Writings on the people, programs and philosophies behind BSS.

Learning out Loud

The Culture of Powerful Learning and Mindfulness at BSS

Stop. Look. And Listen.

Research supports the many benefits of mindfulness – the calm mental state achieved, with practice, by being in the moment, of not judging but merely observing and accepting. Mindfulness reportedly helps to lower stress, improve focus, increase self-awareness and compassion for others and, in one study from the University of California, Santa Barbara, students trained in mindfulness experienced improved memory and better grades.

At BSS, mindfulness is woven throughout its Culture of Powerful Learning, the basis of the school’s curriculum and teaching approach. This culture inspires growth and discovery through innovative thinking – even, and especially, in the face of life’s challenges. With such a rigorous academic curriculum that encourages girls to embrace challenging times, the school recognizes that mindfulness is paramount to their health and success.

“We’re bombarded with information coming at us at high speed, so much of our time is structured and scheduled, and we’re busy, busy, busy,” says Middle and Senior School Guidance Counsellor Sherri McFarlane. “It impacts our patience with one another, our relational experiences. I think it’s important that we find a way to combat that busyness and the impatience and inattentiveness that come with that.”

In various ways, teachers are planting mindfulness seeds – in Teacher Advisory Group (TAG) sessions; in built-in breaks to give Junior School students time to stop, play, sit quietly, eat peacefully; in the classroom environment, where learning is built around “thinking” and “think time.” This past fall, Grade 8 and 9 students were taken on a mindfulness walk. The girls were asked to find a place by themselves in the ravine and focus on three things through their senses – what did they hear, see, smell? – to learn how to bring themselves into the moment. Grade 7s and 8s were led through a guided meditation.

“The identifying piece BSS has done is really look at the whole girl and the impact and the experience of those girls with the involvement they have in academics and co-curriculars, and looking at it all together,” explains Lindsay Wotherspoon, BSS Student Recruiting Associate. “How do we give them balance? How do we appreciate that technology and the world around us is changing very quickly? In upholding our ideals we have to look at all the pieces, and I think that’s why we do what we do – and that sets us apart from other schools.”

Incorporating mindfulness into all aspects of school life is a work in progress. But no one disputes the importance – especially in a downtime-deprived, information- saturated culture – of learning how to stop for a moment, take a breath, and be present. Slowing down “is a little tool that the girls can pull out and use,” says Ms. McFarlane. “It’s not a big deal; they can do it privately. And oh boy, how great is that that you have this thing you can turn to?”

By Nora Underwood
Spring 2017