Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kids develop app to fight bullying

Since bullying appears to be a theme today, I wanted to comment on a growing number of apps popping up that focus on children anonymously reporting incidences of bullying. One such app,  created by students in a Connecticut High School lets victims (or witnesses) report the time and place of bullying without having to give their names (names are optional). What is great about this particular app is that all reports are put into a data base where administrators are able to study it and intervene. This system would seamlessly align with Positive Behavior Support programs in schools, which attempt to gather data for informed decision making. Such data can then be used to monitor response to school wide initiatives. Apps, such as the one in Connecticut, not only help to foster a positive school climate, they also give children a voice and sense of efficacy that is often ripped away from them when they are bullied or witness such acts.

A Need for Social Emotional Learning

There is a shocking and depressing video of our future population harassing a grandmother of 8 which has gone viral. In the video an aged bus monitor employed by the Greece Central School District in Rochester, New York, is moved to tears while being verbally abused by group of middle school students.  Although the full video is above, a 30 second viewing is all you need to lose hope in the future of humanity. The fact that this went on for ten minutes on more than one occasion (there a reportedly three other videos out there), is not only unbelievable but also shows an inability of these children to understand the weight of their actions.

However; every cloud has a silver lining, and fortunately for this patient soul the silver lining is vacation of a lifetime from Indiegogo. People have already raised an estimated $133,000 for this women. According to her Facebook page Karen indicates that she "will continue to work...unless I come into lots of money." Hopefully there will be enough money raised in the next 30 days that she will not have to go through this humiliation again.

As a School Psychologist I believe this is a great, yet poignant, example of the need for a specific and pervasive program of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for our students. These skills need to be directly and specifically taught in order to stem the rise of such bullying. We need to align these programs in our curriculum and value the building blocks of social awareness, just as we value the phonological awareness needed for reading. One way we can work to increase empathy and social awareness in our youth is through Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) . Studies have shown that 8 week MBSR interventions have increased grey matter in the Temporal Parietal Junction (TPJ), which is associated with Empathy and Theory of Mind. Although it is expected for Middle School students to act like.... well children; with intervention and increased emotional awareness we can help to build empathy and interconnectedness that fill foster positive attitudes in future functioning members of society. For more information about SEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social Emotional Learning is a great resource. Mindful Awareness program such as Mind UP and Mindful Schools are also good programs that work on building social/ emotional awareness.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Even short amounts of Mindfulness are effective...

Part of what makes Mindful meditation so interesting is the Neuropsychological impact it has on the brain. Our brain has the uncanny ability to form new connections and strengthen grey matter through Neuroplasticity. Through this process we are able learn new languages, recover from accidents and overcome mild psychological disorders. A recent study suggested that experienced meditators who have been practicing anywhere between 4 and 46 years exhibited increased grey matter in areas associated with increased attention and focus, working memory and impulse control.

 WOW this sounds great, in about 4 years we can see increase in grey matter. I barely have time stop at Chik Fil-A for dinner and you are telling me that I have to spend four years being mindful before I can see results? Luckily new research  from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the positive neurological effects of Mindful Meditation can be seen in just two weeks. The Chinese study from Dalian University of Technology randomly assigned participants to "30 minutes of either integrative body-mind training or relaxation training over a two-week period. The training totaled five hours for each group." This is encouraging news for implementing mindful meditation training within systems that are usually "strapped" for time, e.g. schools.

As I start this blog my focus remains intent on bringing the positive effects of Mindfulness to schools and those that work in them. Although Mindfulness is becoming more mainstream there is still a fringe element to it that is often linked to the new age mysticism that often follows the word meditation (the proverbial OHMMM). De-mystification is best combated with science and fact. Studies are popping up like mushrooms after a spring storm, that support the neurological basis for this practice. This blog will not only focus on these, but celebrate them as a manner of practical evolution of how we view ourselves, those around us and education as a system.