At Burke’s, “mindfulness” is much more than a buzzword — in the past six years, it has become an instrumental aspect of the school’s Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. “In the 2010-11 school year, our Challenge Success team made the recommendation that we teach all our students a simple mindfulness practice as a tool to help them manage the routine stresses of school,” says Rebekah Wolman, Director of Upper School. The mindfulness program at Burke’s was initiated the following school year 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. “My advisory begins homeroom every morning promptly at 8:15 with a mindfulness practice developed and led by the girls,” reports Deborah Thomson, Upper School music teacher. “We begin by holding the silence with a bell ringing ritual, followed by ‘random’ readings from mindfulness books of quotes.” 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.

Social-Emotional Learning at Burke's

Mindfulness is tied very closely with Social-Emotional Learning at Burke's, which engages the development of the whole student. We work closely with our girls to help foster a realistic and positive sense of themselves and to gain confidence in their ability to negotiate their way in school and in the world. Burke’s teaching approach builds students’ self-confidence and this, in turn, strengthens students’ ability to learn. Our students know that they are valued for who they are as they work toward becoming who they will be.

Over the past few years, teachers have worked on creating even more SEL programming for students that emphasizes traits such as gratitude, allyship, and intentionality — all of which has permeated outside the classroom. Faculty members report that girls are using elements of the SEL program, and of mindfulness, when negotiating disagreements on the playground or competing in sports. For more information about the SEL program, which is tied to the Burke's Strategic Plan, visit the Our Plan in Action page.

Mindfulness Videos

Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.


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7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
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