Education, Youth Development and Mind-Body Learning
For the past 30 years, high performance companies have honed a system of supports and incentives that helps employees achieve more in their professional and personal lives. My goal is to bring these same innovations into education. Worldwide, the mantra for change in education now revolves around rigor, relevance, and relationship the ideal vision of a personalized, creative, and authentic school experience appropriate for the global information age. But this vision cannot be attained unless we shift our focus away from curriculum ”the what of schooling” toward the how. This requires that we focus on nurturing individual talents and abilities, rather than re-engineering the industrial system to improve the delivery of prescibed information. Our objective should be to start with questions and help students learn through project based learning and acquisition of 21st century skills.
The shift is mandatory for two reasons. The first may be obvious. The information age requires that individuals be able to seek out and use information rather than assimilate it. An entirely new set of entrepreneurial skills and habits of mind accompanies this radical entry into a global, technological world. At the core of the new competencies lies the ability to manage and communicate information. Though these competencies demand a certain amount of content knowledge, the world is moving rapidly toward rewarding the ability to apply knowledge.
Industrialized methods of schooling, still focused on presenting information to be retained by students, cannot teach the necessary skills of the 21st century. Instead, the answer lies in integrating into education the vast amount of research of the past 30 years that shows us exactly how young people become successful as adults. This body of knowledge ”the field of youth development, or resilience ”contains vital lessons for education, telling us quite clearly that three elements must be built into the school experience for every child.
Primarily, in the education age, teachers must act as mentors and facilitators. This relationship allows teachers to fulfill two important functions. First, they can help students identify goals and aspirations ”to discover meaningful, worthwhile endeavors. Second, they can help students define personal standards of mastery” to learn how to measure their performance by internal norms for achievement and excellence. In a global, changing environment, these aspects of character are not optional; they are a prerequisite for success. Most important, they cannot be taught unless teachers and students form a close relationship based on trust, respect, and communicationâ€”the exact elements prized in high performance companies.
The second reason is less apparent, but even more crucial. To live gracefully and skillfully in the global age, a successful individual must remain emotionally balanced, cognitively focused, and able to operate in a fast-paced, challenging environment. In our personal lives, and increasingly in the corporate world, specific mind-body methods for stress management, focused awareness, and visualizing accomplishments have become commonplace. Education, on the other hand, has not yet learned how to incorporate the development of personal strengths into the curriculum. That, however, must inevitably change and quite soon. We know too much about how to tune the mind and body for enhanced performance to ignore the technology of personal growth.
This technology integrates findings from three fields. In the field of health and medicine, we now recognize the importance, both physically and emotionally, of managing stress. From positive psychology, we now know that positive emotions produced by intentional, focused methods, result in more productive, successful lives. And, from the new field of neurocardiology, we know that emotions, the functioning of the heart, and cognitive states are closely linked through physiological mechanisms.
From these findings is emerging a simple approach to teaching young people how to prepare for their lives in a global world. The approach begins with incorporating the proven behavioral methods identified through research on youth development and social-emotional learning programs, such as teaching communication skills, collaboration, and self-management, into the normal educational day. Work on emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and multiple intelligences is spurring our efforts to more fully understand and support the optimal development of our young people.
However, behavioral tools cannot stand alone. During the last fifteen years, there has been a rapid expansion of our knowledge about physiological tools that promote well being, help manage stress, and improve cognitive performance. Primarily, we have learned how emotional self-management can be used to achieve optimal physical and mental states that can be verified by physiological feedback.
This technology ”known as heart rate variability (HRV)” can be taught to students of all ages using software or simple daily exercises. Test sites funded by the U.S. Department of Education show compelling results for programs. Through the intentional focus of positive emotions, the variability of the heart rhythm can be shifted, leading to a relaxed cognitive focus, a decrease in stress hormones, and a clearer™ mental state. Other benefits include less test anxiety, more sustained concentration, fewer mood swings, less anger, and improved relationships.
The use of HRV as a tool for change and growth is rapidly becoming a staple for employees in a wide variety of professions, including health care, business, and professional athletes and musicians (90% of PGA golfers use HRV tools, for example).
I am happy to talk with you about the integration of these tools into your school. You may want to begin by looking at some of the resources listed below.
Thom Markham, Ph.D.