As a student, thanks to an attention deficit disorder I had when I was young, school was not a place where I found a sense of worth or achievement. On the contrary, plagued with an ongoing introspection on the purpose of life, I didn’t see the point to school and I didn’t try to apply myself to it for many years. Obviously, I did not do well, until I discovered a sense of self-worth and the value of work on my own. While ultimately I successfully graduated from college, my experience showed me what is lacking in most schools.
Students find themselves under increasing pressure and stress from the need to do well on tests and competition for the highest rank. Added to that, especially during the teenage years, are the pressure to be accepted by peers and the uncertainty and hormonal changes that accompany rapid growth.
Schools generally don’t provide the means to cope with this stress, which would not only make kids happier, but would also improve their academic performance since stress takes a toll on the brain. Teaching students meditation and breathing techniques and making them aware that their thoughts and emotions can be managed have already been proven to be invaluable in the classroom. Incorporating meditation time into the regular school day would help students develop a practice and form healthy self-management habits.
Sense of Self-Worth
While learning and practicing meditation and breathing regularly would enable students to reduce and manage their stress and emotions, they could also help schools do more for students. They could be used to help students feel their value.
Under constant external evaluation, it’s easy for anyone to forget that, as human beings, we all have an intrinsic value
that does not depend on our appearance or performance. The youth, since they are scrambling to create their worldly identity, are especially vulnerable. If they feel their worth, however, students could use that sense as a springboard for developing trust in themselves, which is a major ingredient for further self-development and creativity.
Good Role Models
Besides meditation and breathing, I think students need role models of the characteristics that schools wish to instill in them. Especially if they cannot find role models within their families, students need educators of high moral character. This character should include being what in Korean is called “Hongik.” Being Hongik means contributing to the good of all, and contributing to the good of all includes not only people, but all life and the physical environment. A desire to act Hongik is a natural result of meditation and breathing practices, but role models would provide the example and environment kids need to put that desire into practice.
Lots of Praise
To feel valuable and want to be Hongik, kids also need lavish praise. It’s not hard to praise someone, and we all need praise, regardless of our test grades or behavioral history. Compliments were rare for me in my early educational career since I was, as my father assured me with confidence, a “late bloomer.” But one small compliment I received from an elementary school teacher has stayed with me all these years because it gave me much encouragement and strength.
A compliment is an infusion of bright, positive energy that boosts a person and stimulates their brain. While the benefit of compliments is common sense, in the midst of trying to discipline students and teach them enough to pass the required tests, compliments seem to get lost. However, kids need compliments even more than they need good grades to prepare them for a successful life.
With these elements added to classroom culture, students would gain the support and encouragement they need to be successful regardless of their ability. When kids know they are valuable and find their passion, they will be enthusiastic and have something to focus on. Because of their focus and trust, they will naturally learn and apply themselves. Most importantly, they’ll have hope for the future and do well in whatever they want.