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Take a Deep Breath: Austin ISD Hires SEL Mindfulness Specialist

Former AISD Teacher of Year transitions from Pre-K to Social and Emotional Learning team

Austin ISD continues to be a leader in Social and Emotional Learning, adding a position this year that will help students and staff become more centered: Social and Emotional Learning Mindfulness Specialist.

James Butler, former Teacher of the Year and Pre-K teacher at Gullett Elementary School—who had already begun a mindfulness curriculum that he used in his classroom and was sharing with others—was chosen for the position.

Mindfulness—also known as being present—is a part of AISD’s overall social and emotional learning, which can incorporate stretching, yoga poses or taking slow breaths into the learning environment.

The work will include visiting classrooms to model mindfulness, creating new curriculum that teachers can use and teaching professional development classes to those in the district who want to learn more.

Butler, who came to mindfulness through yoga and meditation after struggling with some personal matters, decided to try it in his classroom. He said the results were positive.

“A lot of teachers are now using this after lunch and recess as a way to calm students so that they are centered on learning,” Butler said. “After using mindfulness in my class, it wasn’t one full day of Zen, but after consistent practice, the students were better able to self-manage themselves.”

Some students have even begun taking what they’ve learned home. Butler heard one story of a student teaching his mother how to breathe after a particularly stressful day. Another child asked his parents to incorporate mindfulness before bed.

Since Butler had taught Pre-K, he said some people have thought this tool is just for younger students, but said it can be introduced at any age. In fact, Butler—who learned about mindfulness after age 30—says he wished he had learned mindfulness at a younger age.

“If Pre-K students can learn this, everybody can,” Butler said. “I like to explain mindfulness to them like this: Be here. Right now.”

And for those who are concerned that this may take away from learning time, Butler says that mindfulness can be incorporated into the regular classroom or used during transitions from class to lunch.

“It can actually add minutes to your day because you’re not dealing with as many behavioral problems,” he said.

For parents who want to try mindfulness at home, a few apps to consider are Stop Breathe & Think, Calm or Settle Your Glitter.