Attention is a Resource: How costly is production?

At elementary campuses, we spend a lot of time talking about attention deficits and the academic gaps that emerge when students cannot focus on learning. Did I mention that it is a common topic, an oppressively common topic? As public educators, it’s not that Ritalin distributors are lining our coffers or that we relish the idea of our precious scholars becoming pill-dependent. But, it’s frustrating — the amount of time wasted in schools, re-teaching information to those who missed things the first, second, or third time. The behavioral issues and resulting safety issues that accompany the growing number of disengaged learners are a legitimate and concerning reality as well.

By the way, all of this time wasted on re-teaching and re-disciplining also hurts schools economically. Attention is a resource, and the lack of this resource directly affects a school’s ability to be fiscally responsible. Time is money, after all.

The inability to concentrate also creates social and emotional issues for affected students: they are often ill-equipped to actively listen to their friends, wait for their turn in conversations or activities, or even detect when someone needs affection or a helping hand. And widespread diagnoses of ADD and ADHD only multiplies on campuses where poverty is prevalent, due to the negative effects of chronic stress on the brain.

You see, just inside each of our foreheads lies the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which functions to regulate our impulses, among many other things. Google the PFC. It’s fascinating. During times of persistent AND continual stress, brain communication begins to bypass the PFC and go straight to initiating action. In other words, the brain begins to live in fight or flight mode, which isn’t the most ideal state for students in a classroom setting. The cycle of poverty creating stress, which creates attention deficits, which create academic and social skill gaps, which once again create poverty crushes our students, our school districts, and our society.

Wow. This post is getting downright depressing.

There’s hope. Across the nation, and in many other countries, schools have begun to incorporate the strategy of mindful practices in an effort to grow the PFC in students, which will cultivate the capacity for focus. Providing an escape from perpetual fight or flight mode while building students’ attention span has to be our priority.

Generating this particular resource requires really low overhead because sitting and breathing is free.

The video below is about an hour in length, but is highly informative. Chris McKenna explains the neurobiology behind the practice’s success, talks parenting, and even offers specific methods. Skip to about the 20 minute mark if you are only interested in the benefits of mindful practice on the developing brain. Warning-This video will probably make you want to quit your current job and go work at Google. Watch at your own risk.

I so deeply believe that this practice is not something I can bring to my staff and students without deep understanding and personal experience. I have to figure this stuff out, struggle with it, explore it more fully. I want to grow my own prefrontal cortex and strengthen self-awareness, self-regulation, and compassion within my self.

Fully attending conversations, making others feel special and heard, bring a calmness to situations. These are my goals through this process.

Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach. -Rosabeth Moss Kantor

Change starts with me. My Year of Mindfulness in Education continues. Thankful for Day Three.

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