This Issue

CEI is pleased to announce our CADRE of Mindfulness Associates, including not only new associates with backgrounds in psychotherapy and psychology, as well CEI Associates who are available to help facilitate use of the CEI Heart Centered 21st Century Rubric.

Dr. Mason is now the Chief Teaching and Learning Officer at Exam Performance

Congratulations to CEI Survey Winners who will receive 21st Century Tools

Dr. Marian White-Hood, Director of Academics,  Kingman Academy, DC

Shawn Worstell, Principal, Mead Elementary, WA

Kim Linsanby-Barber, Principal, JFK School, IL

John Rogerson, Principal, Fox Meadow MS., CO

More on Makerspaces

Dissolving Problems and Visioning

Dear Educators,

In these days of violence, trauma, pressure, and our over-all tendency to want everything to happen more quickly, mindfulness is gaining more supporters.
As you open your doors this fall to students and their families, how would you rate your school's mindfulness? As you consider your interactions with your staff, principals how would you rate your own mindfulness?

With an influx of new students and students from various cultures, how sensitive is your school to the needs of those who are new to your community?

In this month's Wow! Meghan Wenzel, an intern working on her master's degree in Neuroscience and Education, has written two articles on mindfulness. The first frames the research background and the second includes practical mindfulness exercises for use in the classroom. These are followed by a broader, big picture perspective in an article by Mahnaz Ahrary. Mahnaz introduces us to William Stanton, an Australian teacher activist who is asking if it might be time for an educational revolution. Certainly radical. However, also thought provoking.

While it used to be that educators thought they had to choose between social emotional and academic learning, more and more research suggests that as students' emotional needs are met, that their minds are more available for learning. Elementary principals and teachers are known for caring. Let 2016-2017 be a year of caring !
Mindfulness, Community Building, and Improving Well-Being
By Meghan Wenzel, CEI Intern
Think of a time when one of your students made a rude comment in the middle of class and you snapped, possibly responding in a way that negatively impacted you, the student, and the entire classroom.
  • Consider a time when you found yourself frustrated with a student who could not seem to understand a concept you have repeatedly explained.
  • Image what you were thinking, what you were feeling, and what emotions you experienced.
Sharaf, 2015
Instead of acting rashly, regularly practicing and exercising mindfulness can help you better navigate countless situations like these in the classroom. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a purposefully, presently, and tolerant way. 

Moment to Moment Awareness. The University of California Center for Mindfulness defines mindfulness as "non-judgmental, open-hearted, friendly, and inviting of whatever arises in awareness. It is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us" (Meditation Science, 2008).

Mindfulness and Community Building

Mindfulness is a hot topic, and "mindful community" is an emerging term. The Mindful Life Project partnered with five schools in Richmond, California in an attempt to foster mindful communities. They taught mindfulness once a week to every classroom in each of their partner schools, provided mindfulness classes to parents, and trained teachers how to use mindfulness for their personal well-being and how to teach it to students.
Thus teachers, students, parents, and the school community as a whole were all educated on the benefits and practices of mindfulness. They experienced a variety of positive results, including improved self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social awareness; better focus and concentration; decreased stress and improved health; increased empathy and understanding of others; and increased development of natural conflict resolution skills (Mindful Life Project, 2013). The Mindful Schools website has additional information and resources to help you implement mindfulness in your own school.

Cecily Stock, the Head of School at San Domenico School in San Anselmo, California, also addressed mindfulness and community building in her school's weekly bulletin. She commented on Levasseur's article on teaching Millennials how to unplug from the current "always on" culture and practice mindfulness to decrease stress and increase patience and happiness. Levasseur notes "A raft of research has clearly highlighted how essential downtime and mindfulness are, and how they're increasingly becoming so in our always-on world" (2016). Stock shares that she is proud of the way her school and community focuses on quality and the "little moments of connection" in their daily activities.

Additionally, NBC Nightly News (2015) reported on one district in San Francisco that extended the school day by 30 minutes for meditation time, which resulted in a 75% decrease in suspensions and increased GPAs and attendance. Teachers and administrators know that they cannot change students' home environment, however they can implement mindfulness and meditation activities in school to give students tools to better deal with violence, trauma, and stress in their everyday lives.

