Why Mindfulness in Education?

Skills for the 21st Century

21st century skills are the life skills, work habits, and character traits that have been found to be critically important to success in today’s world. If we are truly preparing youth for their future, it is important to cultivate these life skills in school and at home.

Mindful. Kindful. Skillful. 

Today there is a great deal of talk about 21st century skills. (T)wo factors rarely mentioned are adaptation and resilience. It’s a good bet that our children will need to be adaptive to succeed in their constantly changing economic, social, and cultural environment. Children’s brains are incredibly adaptive and resilient, but our current education system does not cultivate these faculties. Rather our schools drum out these gifts through an emphasis on rote learning  and rigid, fact-based testing. Furthermore, in most cases, our classrooms do not mirror how adults typically work in our modern economy. Most high level work today in every sector of our economy involves collaboration of individuals with interdisciplinary teams who have a variety of skills and abilities and coordinate their efforts to analyze and solve problems to create  innovations. This work requires a high degree of social and emotional competence, creativity, and higher order thinking. Because of the constantly changing social, cultural, and economic landscape, it also requires flexibility and adaptation.”

Source: ~Patricia Jennings, Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom

What are the 21st century learning and life skills? Here are a few, not unlike those we saw for Social Emotional Competencies:

  • Flexibility, Adaptability
  • Critical thinking, problem solving
  • Creativity, curiosity, imagination
  • PerseveranceResilience, self-discipline, adaptability, initiative
  • Communication (speaking, listening, awareness)
  • Social Skills, collaboration, cooperation
  • Leadership
  • Health and wellness


According to the World Health Organization, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century. Adults. Teens. Children. No one is immune.

“One in five children in the United States is growing up in what we call “the context of adversity” — a stressful environment characterized by poverty, chaos, or exposure to violence — and this context has profound effects on their neurological development. There is a connection between adversity and academic underperformance, a biological one that education reform efforts to date have failed to unpack and address successfully.” 

Studies show that children who have suffered from traumatic stress are more likely to have issues with attention, concentration, irritability, and organization. One child in a classroom with these attentional and behavioral challenges will often disrupt a lesson. Now, imagine 30 children with these kinds of struggles; they can shut learning down for everyone. Then consider that there are 47,000 schools in America located in high-poverty communities, where many more children struggle with adversity.”  (From “The Child Stress Epidemic“)

Many of our students have experienced some form of trauma. “The ACE Study looked at 10 types of childhood trauma: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to alcohol or other substances or who’s depressed or has other mental illnesses; experiencing parental divorce or separation; having a family member who’s incarcerated, and witnessing a mother being abused. Other subsequent ACE surveys include racism, witnessing violence outside the home, bullying, losing a parent to deportation, living in an unsafe neighborhood, and involvement with the foster care system. Other types of childhood adversity can also include being homeless, living in a war zone, being an immigrant, moving many times, witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing a father or other caregiver being abused, involvement with the criminal justice system, attending a zero-tolerance school, etc.

The ACE Study found that the higher someone’s ACE score – the more types of childhood adversity a person experienced – the higher their risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence, being a victim of violence and a bunch of other consequences.

The ACE Study also found that it didn’t matter what the types of ACEs were. An ACE score of 4 that included divorce, physical abuse, an incarcerated family member and a depressed family member had the same statistical health consequences as an ACE score of 4 that included living with an alcoholic, verbal abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect.” (From “ACEs too High“)

The following is from Mindful Schools where I received much of my training:  “Healthy stress is a natural part of life, including childhood. Children and adults alike need to be challenged in order to grow and develop. However, in the modern education system, healthy stress is frequently displaced by toxic stress. Toxic stress occurs when life’s demands consistently outpace our ability to cope with those demands. Toxic stress impairs attention, emotion and mood regulation, sleep, and learning readiness daily in American classrooms. Even more troubling, prolonged exposure to childhood toxic stress has lifelong impacts on mental and physical health.

Toxic stress is challenging to work with because our stress response taps into some very old survival hardware in our evolutionary biology. When a 4th grader reports that she felt she “was going to die” from test anxiety, she’s telling the truth. The responses of her autonomic nervous system are the same whether she’s taking a math test or sensing actual physical danger.

Even children who have not suffered adverse childhood experiences may struggle with frequent “mismatches” between the severity of a stimulus (a routine pop quiz) and their response (loss of peripheral vision, sweating, nausea, terror and immobility). In children suffering from trauma, these “mismatches” become chronic and habitual.

Our Solution: Mindfulness

Because the roots of toxic stress lie deep in the nervous system, we need tools that go beyond the conceptual mind to directly target that system. To transform our habitual responses, we need to regularly practice our skills when we are not in “fight – flight – freeze” mode.

Two forms of training as the foundation for teaching other methods of stress management, emotion regulation and interpersonal skills:

  • The Development of Mindfulness: The development of mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and surrounding environment.
  • The Development of Heartfulness: The intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.

“In discussing how mindfulness practice addresses stress and other problems in education, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that mindfulness can take us beyond the terrain of managing symptoms to a place where we are developing the deepest capacities of the human mind.”

Source: ~Mindful Schools, Mindfulness in Education

Emotional Intelligence, SEL, and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is foundational to emotional intelligence which includes social and emotional skills.

