Learning to quiet the mind

Learning to quiet the mind is a helpful approach during times of stress and unrest for school students.

Students, teachers, and the whole education system has had a rough go this year with what to expect when they log in changing often on a daily basis. Whether attending school in person or remotely, safety is still a top concern. To help address key safety issues for Colorado students, the Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC) within the Department of Public Safety is hosting a series of nationally renowned speakers this month.

On Oct. 1, Governor Jared Polis signed a proclamation declaring October as “Safe Schools Month” in Colorado. Typically, CSSRC hosts an annual school safety summit for close to 400 attendees each fall, but due to the pandemic they have shifted their content to an online virtual speaker series this year free to the public. The presentations are every Friday afternoon in October.

The series kicked off on Friday, Oct. 2 with Dr. Marc Schoen, the Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine presenting “Resilience: Become a Master of Discomfort” highlighting the importance of “rational optimism” for maintaining mental, physical, and emotional health.

Schoen explained that irrational optimism was sort of like the picture of the dog sitting in the burning room with a thought bubble above him saying “This is fine.” This type of optimism is unhelpful because it doesn’t take into account that discomfort and imperfections are a part of life according to Schoen.

“We have to learn how to rewire our instinct to thrive with more discomfort,” said Schoen. “I think of it as changing our relationship with discomfort. It’s here to stay so we’re foolhardy if we think we can vanquish it. We cant stop the inevitable. No matter what shade of transition [our emotions] are in we have to find a way to find inner peace and strength.”

Schoen said there is a greater peace to be found when we start to see happiness not in terms of the absence of discomfort, “but being able to thrive in the presence of discomfort.”

The importance of managing this discomfort was ten-fold, Schoen said due to the implications that are caused by letting fear and stress control us.

“Anger and fear are ubiquitous,” Schoen said. “It’s in so many places that it wasn’t before. We’re more on edge and feel more raw like our suit of armor has been stripped off. When the fear response is going off, it’s raising the temperature in the body which causes inflammation and we’re effectively aging at a faster rate.”

Schoen went on to share that the best way to manage these feelings was to “quiet the mind” whenever possible, or meditate, or pray.

“Anything that quiets us and slows us down knocks down stress and thus inflammation,” said Schoen. “The most essential ingredient in all of this is we turn off our cerebral brain and become quiet inside, making it so that discomfort is not a threat.”

Another important factor in managing that stress and fear was to exercise our ability to focus on the positive things going on around us, reminding listeners that didn’t mean forgetting the negatives, just choosing not to fuel those thoughts.

Trinidad School District looking at positives

Locally, Trinidad School District No. 1 Superintendent Dr. Bonnie Aaron said though the pandemic has been difficult on the district, it hasn’t come without it’s share of big accomplishments her and others in administration see as a solid step forward.

“There is always a silver lining in every cloud and the pandemic is a big cloud,” said Aaron. “In the past six months, education has evolved from crisis schooling to increased student engagement and self-directed learning. Teachers and students have also taken giant leaps to embrace the world of technology.”

Aaron said another positive result of the crisis was more attention on education that could lead to some major advances in the way we learn moving forward.

“Leaders of the nation, states, counties and cities are rethinking the possibility of providing all of our students with equal access to a free, quality public education and internet accessibility,” said Aaron. “It is hard to imagine there will be another moment in history when the essential role of education is experienced and understood by the general population.”

Because of the necessity of teachers and staff to reach out to families, a tighter bond between parents and the district has also continued to grow and evolve.

“The time teachers and staff spent with each family (parents and grandparents) teaching them how to navigate electronic devices and instructional platforms has been very inspiring,” said Aaron. “We’re seeing some promising practices emerge around parent engagement, particularly with those parents who were not engaged in education before. The pandemic gave them the opportunity to really engage in brand new ways using mobile phones for calling and texting, and participating in virtual home visits.”

Aaron said that all of these things, including the laptops and internet accessibility that the school district has secured, will lead to a stronger district moving forward as we emerge from the pandemic and beyond.

“That family connection to the school, the parent-to-teacher connection, that may not have been very strong before, is quite promising to be able to sustain,” said Aaron. “A post-COVID school and community could be one that puts a strong public school at the center of our community.”

This has also given the district the opportunity to teach students and others about using technology responsibly. Although it may seem like technology is such a huge part of our lives, it’s still considered by many professionals to be in it’s infancy.

“Relevant and robust uses of technology convey to students and the community that digital tools are dynamic contributors to resources and knowledge,” said Aaron. “As students explore many different technologies and connect them to specific functions or purposes they are more inclined to take greater ownership and eventually build capacity to become more independent, and are able to choose the right tools and technologies for the job.”

Although the journey hasn’t been without its hurdles, the benefits and opportunities abounding from the difficulties surrounding the ongoing pandemic bring to mind the leadership and struggles of the past, as well as the importance to overcome those difficulties with creative thinking and adaptability.

“In spite of the pandemic, teachers, parents and especially students developed a broad range of competencies and skills in and out of school that will serve the Trinidad community forever,” Aaron said. “Winston Churchill’s famous quote: “Never let a good crisis go to waste” triggers thoughts of the many opportunities for change.”

The next presentation in the state’s series will be on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. and feature Jason Kilmer, Ph.D and Professor and marijuana researcher from the University of Washington. In his Zoom presentation, “Emerging Science on Cannabis: Implications for Schools, Parents, and Prevention”

Kilmer’s presentation will explore the impact of cannabis use and the scientific findings as well as the important role parents can play in impacting use, along with discussing prevention and intervention opportunities.

To register for the free online presentations, visit https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cssrc/2020-co-safe-schools-summit to register for the virtual presentations.

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