Meditation, Mindfulness, and the Brain

There is a solid body of evidence that meditation has remarkable neurological benefits (Walton, 2015). Holzel et al. (2011) found that mindful meditation increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, a brain area associated with learning and memory, as well as in brain regions involved in emotional regulation and self-referential processing. Additionally, they found decreased cell volume in the amygdala, a brain area associated with fear, anxiety, and stress.

Differential Connectivity in the Brain. Wolkin (2015) noted that meditation can lead to differential connectivity between various brain regions. Meditation can decrease functional connections between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex, making person less reactive and oversensitive, and it can also increase connectivity between areas associated with higher order functions such as attention and concentration. Additionally, Luders et al. (2015) found that meditation practitioners had less age-related gray matter atrophy compared to control subjects.

Brewer et al. (2011) found that the default mode of most humans is mind-wandering, which is associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future. They found that experienced meditators had less activation in their default-mode networks (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) and fewer self-referential thoughts.

Improving Attention, Concentration and Well-being. Finally, meditation helps relieve subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. Goyal et al. (2014) found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Goldin et al. (2013) found that mindfulness-based stress reduction can help patients reduce emotional reactivity and enhance emotional regulation, which can help people with social anxiety disorder. And Mrazek et al. (2013) found that after a two-week mindfulness-training course, participants improved their GRE reading comprehension scores as well as their working memory capacity by reducing mind wandering.


Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y. Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20254-20259.

Goldin, P., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Hahn, K., & Gross, J. J. (2013). MBSR vs aerobic exercise in social anxiety: fMRI of emotion regulation of negative self-beliefs. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1), 65-72.

Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., ... & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.

Levasseur, A. (2016). Teaching Millennials the power of plugging into mindfulness.

Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., Kurth, F., & Lauche, R. (2015). Forever Young(er): Potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in Psychology, 58(4), 30-31.

Meditation Science. (2008). What is mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness Stress Reduction in Central Pennsylania.

Mindful Life Project. (2013). "Mindful community"

Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological Science, 24(5), 776-781.

NBC Nightly News. (2015). San Francisco Schools Transformed by the Power of Meditation.

Sharaf, E. (2015). Teach mindfulness, invite happiness. Edutopia. 

Stock, C. S. (2015).   News and events-What's happening in the San Domenico Middle School?. San Domenico Schools.

Walton, A.G. (2015). 7 ways meditation can actually change the brain. Forbes. 

Wolkin, J. (2015). How the brain changes when you meditate. 
Mindfulness in Schools
By Meghan Wenzel, CEI Intern
How can mindfulness and meditation benefit you as a teacher? Mindfulness can help you in a variety of ways in both your professional and personal life:
  • Avoid snapping when a student makes a rude comment
    • Mindfulness increases impulse control and emotion regulation
  • Avoid getting frustrated with a student who isn't understanding a particular concept
    • Mindfulness increases empathy and understanding
  • Avoid burnout and chronic stress
    • Mindfulness improves health and reduces stress
Mindfulness also helps students:
  • Students can resolve conflicts better amongst themselves
    • Mindfulness helps people develop natural conflict resolution skills
  • Students can focus better in class
    • Mindfulness increases attention, concentration, and memory
  • Students can recognize their personal cognitive and learning strengths and areas to improve upon and develop better strategies to address them
    • Students show improved self-awareness and metacognition
Things you can do

1. Advocate for implementing mindfulness meditation programs in your school that will train teachers, parents, and students in mindfulness practices

2. Incorporate mindful talk in your classes

Provide time for reflection and evaluation after key tasks

At the end of each day, ask students what happened:
-What went well?
-What went poorly?
-How can you improve and what strategies could you use?

3. Take 5 minutes each class to allow your students and yourself refocus

-Take slow, deep, purposeful breaths
-Let your body relax
-Clear your mind
-Let students know that it is common for their minds to wander. Tell them that this is fine, just notice it and try to clear your mind again
-Have students count their breaths or think about how their bodies feel
-Do you have tension in particular places?

4. Have your students discuss or think about their emotions and feelings
-What are you feeling right now?
-How does that impact you?
-How can you cope with or change your emotions?
-How can you positively channel your emotions?
-Imagine a [happy/sad/calm/stressful] situation, how does your body feel? What are you thinking? -What emotions are you experiencing?

