Good character is formed over a lifetime. At a recent Ashland (Oregon) School Board Meeting, board members were well-reminded of this fact as they were led through a series of mindfulness exercises by local 4th-grade students, reports the Ashland Daily Tidings.
Distractions are an unavoidable facet of our modern lives. Smart phones, social media, and other outlets pour a deluge of digital information into our brains. Being able to maintain attention to a task or important matter has become an essential trait for success in family, career, and life. If we were to think of attention as a resource, then it represents a precious commodity indeed.
Students at Bellview Elementary in Ashland have been working on this problem by participating in a program called, MindUp, and they came to the board meeting prepared to share their knowledge of how to “achieve and maintain focused attention.”
“MindUp really is about self-regulation and it’s about calming your body, and it’s brain-based learning,” said Bellview principal Christine McCollom. She has spearheaded the implementation of different character-education initiatives in her school, including a social-emotional curriculum and now MindUp.
Maintaining attention is a foundational ability with regard to character. McCollom highlighted this fact when explaining that she didn’t feel her students were prepared to dive right into social and emotional learning. “[T]he kids didn’t have all the precursor skills to do all that and [the] program wasn’t necessarily designed to provide that,” she said.
Hence, her school’s focus on attention and mindfulness. And so far, the effort seems to be paying off.
McCollom, like any good principal, withheld judgement of the program until she saw the data related to outcomes. So, her staff adopted a strengths and difficulties survey for students and she says, “We used that tool to measure whether or not [students’] social skills grew over the course of the year, and they did.”
Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture fellow Matt Crawford would be encouraged by the work at Bellview Elementary. He argued in the The Hedgehog Review that, “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it.” Crawford also urged readers to consider the impact of this line of thinking, “What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common?”
We must remember that cultivating the habit of attention is challenging and important work. Charlotte Mason, a renowned British educator, wrote of the subject:
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is…”within the reach of everyone and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline”; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them.
Ambleside Schools International offers this helpful guide for educators to nurture this habit of attention in students through “a finite amount of time for specific work to be done.”