Space Between Supports the Mental Health of School Communities, One Deep Breath at a Time
Space Between brings research-based mindfulness practices to educators and families in the Greater Seattle area. Here’s why.
The pandemic has brought higher-than-ever levels of fear, stress, and grief to everyone. Changes to school structures in particular have created unique stressors for youth, caregivers, and educators. With all of these challenges, many schools have been looking for more ways to support the mental health of their communities. Mindfulness is one practical tool that adults and youth alike can use to ground themselves and be better supporters of others.
Space Between is an organization that brings research-based mindfulness practices to schools, youth, educators, and families across Washington state and takes a whole-community approach to mindfulness. Foundry10 has been partnering with and learning from Space Between over the last several months.
We asked two Space Between mindfulness educators, Tai Mattox and Kara-Lee Ruotolo, to tell us more about why mindfulness is especially crucial right now and to share some of their tips for practicing mindfulness at home with ourselves and with the youth in our lives.
Check out Tai and Kara-Lee’s quick tips for making mindfulness part of your family’s daily routine.
How do you define mindfulness at Space Between?
At Space Between, we define mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and compassion.” We attribute this definition to both Dr. Christopher Willard and Ruth King (both experts on mindfulness). We like the combination of their two definitions. At Space Between, we consider ourselves lifelong learners and Dr. Willard and Ruth King are two of our many teachers and mentors.
Why is mindfulness important right now, in the context of the pandemic and our world?
Over the last twenty years, the prevalence of mental health challenges for both youth and adults has steadily increased. The events of the last year have only exacerbated mental health challenges. A CDC study found that the percentage of youth emergency room visits for mental health reasons has risen since the beginning of COVID-19. The University of Chicago’s Behavioral Health Department reported an increase in adolescents presenting with anxiety and depression as a result of several factors, including the pandemic and social and racial issues. Mindfulness-based practices are one important way to support the nervous system and regulate emotions.
The way that we communicate and listen to one another is also especially important right now. Listening mindfully, being attentive to other people’s experiences, and pausing before we say what is on our mind are important ways that we can connect with other people more compassionately and wholly.
We can live in fear and not pay attention to what’s happening, or we can be mindful and present to all that is happening around us with compassion and curiosity. Mindfulness is one healthy coping tool that can be foundational to our well-being. During times of difficulty or uncertainty, mindfulness can bring us into ourselves and the present moment, rather than being in past regrets or future worries.
What does Space Between provide in the spaces and conversations about mindfulness in connection to educators, families, and kids?
Space Between strongly advocates for adults who are with kids (at school, home, or other community-based organizations) to practice mindfulness themselves. In that way, we are not doing mindfulness to kids, we are doing mindfulness with kids. Mindfulness is something for everyone to practice. We feel like teaching adults is equally as important as teaching kids, and we focus on making mindfulness practices accessible to both groups.
In our elementary school programming, we provide a weekly curriculum for K-5 classrooms, with a trained mindfulness facilitator engaging with students and their teachers once a week. We offer support to teachers to use the mindfulness practices with their students in between sessions. We also offer programming for teens that provides them with practices, tools and inquiry around creating awareness, self-compassion, and becoming more connected with their sense of self.
For school staff, we provide professional development workshops. We tailor our workshops to be relevant to what educators are experiencing. Especially for this year, we focused on bringing a mindful lens to remote learning, self-compassion for educators, and burnout.
We offer a workshop called “Bringing Mindfulness Home” for families, where our students have the opportunity to guide their families, teachers, and classmates in practices. We offer a summer camp, where students can go deeper into exploring mindfulness practices through tapping into their creativity (writing, art, improv).
“This was one of the most useful and supportive PD’s (professional learning) I have ever had. It was engaging and relevant. The facilitators modeled excellent teaching techniques and the pacing was very supportive. Thank you!” — Teacher at John Muir Elementary School
We also offer various workshops and retreats to educators and the broader community. In response to the global protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we created a workshop called More Than Being Calm: Mindfulness for Implicit Bias. This workshop engages people in deepening their consciousness of bias with accountability and compassion for themselves and others.
What does it mean to be mindful together at home?
One of the beautiful things about mindfulness is that it can look many different ways for different families! As a family, mindfulness means becoming more aware of one another, our emotions, and our needs, by listening to one another and being present. This means creating a safe container where all family members, including kids, feel comfortable letting each other know what they need. “I need some space right now.” “I need a caring ear to listen to me.” “I need a hug.” Being mindful means honoring what we each need to thrive at home.
How does implementing mindfulness practices at home benefit me and the kids I work and/or live with? How do I know these practices are working?
Practicing mindfulness can have a multitude of benefits for adults and kids! Research shows that a consistent mindfulness practice can increase happiness. Mindfulness can support a sense of equanimity (the feeling that things don’t move me in the same way, or that I don’t get as easily “bent out of shape”) as you increase your capacity to respond rather than react to a situation. Mindfulness can help settle our nervous systems! If we co-create the weather in our homes, wouldn’t it be great if we could start with calm weather, which is a regulated nervous system? Finally, mindfulness can also be empowering for kids because it gives them the opportunity to tap into their own creativity by creating their own practices. They also learn how to self-regulate. If practiced consistently, mindfulness can become routine and be a go-to when things feel challenging.
What do you think are some of the challenges for families in being mindful or applying these strategies, and how do you help families address those challenges in your workshops?
One challenge for families is thinking that mindfulness needs to look a certain way. Sometimes you may practice as a family, other times you practice by yourself. Your kids may not want to practice with you, and that’s okay! When we practice by ourselves, we are modeling for our kids what it could look like and planting seeds for them to try when they feel ready. Mindfulness is not just about breathing or sitting a certain way. Anything can be done mindfully, as long as we’re paying attention to the present moment. So being in nature, eating, listening to music, feeling sensations in the body are all mindfulness practices, when done with curiosity and compassion. Your family may already be doing mindfulness practices without even realizing it!
Another challenge can be making time to practice. Some people think that they need a lot of time to practice mindfulness. Many caregivers and teachers have told us in evaluations that their kids’ needs, daily chores, or other stressors often pull their attention away from mindfulness practices. We like to say that two minutes counts! If you have more time, great! If not, we say start where you are and do what you can.
Some people may think that mindfulness is only for certain people, whether it be race, class, socio-economic status, etc. Mindfulness can be beneficial for everyone and often families learn that they already do mindfulness practices. It’s also helpful for families to see themselves reflected in mindfulness teachers/facilitators. At Space Between, we intentionally seek out diverse experts to learn from.
The fact that the greater society thinks that Mindfulness = Calm can be a barrier to some. Although over time, mindfulness can help us be calmer more of the time, it’s really about noticing and creating more space for agency and choice as our awareness grows. At Space Between, we show all of the ways that mindfulness can look.
How does mindfulness connect in the bigger picture of the community we take part in? (Educators, caregivers, families, and children)
We are all connected. How we show up and move through the world affects other people. Think about a person who can light up a room. Think about a person who walks into a room and is in a bad mood. Think about a person who exudes calm. You can see it on their face and in their body language. The more mindful we are, the more we are aware of how we impact others, and also how others impact us. We also become more aware of our own thoughts and emotions and how to manage them.
Save the Dates for Space Between
September 14th: Register now for the Space Between Virtual Tools for Teens Course through the Center for Child and Family Wellbeing at UW.
October 16th and 17th: Educator Restorative Retreat for more information send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
October 21st: Save the date to celebrate and support Space Between.
To learn more about Space Between, visit their website and check out Tai and Kara-Lee’s quick tips for making mindfulness part of your family’s daily routine.