At Burke’s, “mindfulness” is much more than a buzzword — it has become an instrumental aspect of the school’s Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. Over 10 years ago the mindfulness program at Burke’s was initiated with a series of lessons provided by Oakland-based Mindful Schools to Upper School students and faculty. The program has since been integrated into all classrooms, and to great effect.
Although similar to meditation in principle, mindfulness practice at Burke’s takes place in much shorter sessions of a minute or two. During this quiet window of time led by a teacher or fellow student, the girls are encouraged to “take a break” by tuning in to themselves and their surroundings. “During this time they can close their eyes or just look down, using what we call ‘soft eyes,’ and focus on what they’re hearing or their breathing or how their body feels,” says Alice Moore, Director of Lower School. “They can even practice mindful eating, where they really focus on what they’re putting in their mouths, and how the food feels and tastes.” Unlike just being quiet and staying still, mindfulness practice is action-oriented, Moore says, because “you’re calling attention to something.”
Mindfulness is a well-established part of students’ daily routines at Burke’s, with each girl engaging in the practice at least once a day, although the time of day and circumstances vary from class to class. Community meetings and advisories frequently begin with a mindful moment. Some teachers find the practice helpful at a particular time of day, such as when students come back from lunch and need to regroup for the rest of the day. The practice even takes place in Lower School assembly, when two fourth graders lead 235 students in a mindfulness session using either a pre-made script or one they’ve written themselves.