A Mindful Classroom

Former Sidwell Friends teacher Richard Brady and Kim Seashore ’87 discuss the value of mindfulness—in life and in classrooms.

A student looking at a set of assigned math problems may feel the way many people do when they’re staring down a sink full of dirty dishes—completing the task is something to get through as quickly as possible. Former Sidwell Friends School faculty member Richard Brady, who joined Kim Seashore ’87 in the latest Conversations with Friends, talked about how a shift in mindset about doing homework (or dishes) leads to a deeper understanding.

“There are three ways to do homework, just as there are three ways to wash dishes,” said Brady, the founder of the Mindfulness in Education Network whose new book is Walking the Teacher’s Path with Mindfulness. “One is just to finish them; the second one is to get them clean; and the last way is to wash the dishes just to wash the dishes. That last way is an example of mindfulness.” One way Brady brought mindfulness into his math classroom was to do a five-minute “eating meditation” with his students, in which he guided students as they each ate one raisin. He then told his students “I would like you to do your homework in the same way you ate this raisin. I would like you to get the full nutritional value out of every problem. And that may mean you won’t be able to do the whole assignment, and that’s okay because you’re going to get much more value out of the assignment doing half the problems just to do them, than if you do all of them just to finish them.”

Brady discussed his introduction to mindfulness; his relationship with his teacher, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh; and how he began incorporating mindfulness into his teaching while at Sidwell Friends. For Brady, mindfulness in the classroom is key in approaching much more than just math; it also reduces stress and improves attention in every sense, not just academically. Mindfulness practices open students’ and teachers’ minds to the peril and possibilities inherent in living in the present.

“There is one thing that is both a potential risk and a potential reward, and that is waking up to the fact that there is more to life than we have been told,” he said. “That’s a risk if you don’t know how to handle something different and new—you want to back away from it. And the reward is the same thing: It can be incredibly rewarding to look at life with openness, curiosity, kindness, and care.”

Watch the full Conversation with Friends with Richard Brady here.

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