We are getting excited for our upcoming April 5th workshop, Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness: Shifting the Paradigm Through a Systems-Based Approach To Fostering Resilience, Engagement and Sustainable Growth Within Your School, and we hope you all are, too!

We wanted to take a moment to introduce you to the presenters of our workshop, SEL and Mindfulness experts, Hilary Simon and Jason Littlefield of Empowered Pathways.

Hilary is a veteran educator, with almost 20 years of experience in the field of SEL and Mindfulness. Her background spans from the classroom to collaborating with school leaders to co-founding a non-profit that helps educators and students break down the barriers that prevent authentic connection and empowerment. Hilary designs, develops and implements a variety of leadership-development workshops and trainings to effectively coach and guide a culturally diverse range of teams and leaders, helping leaders learn how to implement practices that foster connection, learning, engagement, growth mindset, and joy and build positive systems for sustainable impact.

Jason has worked in public education for 17 years, including 10 as a high school history teacher, three years as an assistant principal and four years as a social & emotional learning specialist.  His overall career spans twenty-five years working with children (K-12) from varying backgrounds including schools in Taiwan, China and Benin, Africa.   He believes mindfulness and mindset coaching not only transforms individuals but collectively can transform our schools, businesses and communities to be in greater harmony within themselves and each other.  He draws upon his experience as a classroom teacher, campus leader and district level specialist while coaching individuals and guiding organizations in this trans-formative work.

Read on below for our Q&A with Hilary and Jason, and register today for their upcoming workshop on April 5th!

Q: Tell us why SEL and Mindfulness are such important topics for educators today?

Jason: I believe as educators we all want to impact the future by collectively impacting individuals in ways that lead to positive societal change. The classroom is the incubator to this process and the dynamics and needs within each classroom present are vast. Intentionally incorporating SEL into the fabric of the classroom not only prepares the brain for “learning” but students and educators are proactively building skills in self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. The neuroscience of mindfulness shows how a regular mindfulness practice increases stress resiliency and compassion (for self and others) and decreases anxiety and areas of the brain associated with violence and impulsive/reactionary behavior.

Hilary: Daniel Goleman, leading researcher in emotional intelligence, explains that our brain is a social organ: “…[H]uman beings are wired to connect…When we interact with other people, our social brains are building a neural bridge between us.”  Yet, disconnection seems to be one of the greatest challenges and social justice issues our organizations face. With statistics showing as many as 50% of teachers leave the profession after just 5 years and low SES/high minority schools see annual turnover rates of 20%, and upwards of 40% of high school students are chronically disengaged, it is clear we’ve missing the mark on what matters most.  However, when we consistently implement practices and structures that dignify individuals and support connection, compassion, and mindful-awareness, we can shift paradigms and achieve success.

Q: What drives you personally to bring resources on these issues to educators? Feel free to share a story or anecdote.

Hilary: I view my work as a way to communicate to each individual that they are unique, special and matter, thus empowering them to reach their full potential for transformative change.  After one year of intentionally focusing together on mindfulness and social and emotional learning, classroom and campus leaders at one of our city’s highest needs schools were able to see test scores nearly double.  Climate surveys indicated improvements in staff morale, engagement and approval of leadership. The campus earned a 91% overall approval rating from the local community and 92% of students indicated they believed they could reach the goals they set for themselves.

Jason: I’ve seen the research, and I’ve heard the anecdotes and they have all led me to believe these resources will positively impact society and future generations more so than any other educational “initiative”, tool or practice. I believe we are in the infancy of a huge paradigm shift and there are very few people providing these services and resources, so I feel led to do so.

Q: What advice would you give to educators who have not yet explored the topics of mindfulness and SEL in their classrooms?

Jason: I would offer up that establishing trust and building relationships are the foundation to all learning and to examine the level of trust students feel and the relationships within the classroom.  I would also suggest that before implementing SEL and mindfulness into classroom practice, begin a personal practice/exploration of your own before you incorporate you own experience.

Hilary: This is an inside-out process – allow yourself time and grace. Connect with like-minded educators to support ongoing exploration and reflection.

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