Join Dr. Jennings for this three-day series, as she takes us through her new book Teacher Burnout Turnaround Strategies for Empowered Educators. All sessions will be closed-captioned.
January 12 – Part I – Addressing Teacher Stress and Burnout [Video] [PDF]
January 19 – Part II – Preparing for Transformative Change [Video] [PDF]
January 26 – Part III – Empowering Teachers [Video] [PDF]
As we recognize Self-Care Awareness Month, we highlight self-care as a foundational practice, rather than simply a single activity or special day, week, or month. Relationships are reciprocal, and so is self-care. When educators and learners share these practices, they begin to build a culture of care, together.
Social-Emotional Learning Begins with You
We want to make it as simple as possible for you to invest in your wellbeing and that of the learners you serve, so we’ve put together a quick guide for getting started. First, sign up for a free curriculum account.
Start Small and Build
— Explore the neuroscience of stress and its impact on the body, and practice simple strategies to develop resilience.
— Video demonstrations of Breathe, Move, and Rest Brain Breaks
— Brain Breaks manual – written instructions for each strategy
— Implementation guide – suggestions and tips for implementing Brain Breaks in the classroom, once you feel comfortable practicing them yourself
Let’s Get Moving
— Video lessons to guide you through Mindful Movement sequences
— Offers a Mindful Movement manual for delivery in the physical education setting at grade levels K-5 and 6-12
— Helps build strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, focus, and relaxation
— Mindful Movement sequence includes the three main elements of breathe, move, and rest
— Sequences easily integrated into an existing physical education program
Ready for a Mini-Unit for Your Classroom?
— Neuroscience mini-unit, requested by educators as a stand-alone option
— Presents 8 lessons that include content and an introductory sequence of postures designed for the classroom setting
Building the Superpowers
— 5 units for each grade level
— K-2 & 3-5: Power to Be Calm, Power to Tame Your Temper, Power to Laser Focus, Power to Grow & Stretch, Power to Lead with Kindness
— 6-2: Power to Shine, Power of Mindfulness, Power of Brain-Body Connection, Power of a Balanced Life, Toolkit for a Balanced Life
— Also included for K-2 & 3-5: Health & wellness session plans, resource booklets, reflection journals, visual aids
Even before COVID-19 uprooted our lives and shook the foundations of the systems within which we live, data on mental health in the U.S., and specifically in education, was troubling. Months into the pandemic, many of us still face anxiety, feelings of loneliness and isolation, worries about our health and the health of loved ones, and the emotional and practical challenges that come with a national, ongoing uncertainty around what comes next and when our lives will start to resemble “normalcy.”
Stress is contagious, and when we support the adults who serve our children and youth, the reciprocity of self-care will support the collective good.
In the months since this upheaval, we have demonstrated resilience and ingenuity in adapting to our new circumstances. Some of us have formed new habits and sought new skills in support of self-care, taking a day-by-day approach to our lives in the face of discomfort, stress, or fear. The ability to acclimate and care for oneself is particularly important in the education community, as those responsible for teaching and caring for others must be especially resourced and able to self-regulate and manage emotions. Stress is contagious, and when we support the adults who serve our children and youth, the reciprocity of self-care will support the collective good.
As we plan for the upcoming school year, we cannot ignore that we are also moving through individual and societal traumas. We have to pause to consider whether we are equipping educators with the resources they need to take care of themselves and to be great educators.
We can only show up as our best selves for others when we prioritize caring for ourselves.
Anyone who has worked in schools knows that while teaching can be one of the most rewarding and impactful professions, it is also one of the most stressful. Pure Edge began focusing its work on teacher stress in response to a research brief by Dr. Mark Greenberg of The Pennsylvania State University. At that time, in 2016, nearly half of teachers reported high daily stress. We can only assume this number has dramatically increased since school closings began and as educators face ambiguity around what the upcoming school year will look like. The 2016 brief also underscored that highly stressed teachers impact student academic performance and social adjustment. The impact on educators is significant, too. Those high stress levels compromise health, sleep, quality of life, and job performance. But the findings gave us hope as well. They showed that both organizational and individual interventions can reduce teacher stress, and programs for things like social-emotional learning and mindfulness improve both teacher well-being and student outcomes. As stress levels climb, educators need more support than ever. We can only show up as our best selves for others when we prioritize caring for ourselves.
