Today I spoke with Kelsey Evans who is in the show Happy Healthy Kids on WUCF PBS. You should totally check it out because it’s awesome, kind of like our Wuf Shanti show on SFPBS. Maybe one day we can be on each others’ shows. That would be really cool.

          Please tell us a little about yourself, what drew you to mindful education, and the Happy Healthy Kids show.

I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness 10 years ago while undergoing rehab for an eating disorder. Meditation was offered as a tool of intervention to facilitate a decrease in depression in anxiety, which is often highly present in people with eating disorders. When initially offered the intervention of mindfulness during my treatment, I was averse to it as I was very much uncomfortable with “surrendering” and trying to detach from negative thoughts. However, the more I let myself be in meditation, the easier the practice became. Each week my rehab facility required all patients to go to guided meditations, and each week I began to open more and more to the possibilities of a mindfulness practice. After 3 months in rehab, I had attained a foundational mindfulness practice. A practice that would be used initially for my recovery but would soon grow into something much deeper.

Upon moving further into my recovery, I was able to complete my undergraduate degree, and desired to continue my education with graduate school in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida. Completing my Masters’ coursework in Social Science Education, opened my eyes to endless possibility of the varied ways the intervention of mindfulness could be implemented in the field of education. This was also reinforced with the fact that at the same time I was pursuing my Master of Arts in Teaching, I became more involved in my mindfulness practice through studying and learning how to instruct yoga. Seeing how two varying philosophies I was studying congruously, could mesh together so well, I was set on understanding more about how the art of mindfulness within education.

My years of teaching Social Studies were spent teaching varied content and various age groups, from 13-19 years old. Knowing full well most high school students were not enthralled with Social Studies, I wanted to differentiate my classroom from all the other Social Studies classes they had experienced in the past.

I desired to create a classroom environment of all my experiences involving the wide spectrum of mindfulness I had experienced and learned since rehab. From the life experiences, to educational studies of character education, and even Yogic philosophy- all were combined as a framework for beliefs in my classroom. Creating a class of diverse education beliefs, allowed me to foster better relationships with my students. Students felt safe and open to talk, beyond the scope of the curriculum. Solidifying a strong relationship of trust and love, influenced their overall school performance.

During the past 10 years, my personal practice of mindfulness has created a deeper connection to my yoga practice and my classroom teaching. However, as I continued to grow my mindfulness meditation practice and my classroom teaching, I also experienced a personal transformation in both body and mind, which slowly began to emanate out into all aspects of my life.

My mindfulness practice and classroom teaching became endogenous. The more I practiced my mindfulness, the healthier and more balanced I became in my teaching. The more I focused on growing as a teacher, the more stability and peace I found during my meditations. Being a mindful teacher shifted my whole pedagogy, as my spiritual practice became integrated into my professional life. Essentially, I found moral and value education to be the “it” factor for how I wanted to mindfully teach. I desired to pursue a more modern version of Character Education, one that did not let curriculum dictate the whole day but allowed for space and free discussion for children to develop their own thoughts and opinions. Just as my classroom was becoming more unified through the integration of mindfulness, I began to desire to understand more how and why my mindfulness practices were transforming my teaching. I had already noticed less depression, less anxiety, a desire to be more present in my classroom, a deeper connection to my students, and was generally a more happy and healthy teacher. After such a radical change to my lifestyle and teaching abilities I left the high school classroom to pursue further study into the topic of mindfulness.

Happy Healthy Kids developed out of a passion for mindfulness education, and further pursuit of continued education. During my pursuit of my 500 RYT I met WUCFtv producer and fellow yogi Tricia Connelly and shared my mindfulness interest with Connelly who thought the topic would be ideal for a WUCF TV kids’ program. We decided to call the show “Happy, Healthy Kids.”

The show is designed to engage children with yoga poses, meditation and breathing exercises and topics, including the importance of brushing your teeth, sleep and fun with reading that air every hour in between WUCF TV programs.

          You mentioned that you were studying for your PHD in Mindfulness. Why is focusing on health and wellness of children so important right now, with everything that is going on in the world?

Using mindfulness in the field of education is imperative amidst a divisive world that has its fair share of controversial issues. mindfulness is a useful tool that uncovers a student’s internally oppressive thoughts and find true freedom. Mindfulness meditation permits humans of all ages to let go of internally created stories, complete with lies and opinions each being tells themselves, and instead allows each person to make connection with their own authenticity once the stories are dropped. It allows further social-emotional regulation of their minds, and deeper attunement to their physical bodies. The more fully connected students become, the more likely they are to drop their fight or flight response.

          These programs for kids are finally becoming more accepted. Why do you think that is, and How can we scale up to get these programs in all schools?

Mindfulness programs are becoming more and more accepted as more research is coming out regarding the benefits of the practice. With more research comes more funding, and with more funding comes more implementation- essentially leading to a larger and larger populace hearing about what mindfulness is and how to use it. Likewise, there is a larger trend in our culture today to alternative forms of health and wellness, as many are looking for help from the growing number of people with stress and anxiety.

          Do you think it is important to also teach the teachers how to be mindful? If you had to pick one episode for kids and teachers to watch, which one would it be and why?

Currently, there is attrition and migration- affecting the teacher population (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003). Although the measurements of the turnover rate is high for the entire teaching population, there is a higher number of new teachers leaving the profession than others. Why are teachers continuing to leave the profession? Many teachers are being pushed to the brink of burnout, placing teachers’ health and wellness in jeopardy. Variables such as teacher stress and burnout are contributing to teacher retention at large, and the need for a coping strategy must be examined. Mindfulness is a useful tool in the reduction of teacher stress and burnout and allows teachers to fully immerse themselves into the present moment of their classroom, to remain fully connected to themselves and their students

          What advice do you have for teachers, administrators, healthcare practitioners, athletes and especially parents as it relates to mindful learning?

Mindfulness is not taught over-night. It is a slow and deliberate method that must be practiced as well by the person teaching mindfulness. Without a commitment to self-regulation by the facilitator, mindfulness may not be fully received by the recipient of the tool.

Thank you Kelsey Evans for speaking with me today. Everyone check out her show!

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