“First, (the neuroscience research shows that) SEL skills are predictors of major life outcomes – for example: antisocial behavior, health, financial planning and success, and successful interpersonal relationships. The data clearly show that features of emotional intelligence are better predictors of life outcomes than traditional cognitive measures, underscoring the value and importance of SEL.

Secondly, neuroscience teaches us that the brain circuits that are important for SEL interact with circuits that are important for cognitive learning – so if one is anxious, stressed or emotionally unbalanced, this has deleterious effects on the circuitry for other types of learning. These circuits are intricately intertwined, suggesting that emotional balance and good emotional skills are really important for other kinds of learning.

“The circuits that are important for SEL exhibit high degrees of plasticity – these circuits are being constantly shaped by experiences, environment and training – and so the work we do in this space should be more intentional and we should take more responsibility for the healthy development of our children.”

Source: ~ interview with neuroscientist Richard Davidson

“Neuroscientist Immordino-Yang writes that “emotions are skills—organized patterns of thoughts and behaviors that we actively construct in the moment and across our life spans to adaptively accommodate to various kinds of circumstances, including academic demands.” Many students will struggle when initially engaging in tasks that challenge them socially and emotionally. Without an intentional focus on Social Emotional Development (SED), students might display anger or recoil from uncomfortable situations, or feel badly about their inability to display more mature skills. Educators need to consider the SED competencies required for academic success and weave them into instruction. SED can create the foundation that enables students to engage with challenges more confidently and successfully.”

Source: This Time with Feeling: Integrating Social and Emotional Development and College- and Career-Readiness Standards

Mindful Kindful YOUniversity

“Circles” class practicing compassion. ~Dee DiGioia, MK YOU

At Mindful Kindful YOUniversity we blend neuroscience, social emotional learning and evidence based practices of mindfulness to cultivate these core competencies and essential life skills.

With practice, mindfulness can help us to become aware of the present moment, both positive and negative, by observing our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, words spoken or to be spoken, actions, the environment and those around you without reacting in an automatic or habitual way. With improving self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making, we learn to pause, connect heart and mind, and respond more thoughtfully, creatively, and with compassion. We learn that experiences don’t have to overwhelm us and we can learn to remain calm and centered through life’s ups and downs, beginning at home and in school.

In traditional educational settings, the emotional intelligence life skills including cultivating wisdom and compassion for self and others are not formally taught, yet these are the essential skills to handle life’s pressures, stresses, and challenges that arise throughout the day and across the years. These life skills essentially provide the foundation for all other learning to take place.

For over 30 years in my work with children, I developed an interest in neuroscience to learn how the mind works and reacts to challenges that arise throughout the day while also understanding how outside influences add layers of complexities to the mix, such as having special needs & disabilities, trauma, poverty, divorce, abuse, etc. Our schools simply do not have enough resources to effectively address all the ranges of needs.

Many of our children in school are not in the state of mind to absorb learning because they are in a chronic state of stress. Our emotions are continually changing. Difficult emotions like anger, worry, fear, and stress actually release chemicals in our brain that prevent us from learning, and can make us react and say and do things we didn’t want to. Mindfulness stops these chemicals.

While learning about the brain and the science behind it, I also received training in a variety of therapies or strategies for prevention or effective responses to moment to moment challenges. I find great joy in helping children find ways to calm themselves and help restore peace in their corner of the world! I have developed programs & evidence-based strategies that have worked successfully with hundreds of students to practice mindfulness, compassion, and other important life skills. In every day challenges,  children can then draw upon the reservoirs of strength and calm, using the tools and resources they have practiced to get through with confidence. The more I learned and practiced with my students, the more value I found in my own personal life as well, experiencing greater well-being, resilience, and joy. These are the life skills I enjoy sharing with parents and educators. The most profound changes I have experienced both personally and in my work with children and adults is through practical application of the neuroscience and practicing mindfulness. Our youth need resilience skills, and other emotional intelligence skills, embedded in their learning to be able to become healthy, functioning adults.

The more our children/students practice healthy ways of responding to life in times of calm, the more prepared they are to take in higher learning! Mindful. Kindful. Skillful. 


Are you in San Luis Obispo County or Northern Santa Barbara County? Join or host MKYOU classes or trainings for youth, parents, or educators.

Learn about MK YOU  “Services for Youth” (for youth of all ages ~ elementary school up through college; inclusive of special needs) ~ now seeking schools interested in a pilot program: Elementary, Middle, High School, College.

 Contact Dee DiGioia to get started or for more information.



Additional Resources:

There’s no shortage of amazing videos to help us understand the benefits of mindfulness as it relates to our youth in schools. Here are just a few of my favorites on the reasons for “why” I teach (and practice) mindfulness:

Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness? Excellent!!!!

Just Breathe

Mindfulness because…it’s amazing (from one of my former students) See more!


School replaces detention with meditation

Please CLICK HERE for a list of additional links to outside resources (articles and videos) supporting “Why Mindfulness in Education”


“Research has proven that mindfulness training integrates the brain and strengthens the important executive functions that support emotional and social intelligence as well as academic success. Offering mindfulness (training) for (youth) is a natural way to set them on the right course not only now, but for the rest of their lives!” 

~Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Clinical Professor, Author of Mindsight and Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain


“An effective intervention is one thing…implementation of an effective intervention is a very different thing.”

~Mark Greenberg, Founding Director, Prevention Research Center Penn State University