This August, put yourself first. If you do, we think you’ll be a happier, healthier version of you. And you matter. Here are a few of our suggestions:
1) If you can only find two free minutes in your day, use them for your self-care. Try a Mindful Minute or your favorite Brain Break. If all you can fit into your day is an Even In-Even Out as you wake up in the morning, that’s ok. That simple act can change your day and help you to better self-regulate.
2) If you find yourself beginning to feel stressed, notice what is happening in your body. Then reach for a breathing exercise. Try a few to discover which feels most effective for you. Maybe it’s Take Five (Starfish), Anchor Breathing, or Breathing Ball.
3) Acknowledge your feelings without judgment. During our Planning for the Return series, Dr. Marc Brackett discussed what it means to be an “Emotion Scientist.” The emotion scientist sees emotions as information and recognizes that even challenging emotions serve a purpose. The Mindful Minute is one way to practice listening to what is happening in your body and what you are feeling.
4) Find ways to engage with others, even from a distance. Physical distancing is not synonymous with social and emotional distancing. When was the last time you wrote a letter? If that sounds like a little much, a quick “thinking of you” text goes a long way in maintaining relationships and feeling connected.
5) Build daily habits: Breathe, Move, Rest, Journaling, and Attitude of Gratitude. You might want to revisit our 15-Day Self-Care Challenge, where our Director of Professional Development, Gill McClean, led participants through each of these habits.
Thank you to all who have participated in or viewed on demand any of our nearly 300 webinars. We’d love to connect with you on Twitter and Instagram, where we will continue to share self-care exercises and gratitude for the incredible educators who start with the heart.
Pure Edge has partnered with Garfield Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C., to bring Culture of Care training to educators and learners.
As the school day begins, the halls of Garfield Preparatory Academy are still. In the classrooms, the loudspeakers project a calm voice directing students and staff to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Once following the morning announcements and once at the end of the school day, the whole school sits quietly for a “Mindful Minute.” The goal, to help educators and learners start each day with calm and focus. In the afternoon, the minute allows listeners to cool down and end the day with a sense of peace.
Garfield Prep is one of five schools within D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) that have received Pure Edge’s Culture of Care training.
Concerned with the prevalence of absences, suspensions and altercations between students, Principal Kennard Branch felt that it was time to adopt a new approach. He and his leadership team implemented a shift toward social and emotional learning after reviewing the behavioral and attendance data. “That was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said. The educators and administrators at Garfield know their learners face a high number of challenges outside of school. No matter how advanced their math skills or how many languages they speak, how can learners be expected to sit still and focus if they come to school hungry, or without a coat on a cold day? School psychologist Chandrai Jackson-Saunders explained, “We said, ‘we are going to look at behavior as content, just like we do reading and math.’”
Another element of the focus on SEL has been to introduce “calming centers” into classrooms.
Each educator has created a space in the classroom where learners can manage stress and challenging emotions. Kia McCardell, a math instructor with ten years of experience, was especially energized when speaking about SEL. She told us that she could go on forever about her ideas for her classroom or the books and research that inform her teaching. For her, it comes down to each learner’s right to feel loved. As she became more knowledgeable about SEL, Ms. McCardell’s mission was to transform her entire classroom into a calming center, as a way to provide an atmosphere where students can feel safe, loved and calm.
Megan Callahan, a third-year special education teacher, spends each school day at Garfield with the same eight students. She is one of the teachers who embody the school’s commitment to SEL. She helps learners understand their feelings, and once they’ve identified them, work to manage them. To Ms. Callahan, educating the whole child means meeting students where they are. It also means that educators do their best to recognize challenges learners face with basic needs or the at-home struggles they may face. She shared that SEL offers learners and educators alike “the ability to cope with the world around them.”
Katie Larkin, Superintendent for Cluster I at DCPS, described the educators and staff at Garfield Prep as “a group that knows every single child, that will fight for every single child and that will make sure every single child feels loved.” As a result of this commitment to social and emotional learning, Principal Branch now believes that when you walk through Garfield, “You can see, hear and feel learning taking place.”
