The staff and faculty at Dallas International School were given a rare treat during their staff development day a few weeks ago: a few minutes of peace and quiet.
These school leaders are used to controlled chaos in their everyday working life, so Nawal Bendefa, a meditation and mindfulness professional and DIS parent, was brought in to help everyone relax, breathe and “focus on the moment.”
Bendefa, who recently moved to Dallas and has a fourth grader at the school, is working together with DIS to bring the concepts of meditation and mindfulness not just to the staff and faculty but to the students as well. Starting with middle schoolers, students will have a few minutes on select days to stop working, meditate, focus and simply enjoy a bit of silence.
“We are looking to develop a pilot program in middle school,” Bendefa said. “There is a transition in this age between middle and high school and there’s so much decision making there. They’re going to be asked to choose for their future. So we are trying to help them reach the clarity there.”
Bendefa uses mindfulness practices with businesses in her capacity as a career coach, but she says the positive impact that mindfulness and meditation can have on school-age children is often more noticeable. This was evident when she stopped by a fourth grade class this week and led them in a session of “laughing mindfulness,” where students were able to act out funny scenes, such as a car being unable to start, to help them relax and clear their minds.
“It helps students with stress reduction, self-awareness, self-management,” she said. “They’re more aware of their emotions, they’re more aware of the emotions of others and it also gives them more focus and effectiveness. Sometimes they’re aware and they can feel it in their body, and sometimes they’re supposed to feel in a certain way. It helps them get out of the herd mentality and be more aware of themselves and where they are in any situation.”
Bendefa said that mindfulness helped her change and improve her own life.
“I got into mindfulness for personal reasons,” she said. “I started while living in South Korea. I started meditating, and the results were fantastic with my health. Then I started using it in my profession.”
Though the pilot program will be initially aimed at middles schoolers, Bendefa said that all children, regardless of age, can benefit from these practices.
“Especially with younger children, it helps them focus on their attention,” she said. “They’re also developing the body-heart connection, through things like compassion and empathy. They learn to care for themselves. They learn to be nice to themselves and to others.”
Eventually, she envisions a program that is implemented at all levels of the school, helping students, staff and teachers alike to focus better, live healthier and be happier.
“We hope this will help them become more responsible citizens,” Bendefa said. “It gets bigger and bigger. It gets beyond the classroom and the school. In mindfulness, we talk about wholeness. It’s all connected.”