Mindful Notes from CEI

In our Heart Centered 21st Century Rubric, developed in conjunction with principals and principal leaders, CEI has included multiple indicators to help teachers and principals vision, plan for, implement, and monitor mindfulness in schools. Indicators with the Rubric are organized according to behaviors and actions of teachers/principals and students. In the area of mindfulness, the following are some of the indicators included in the Rubric:
  • Teachers and administrators understand how trauma has impacted their own lives
  • Teachers and administrators demonstrate empathy and understanding of trauma, vulnerable populations, and individual concerns
  • Includes lessons on breathing, body scans techniques, and consciousness
  • Teachers help students understand a wide variety of emotions, folding these into their lesson plans and class discussions
  • Students practice meditation and mindfulness, including breathing practices
  • Students are aware of how they feel in safe and unsafe situations
  • Students are aware of their own emotions (including anger, fear, apathy, and joy
Using Our Rubric

The process that CEI is advocating includes participatory visioning, planning, implementation, and monitoring with CEI Associates assisting teachers and schools with the initial steps and providing periodic technical assistance. The aim of our work is to infuse the priority indicators in schools so that policies, curriculum, disciplinary procedures, teacher-student interactions, and community involvement all reflect the priorities. In addition to the focus on mindfulness, other unique components of our Rubric include the indicators on neuroscience, cultural responsiveness, and social justice and equity into the Rubrics.

CEI is currently establishing a team of CEI associates who will be available to assist with implementation. These include: Dr. Mason (national), Jillayne Flanders and Dr. Michele Rivers Murphy (New England), Lisa Stepney (OH), Suzan Mullane (AK and WVA), and Orinthia Harris (DC and MA).

For more information on mindfulness, check out CEI blog posts: Teaching Mindfulness through Feminism and Intersectionality; Using 21st Century Practices- Results of CEI’s Survey of Principals and Other Leaders; Empathy vs. Compassion; Heart Beaming TM Certification; CEI Now Expanding Offerings - Yoga and Meditation
Should Education Evolve or Do We Need a Revolution?
By Mahnaz Ahrary, CEI Intern
How Much Violence in Schools is Too Much? Does violence in schools interfere with the right to a free education? Last April, a group of public school families and a pro-charter advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the New York City Education department, stating that students were deprived of the right to receive an education free of violence because they were not protected during various violent incidents. They also claimed that violence in schools is underreported and increasing.

New York state and city figures conflict as to whether violence in schools is increasing or decreasing due to the difference in sources of data (state versus local). Some argue that the news coverage of school violence has led to the belief that the situation in schools overall is becoming worse when the truth is that violence in schools is declining. The opposing view is that school violence is underreported and being incorrectly categorized. Sixty-five percent of public schools recorded at least one violent incident in the 2013-2014 academic year. Aside from conflicting statistics, the media's coverage of violent incidents in schools is prevalent and frightening. The individual lawsuit claims were serious: one 11-year-old girl was bullied and assaulted for years with no intervention, and a 9-year-old boy may have been grabbed by the ear by his own teacher and thrown into a landing. 

Could Restorative Justice be an Answer?

As an option for handling violence and its precursors in schools, Restorative Justice is gaining in popularity
Restorative Justice encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions and teaches them to avoid future offenses through mediation. It usually involves teachers and students communicating about the offender's harm to the victim and arriving at a solution to "right the wrong."

Many schools have seen suspension rates drop after implementing such programs and there are many positive reasons to implement Restorative Justice.

Restorative Justice programs,  however, are sometimes implemented with inadequate preparation and support. Teachers are also concerned about the amount of time it can take to mediate a situation.

Or Perhaps it is Reducing Toxic Stress and Promoting Social Competence?

Last November, Julie Scelfo in an article in the NY Times, covered the topic of teaching peace in elementary schools through social emotional learning. It mentioned that learning success is influenced negatively by excess stress and can greatly predict whether a person graduated from high school on time or earn a college degree.
It is becoming increasingly accepted that the most vital of all qualities relative to success in the future concerning all aspects of life, is social competence. The optimism level and hope in those passionate about the shift in education is rising with programs like these, but are strategies applied post conflict as effective as needed? There is a distinction between anticipating an issue like school violence, and mediating the issue, rather than systemically building skills to prevent it. Is it possible to improve the occurrence and perception of violence by incrementally shifting the focus on peace?

Or Perhaps We Should Consider a New Educational Model?

