Educator Amelia Gallagher has experienced the benefits of mindfulness for herself and her students firsthand. Her participation at Omega's conferences gave her inspiration and then support to make a difference in the lives of students with significant challenges. She launched her first mindfulness classroom at the LaSalle School in Albany, New York, in 2016.
But her journey has not been easy. Working in education for a decade, both as a guidance counselor and administrator, she began feeling lost and burnt out from so much day-to-day minutia and regulations at her job. She attended her first Mindfulness & Education conference on scholarship in 2012.
“It absolutely blew my doors in and gave me hope that I could bring this work into the school system and into my career,” she said.
When she returned to her job, she said she was told that this kind of work in the classroom was “too progressive to be brought into a regulated setting.” So while she loved everything she learned, she put it in the back of her mind and carried on. She eventually left that job and started working at LaSalle in January of 2015, just four years after attending her first professional training at Omega.
Today, Gallagher works as the assistant director for day services at the school, which serves more than 200 6th- through 12th-grade boys and their families. LaSalle offers programs and services for youth and families in crisis, including programs such as specialized residential placement, day service education, and alternative to detention services.
New Beginnings & Personal Practice
In the summer of 2016, the LaSalle school became one of 10 organizations in the country to receive a Change in Mind grant to look at how groundbreaking brain-science research can transform policies for some of the most difficult social issues facing our communities. Gallagher returned to Omega that summer for the Mindfulness in Education Teacher Training.
“Those six days were life-changing,” she said. “I went to the workshop not knowing what to expect. There were 50 people from all over the world working with students from pre-school to college. But by the end of the first half of the day, we were a cohesive group.”
She said the training cracked her open again.
“What I’m supposed to bring to my profession came as a loud and clear message: my own personal practice. I can’t be a teacher without being a practitioner and I’ve been steadily growing my own practice since then.”
When she came back to LaSalle, she started incorporating mindfulness practices with her own staff of five people, doing meditation and movement, taking the lessons she learned at Omega and applying them at a bi-weekly meeting.
Gallagher picked one classroom to implement mindfulness tools, using The Mindful Education Workbook by Daniel Rechtschaffen. The 7th and 8th graders in that classroom have a range of issues, including low cognitive abilities, low education scores, kindergarten-level reading ability, significant mental health issues, and sexual trauma. They are not comfortable with themselves or their bodies.
“This classroom has a certified special education teacher, a social worker, and me,” she said. “It’s a classroom with some of the most complex kids.”
She started with 10 minutes each week and has been growing their time together and tracking their data.
“I call it micro-mindfulness,” Gallagher said. “We have kids who have so many occupational needs that they can’t sit still. So to see these kids participate…it’s absolutely miraculous.”
The kids have said the mindful exercises help them connect with their feelings and relax both their body and mind. After this successful experience with her first classroom, Gallagher says she is working to roll it out to more kids at the school in 2017.
Additionally, she has joined a diverse, supportive group of about 40 professionals, all mindful practitioners in her region, to keep organizing and give momentum to the movement.