One of the largest school districts in the U.S. has partnered with Pure Edge in response to an increase in stress and anxiety. Both educators and learners reap the benefits.
“I’m passionate about SEL,” said Kearny High School English teacher Daina Weber, “and I felt like this was another opportunity for students to get skills in self-discovery and self-care.” She had just finished participating, with three of her ninth-grade classes, in the first of four Pure Edge training days. Kearny is a project-based learning school in one of the largest and most diverse districts in the nation, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and its new students have embarked upon a social and emotional learning project. Weber’s new ninth-grade learners are the first at the school to receive the trainings since Pure Edge began partnering with SDUSD in support of the district of roughly 200 schools, over 120,000 students and nearly 6,000 teachers. With the help of advocates like Lynn Barnes-Wallace, the district’s physical education resource teacher, the impact of the partnership is permeating the school communities and beyond.
To launch the district-wide rollout, SDUSD specifically requested a focus on educator well-being, in response to an increase in stress and anxiety. After Pure Edge’s initial visits, Barnes-Wallace began encouraging other educators to regularly employ mindfulness practices. “I use the starfish all the time,” she stated, referring to Pure Edge’s Starfish Breath Brain Break. With repetition, tools like these become second nature. Educators and learners alike can learn to reset or self-regulate in any place, at any time. Barnes-Wallace knows that the essential aspect of successfully equipping her district with SEL strategies is engagement from educators and learners. As these tools become routine components of the school day, they support a strong foundation for mindfulness and stress management in the school culture. She shared that she receives regular feedback from SDUSD learners asking for more mindfulness in their schools, suggesting that their classes incorporate mindful movement and breathing as a daily expectation and excitedly sharing that they plan to teach the skills to their families. The educators she has spoken to are just as invested. “The greatest thing about this is that the teachers have just gravitated toward this; it’s amazing,” she revealed.
“We had one principal who heard about it and made the hour-long Pure Edge training a breakout session, and roughly 90 teachers showed up by choice. The room was packed.”
Pure Edge Director of Programs and National Trainer Anne Contreras used a Brain Break to set the tone for each session with Weber’s ninth-graders—the educators expect that as learners gain experience with the techniques shared in the first session, they will individually step up to lead the classes in the breathing and movements. The ninth-graders had begun exploring parts of the brain and their functions in biology class, and in the Pure Edge training, they quickly found that the science their biology teachers had shown them would directly apply to the practices they learned.
“We’re going to be activating our cerebellum later as we move,” Contreras offered to the class as an example, “because you’re going to need it to balance.”
Last school year, Kearny’s ninth-graders worked with Barnes-Wallace on a project that focused on physical health. As Weber explained, “We wanted this year’s students to feel like they were taking on their own, equally important role in addressing health needs. Additionally, we were reflecting on how many of our students have struggled with emotional issues in our past teaching experiences and felt that this project could empower students, while simultaneously providing them with tools for self-care.”
The sessions at Kearny will continue through January 2020, and the ninth-graders plan to subsequently visit elementary schools in the area to teach the practices to younger learners. Weber envisions her classes mastering the exercises and sharing them within their own communities. “Ultimately our goal is for our students to become the experts,” she explained. Throughout the district, the focus has turned to developing social and emotional skills for learners and educators. Leadership understands that educator-educator, educator-learner and learner-learner relationships all fuse to determine a school’s climate. As Barnes-Wallace tells it, the students realize the power of these skills as well.
“Kids ask for this kind of stuff now,” she said. “That’s the best part. They’re driving all of this.”
LSF Duval has partnered with Pure Edge to build on its Head Start program’s incredible turnaround.
Five years ago, no one would have believed that the Head Start program in Jacksonville, Florida, would one day receive a glowing write-up from the New York Times or a feature on NBC Nightly News. A visit from federal authorities had found numerous health and safety violations, with conditions unsuitable for young children. They removed the nonprofit that had been running the program and enlisted Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) to attempt a turnaround. Since then, LSF has achieved that turnaround, and perhaps even a total transformation. Praised by local and national news outlets for its cleaner facilities, better-qualified teachers and stricter standards, LSF has improved outcomes for children. Much of the staff has experienced major structural changes and witnessed harsh criticism of the program through its history, and LSF leadership is now determined to create a positive climate for both employees and learners.
“In the next grant cycle, we want to focus on physical and mental staff wellness and do the same for our children in the classroom,” shared Maria McNair, Deputy Director of LSF Duval Head Start, the branch serving the Jacksonville area.
Partnership with Pure Edge has been part of a broader strategy for staff wellness, and the potential impact extends beyond LSF employees to the thousands of children they serve. LSF Duval directly operates 11 sites, with another 21 operated through childcare partners and school district sites throughout the city. They serve approximately 1,400 children and their families, and LSF statewide serves over 5,000.
When Pure Edge visited Jacksonville to present Educator Self-Care and Brain Breaks Implementation for LSF employees, “it was a very timely partnership, because we are implementing mindfulness in the classroom and transitioning to a brand-new curriculum,” said McNair.
“Pure Edge has provided an intentional focus for teachers to implement Brain Breaks throughout the day and for staff to be conscientious about their self-care and ensuring their overall wellness.” Now, whenever the staff meets, they include a Pure Edge strategy such as a Brain Break in the agenda.
McNair has found that an understanding of basic neuroscience and the ability to consider why learners behave in certain ways have been important takeaways for educators and staff. In her view, the major highlights for her team have been “the tangible strategies that they can easily remember and implement to de-escalate situations and calm themselves.” Team leadership has noticed the early impact of educators using those strategies and sharing them with learners. “The teachers have seen a difference in some of the behaviors with children,” said Catherine Penton-Gooch, Early Childhood Education Program Manager.
“When they start this process at the beginning of their school time, they are ready to learn and able to relax and connect.”
She and other staff members have employed the breathing and movement techniques at home as well. McNair has personally integrated a favorite posture into her self-care practice at home and shared it with her nephew and sons. Penton-Gooch also introduced the techniques into her family life. “I went home and did the Starfish with my two-year-old grandson,” she said. “Not only did I like it professionally for our staff, but I was also able to do it personally and implement it in our house. In today’s world, we need that time.”
Now that LSF has turned the Head Start program around, it must consider where it goes from here and what its vision for the future looks like. Leadership understands how important it will be to have classrooms where adults model social-emotional skills for young learners in their interactions with each other and in the management of their own emotions. They want to design new spaces where staff can break away for quiet moments of reflection and regulation. McNair hopes for a “shift in energy” in the classrooms and to achieve the fewest possible negative incidents between educators and learners. She acknowledges that that adverse childhood experiences, trauma and challenging behaviors will always exists. But she knows that a group of teachers who can remain compassionate toward learners and access a toolkit of strategies will make a major difference in the lives of the young children they serve.
“I am a firm believer that if we have staff who are strong, confident, knowledgeable and taking care of themselves,” she explained, “in turn they are going to bring the best versions of themselves into the classrooms, and children’s outcomes will be affected in a positive way.”
The district has prioritized a social and emotional education for all learners.
In many schools and districts, it might be rare to hear the word “love” used freely and with intention by educators and administrators. But during a recent visit to Garfield Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C., we heard from educators and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) leadership who all shared a common message: Every learner deserves to feel loved. For the district, that simple but vital fact is a nonnegotiable piece of educating the whole child.
But how does a large school district manage to provide a whole-child education for every learner when there are so many to serve? DCPS opted to make educating the whole child an explicit priority within the district’s strategic plan.
It defines educating the whole child as providing “rigorous, joyful and inclusive academic and social emotional learning experiences to ensure all students are college and career ready,” and it aims to embed SEL in its classrooms and overall culture.
But perhaps the most distinctive part of the DCPS approach is that one of the official goals of its strategic plan, listed right between “90 percent of students graduating within four or five years” and “100 percent of schools highly rated or improving,” is “Goal 4: 100 percent of students feel loved, challenged and prepared.”
Treating SEL as a content area is a big piece of reaching that goal. DCPS offers twelve treatment interventions in support of learner mental health. It also employs a School Mental Health Team that promotes healthy relationships and emotional regulation, aiming to increase every learner’s access to mental health services. But the district understands that empowering young people through a comprehensive social and emotional education will provide them with skills they can carry throughout their lives, in and out of the classroom. To do that, educators work to treat SEL the same way schools are accustomed to treating math and reading.
“We are developing a really robust, multi-tier system of supports that includes the work Pure Edge has done with us this year,” said Dr. Deitra Bryant-Mallory, Senior Deputy Chief of Student Supports. Pure Edge continues to visit schools throughout the district to deliver Culture of Care training to educators and staff.
Bren Elliott, Chief Equity Officer, wants to ensure that “every student is in a class where they feel nurtured, supported and challenged to be their very best self.” Chandrai Jackson-Saunders, School Psychologist at Garfield Prep, explained that the challenges with which learners struggle can be academic, financial, medical and social-emotional, and schools must recognize the impact all of those factors can have on learning. This is why Garfield implemented the Behavioral Instructional Leadership Team, introduced “calming centers” into classrooms and developed monthly parent workshops to teach parents stress-management strategies to use at home.
“If you really want a student to be successful,” explained Katie Larkin, Instructional Superintendent for Cluster I, “you have to invest their whole family in their education.”
She assigns much of the credit for Garfield’s success to Principal Kennard Branch, stating that he has “worked to make Garfield a place where kids learn and feel loved.” Garfield Prep stands out as an SEL pioneer in the district, but DCPS leadership champions the cause throughout its schools, determined to reach every single learner.
The Delaware Department of Education is taking on trauma state-wide through partnerships with organizations like Pure Edge, and Teri Lawler is at the helm.
A decade ago, while Teri B. Lawler was working in one of Delaware’s most vulnerable zip codes, a student told her he had seen a body in the street on his walk to the bus stop. Reluctant at first to believe the story, Lawler called up a friend in law enforcement to confirm. This was the moment she recognized the significant role that trauma was playing for the children growing up in her community. She is now a key part of Delaware’s push for universal trauma awareness, mindfulness practices and social and emotional learning, recognizing that these are all components of creating a whole-child education and compassionate environment for learners.
“Innovation” is Lawler’s favorite word. All of her career accomplishments, she feels, have come from her ability to innovate, problem-solve and enthusiastically experiment with new projects.
She has been fortunate, she said, to work for people “who really appreciated an entrepreneurial spirit.” Now serving as Education Associate for Trauma-Informed Practices and Social and Emotional Learning at the Delaware Department of Education, her commitment to innovation is one of the driving forces of Delaware’s mission to take on trauma state-wide. She is also a member of the Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative and the Wilmington Advisory Council on Youth Gun Violence, which was formed in response to the Center for Disease Control’s report on youth gun violence and the creation of a predictive tool that worked backward to discover root causes of why children were most at risk for committing gun violence. As it turned out, the tool predicted the same early vulnerabilities that Lawler and colleagues were already monitoring in their early warning systems for school success: third-grade reading levels, school attendance and disciplinary records. Explained Lawler, “School success makes you less likely to commit gun violence, and I believe connection and belonging, as well as hope for the future, are big contributors.”
In 2016, Lawler developed a partnership with the Office of the Child Advocate, and shortly thereafter, Governor John Carney created the Office of Innovation and Improvement. In October 2018, the governor signed an executive order declaring Delaware a trauma-informed state. The Department of Education was the first state agency to create a position to lead that mission, and Lawler was the one who earned the opportunity to jump in and expand the work throughout the state. After state leadership met with Pure Edge, Lawler was tasked with crafting a way to implement Pure Edge’s work into the state’s strategic plan. “I feel strongly that incorporating mindfulness as a universal practice in our schools supports social and emotional learning,” she explained.
After Pure Edge visited the state to host the first Culture of Care training and an all-day session for educators around educator well-being, the mood changed. Lawler described educators and support staff as “more engaged and more hopeful.”
She recounted the many emails she received from educators, telling her what they had learned and how understanding basic neuroscience and mindfulness practices had impacted them.
“Throughout my life, some of my biggest cheerleaders have been family members,” Lawler shared. “My mom and grandmother have helped me think outside the box and realize that I bring a different perspective to education.”
Perhaps that support is one reason for her belief that the state must layer supports around learners through every organization that impacts youth and families, in order to strengthen the sense of family and community. Lawler and her colleagues are working to provide professional learning on trauma awareness for all such organizations. The work of the Wilmington Advisory Council on Youth Gun Violence, for instance, resulted in a handbook for fostering connection, protection and respect in afterschool programs, community centers and other youth-serving organizations. The goal is to engage everyone from bus drivers and facilities employees to hospital systems and faith-based organizations. The team of course seeks to build capacity within the Department of Education, but the vision expands much further, aiming to create learning opportunities that inspire districts to implement mindfulness and make it part of their own practices.
“We realized it doesn’t just stop with us,” stated Lawler. “Schools cannot do this work alone.”
And what will be the ultimate outcome of implementing mindfulness practices in schools through partnership with organizations like Pure Edge? “We believe we will build more resilient children,” she said, “and ultimately more resilient families and communities.”
The quest to create a world where all are empowered to live their healthiest lives doesn’t stop at healthy bodies.
Through a mutual belief in the importance of supporting healthy minds and a shared passion for learner well-being, Pure Edge, Inc. (PEI) and Health World, Inc. have forged a partnership. Health World, led by President Peter Rusin, centers its vision around reducing barriers to health education and expanding health literacy. The organization has chosen to provide further support to schools through offering PEI’s free social and emotional learning resources through its website. At www.healthworldeducation.org/pure-edge-brain-breaks, educators and schools are invited to sign up for Pure Brain Breaks, simple and effective strategies to alleviate stress and calm overstimulated minds.
PEI’s Five Principles of Health & Wellness—body, breath, mind, attention and engagement—contribute to a comprehensive health education and the development of social and emotional competencies. Health World’s existing offerings include digital health education programs for elementary and middle school, as well as courses on bullying and conflict resolution and social-emotional health and diversity, among others. PEI is proud to support Health World’s suite of affordable and accessible programs, as well as its ability to increase health literacy nationwide.
The Society of Health and Physical Educators, better known as SHAPE America, aims to provide programs and resources to achieve health and physical literacy for all children. Pure Edge & SHAPE America have partnered for a three-year engagement at both national and regional conferences. Most recently, the Pure Edge team with the help of two health and wellness champions from our partner districts, presented two sessions at SHAPE America’s National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Teachers Lisa Hayden and Edwina Soto joined Gill McClean and Anne Contreras to lead participants in mindful movement, the neuroscience of stress and simple strategies for educators and students.
Pure Edge has worked with over 25,000 educators across the U.S., and we have met incredible teachers. Edwina Soto has been a champion since 2016 and has added great insight and authenticity to the sessions. Lisa Hayden joined for the first time in April 2019. “Lisa was so well-prepared and[…]she made me feel like I should be in her classroom on a daily basis,” Edwina shared. Both educators shared their real-world experiences as teachers in physical education settings and hoped to empower others to bring Pure Edge’s mindfulness tools back to their schools.
“Edwina got to share her actual experiences as a teacher and speak with teachers who weren’t sure about how to motivate their students.” Lisa believes that providing a foundation rooted in the neuroscience of stress and the ways mindfulness impacts the mind and body are key to engaging educators. Anne Contreras explained, “Having our guest P.E. teachers present with us has helped our audiences know that SEL implementation has already been taking place and that these specific instructors have also had personal transformation because of being involved in the process.”
At Pure Edge, we provide knowledge and resources, but the real impact comes from educators putting their new skills to use in their classrooms. “Train the mind and the body will follow,” said Lisa. “[P.E. teachers] are always thought of as body-first, and I think we have to shift that. Everything ties together.” Edwina expanded on the importance of making knowledge and resources accessible and easy to implement. “Pure Edge provides a road map for teachers to follow,” she stated. “That means even the least confident educator will be capable of providing standards-aligned lessons for learners.”
This work can impact educators just as much as students. Edwina summed up her experience with Pure Edge with a quotation by L.R. Knost: “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” She has been open about how her participation in our educator self-care training helped her to understand her emotions in a new way, and how this has transformed her into an even better teacher. “After some self-reflection and self-care, I was able to approach my students with a different perspective on class management and help them identify and deal with their emotions.”
How can a school district ensure a rigorous academic environment without allowing high expectations to negatively impact its students? The competitive and demanding nature of today’s schools is unlikely to change, but districts can and do choose to equip students with tools to help manage stress and to ultimately develop strategies to ward off the increased anxiety that can lead to depression. Dr. Maurice Elias, Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, stated that:
“In the schools, we have the ability to create trauma-free environments, and that’s what our kids deserve.”
New Jersey’s West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District (WWPRSD) in Mercer County is doing just that: working collaboratively with student leaders, local agencies and community supporters on a comprehensive set of tools to create trauma-free schools. According to Superintendent Dr. Dave Aderhold, in the past few years, the young people of the Mercer County have experienced “an escalation of suicidal ideation and mental health concerns.” In a community-wide Call to Action, the superintendents of Mercer County held a forum where over 700 parents and community members attended.
The Pure Edge team partnered with the district to offer professional development to educators and student athletes. WWPRSD has since maintained an impressive level of energy and engagement around our trainings and has started to train its own staff. We have also had the privilege of meeting many brilliant kids who recognize the need to manage high stress levels and want to learn and share mindfulness skills. The students in a group called NüYü 2.0 aim to promote mindfulness for themselves and their classmates. Phanisree A., a student active in the group, shared, “Protecting your mental health is just as important as protecting your physical health. You need to understand the basis of empathy, the basis of SEL, and we can create valuable relationships going forward.” Social studies teacher Joe Bossio noted the high standards to which WWPRSD students are held and explained, “Lofty [expectations] are good until they can become potentially toxic.” This truth begs the question of how to foster academic success without sacrificing students’ mental health and how to center students’ well-being without compromising performance in school. At Pure Edge, we believe the answer lies in educating the whole child, and our mission is to provide the free resources to impact as many students as possible.
A popular approach to youth suicide prevention centers anti-bullying as the solution. However, a holistic approach understands that youth suicide cannot be attributed to a single cause. The National Violent Death Data Reporting System analyzed data on suicides of youth ages 11 to 15 and found that from 2003 to 2014, only 9 percent of cases cited bullying as a causal factor. However, over half of cases identified relationship issues as a factor leading to suicide, and over half also noted that the youth had mental health struggles. In 60 percent of cases, multiple causes were found. The many challenges faced by youth can compound and lead to terrible results. To educators and administrators like those in Mercer County, a whole-child approach is the most desirable model for suicide prevention.
Cranbury School District, also in New Jersey, has identified the need for a whole-child perspective as well. Board of Education President Karen Callahan shared that the district has noticed children “exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety at an earlier age.” After witnessing Pure Edge’s presentation on the neuroscience of stress at a national conference, Cranbury enlisted our help in bringing mindfulness practices to its students. We began working with school counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and P.E. teachers. Those staff members are now incorporating the practices they have learned into their own lives and sharing their knowledge with students. Counselor Joann Charwin described Pure Edge as
“Really our introduction at Cranbury School to mindful movement, breathing and rest.” She added, “I think it has changed the lives of our teachers and students a great deal.”
Location: Costa Rica
Potential Impact: 70,000 teachers, 100,000 total staff, 1,000,000 students
The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) is the largest employer in Central America. When the new government instituted fiscal reforms for all public sectors in the spring of 2018, it triggered the largest mass strikes of public employees in Costa Rican history. Teachers were on strike for 89 days, thus forcing the closure of all public schools and the loss of education and jeopardizing of the future of every young person in the country. After meeting with the MEP, we were asked to provide the neuroscience of stress sessions to MEP employees who did not strike and continued to serve communities. Those initial sessions led to MEP requesting Pure Edge to register as an entity to conduct professional development in Costa Rica.
As of February 2019, Pure Edge is now registered as a non-governmental agency in the country and able to offer our services.
The school system educates nearly 1 million children and youth. With over 4,000 schools across the nation, this partnership is a unique opportunity to incorporate social and emotional learning and mindfulness country-wide.
Location: Puerto Rico
Potential Impact: 29,000 teachers, 75,000 total staff, 380,000 students
Reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and still suffering from a lack of resources, Puerto Rico became a vital territory for Pure Edge to support.
We partnered with the PRDE in July 2018. In 2017, legislation, Law 85, passed that every student attending a PRDE school would be required to have 5 minutes of reflection (Fomentar la autoevaluación e introspección en la comunidad escolar al iniciar los trabajos con cinco (5) minutos de reflexión en todos los planteles educativos, conforme a la Ley 60-2009.”). Citing this law, Pure Edge has trained over 15,000 educators in brain breaks, mindful movement, the neuroscience of stress and Pure Power Prevention and Cue Centered Therapy Intervention Tiered System of Supports. Pure Edge has worked with all site principals, teacher leaders, health and wellness teachers, school counselors, social workers and school psychologists. The island continues to rebuild, and we continue to serve its educators. The teachers on the ground understand the necessity of caring for themselves and their learners.
Due to this ongoing relationship, the PRDE team is now a part of CASEL’s Collaborating States Initiative.
Location: Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
Potential Impact: 400 teachers, 800 total staff, 10,000 students
In September 2018, we received a heart-rending email from a school counselor in Saipan, the largest island in the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. She sought Pure Edge’s help for Saipan’s students, emphasizing that being an island in the middle of the ocean makes it nearly impossible to convince organizations on the mainland to offer professional development of educators.
Not only was Saipan fighting to recover from a devastating typhoon, but it had recently seen a 17% increase in teen suicides.
When two teenage best friends died from suicide within one week of each other, the close-knit community knew they had to act. They hired the territory’s first ever child psychologist and searched for other resources to support their youth, ultimately leading them to Pure Edge. The commissioner of education invited the team to CNMI to implement a three-day Culture of Care training. Over 250 educators, community members and administrators attended the training days. Two of the three training days were paid work days for CNMI employees. Day three was scheduled for a Saturday and would therefore be an unpaid day for the participants.
Incredibly, 94% of participants showed up voluntarily.
The educators of Saipan were highly invested in accessing the knowledge and resources to care for themselves and their students, A ballroom full of educators showed up eager to equip their students with mindfulness techniques and took a proactive approach to caring for the mental health of Saipan’s youth.
Pure Edge supports the development of social, emotional, and academic learning competencies “with an open heart and an open mind,” according to the organization’s mission. It is particularly helpful in school populations impacted by PTSD, student trauma and anxiety, and symptomology related to ADHD.
“Our primary goal is to help foster community success through focus. Building resilience is key,” says Kim. The curriculum, which is the subject of ongoing research conducted by Stanford University, has served more than 300,000 children, grades K-12, across the country. Its mindfulness-based practices encourage students and teachers to deepen their emotional self-regulation, find calm, and manage stress. Movement-based exercises consist of seated twists and body-awareness tech- niques that bring individuals into the present moment.
“When kids feel safe, supported, and calm, they can focus better on the challenging tasks they have to complete,” says Dawn Brooks DeCosta, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in New York City. The school has been facilitating Pure Edge mindfulness-based practices, such as “brain breaks,” which offer an oasis for kids and teachers, allowing them to foster self-value and resilience.
One of the biggest issues that Pure Edge is working
on now is caregiver burnout and its devastating effects.
“Adults have to manage their levels of stress in order to be their best for the children,” Kim says. Makes sense, but in our cur- rent round-the-clock work culture, caregivers, too often, succumb to burnout, forgetting to practice self-care first. This is often the hardest part of the work—getting parents, teachers, and others to implement the caregiving for themselves. Pure Edge has helped more than 6,000 educators and administrators, most of whom report that the breathing exercises they learned were useful for balancing emotions and self-care.
“Teachers are 110 percent givers, all the time. They feel guilty for taking time to take care of themselves. Our core intention is to bring them calm, and make self-care more socially acceptable,” says Kim. “To be present, you have to feel valued and loved. And once that comes from within, we can share this with others.”
If you are interested in learning more about Pure Edge, the curriculum is available to anyone, free of charge. A simple practice that can help soothe your nerves—as well as your kids—at any time is Mindfulness of Breath, an exercise Pure Edge uses to facilitate connection. Try this easy, four-step balloon breathing technique whenever you need to feel insta-calm.
- Find a comfortable seat.
- Imagine your belly is a balloon and start to breathe consciously, inflating with air for three counts and gently exhaling for three counts.
- Repeat three times, or as many as you wish.
- Notice how you are feeling calmer, refreshed, and more at ease.