In Education Revolution, Will Stanton (2015a), an Australian writer and activist and teacher who has devoted his life to reforming the educational system, quoted Buckminster Fuller, who stated, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Though many researchers and activists are already implementing some version(s) of what is being proposed (evolution of education), the actual revolution of education initially presented itself as out of reach. 
In place of a slowly evolving model of education, Stanton (2015b) proposes a "Six Dimensional Model," to replace the function of education. This model considers that all human beings are creators, and that the culture of education has had a negative impact on creativity as we grow older. It explains all that schools do to encourage conformity, competition, obedience, and standardization, despite the many patchy efforts of restorative justice programs and focus on promoting innovative programs to increase student engagement and problem solving. The dimensions of Stanton's model are: self-discovery, inquiry, sustainability, innovation, communication and empathy.
  • Self-discovery includes mindfulness, meditation and creative play but requires that it be part of every school day.
  • Inquiry emphasizes providing learners with the tools and resources to be independent critical thinkers, where the teacher will shift from an information expert to one that promotes open dialogue.
  • Stanton believes that we are not taking our environmental reality seriously enough and that Sustainability has to be a primary focus, and that a diverse range of environments are necessary to suit the learning context.
  • Innovation brings up the fact that humanity's progress and creativity have always been born from unconventional ideas and outside the box thinking should be encouraged.
  • Communication brings up media literacy being taught at the age of ten and exposed to all types of media in order to think critically about the persuasive techniques being used.
  • Lastly Empathy, where schools would function as communities where the evolution would be dependent upon uniting all colors and creeds and removing barriers of separation.
Mindfulness and a Holistic Approach. Mindfulness and meditation are gaining popularity across the country, and so is curriculum revolving around sustainability, and innovation. Stanton delves into detail regarding the meaningful instruction of math and including non-physical quantum phenomena in science education. He believes this model will bring the much needed balance back into our education system, providing opportunities from both right and left -brain learners to reach their utmost potential. Stanton suggests that an overhaul would consist of taking a holistic planetary approach and work toward the philosophy that we are all one. Violence is not an issue of a particular region, it's a global concern that deserves a more collective perspective. 

Our Solution. The Center for Educational Improvement strives to inspire principals and teachers to consider a broad, holistic approach to education and to provide a platform to stimulate thoughts and discussion. We believe that dialogues in school communities are essential to the evolution of schools. 

We are encouraging schools to use CEI's Heart Centered 21st Century Rubric, where you can evaluate many aspects of your school's effectiveness on a four-point scale from emerging to exemplary. The Rubric is designed to be used across curricula and circumstances. So schools, for example, could implement Stanton's Six Dimensional Model (see above), restorative justice, mindfulness, or peace-building and use the Rubric to help guide the process.

The interactive rubric, developed by the CEI and Thrivist, includes indicators about creating a sense of compassion in the classroom. Others indicators:
  • Rate whether or not a school is teaching children how to effectively communicate in a positive way,
  • Include considerations for strengthening equity, justice, social justice, and student voice.
  • Include questions that specifically ask if students are being taught the value of grit and resiliency.
The rubric is the product of over six years of research and includes references from over 100 sources. Thrivist, which operates in 1000 communities, created computer software with ClassGather to present and operate the rubric in an intuitive way.


Stanton, W. (2015). A new education model for humanity. Wake Up World.

Harris, E. A. (2016, April 07). New York Education Dept. is sued over violence in schools. New York Times. 

Brodsky, S. (2016, June 29). Is discipline reform really helping to reduce school violence? Atlantic Monthly.

Scelfo, J. (2015, November 14). Teaching peace in elementary school. New York Times. 

Stanton, W. (2015a). A new education model for humanity.

Stanton, W. (2015b). Educational revolution. Australia: Will Stanton Publisher.
Taking Back Reins and St eering Change in Your Schools

Today there are so many reasons to keep doing what you have always done. Or perhaps to implement incremental change. After all, it is sometimes difficult to help teachers and communities adjust to change. And one never knows when districts, states, or the feds will mandate one more thing.

After completing an analysis of research to improving school communities, CEI incorporated over 1,000 indicators that into our approach. Over 1,000 indicators that you could turn to as you plan. However, thanks to our collaboration with Class Gather, these are available in a easy-to-use interactive format, making this an easy to implement process. In articles in this issue of Wow! we provided a few examples of the indicators.

We are predicting that schools will be changing dramatically over the next five years. With ESSA, we also see an opening for principals and teachers to take back the reins, to steer the changes that are coming. We urge you to be bold, to network with our leaders, and to share the journey with us.


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement