When people view the BIS curriculum and see the depth of inner work we do with the children there is a tendency to make the assumption that our focus on wellbeing is a stand-alone goal, unconnected to academic outcomes.
This assumption doesn’t tell the full story of what we aim for at BIS. We teach these skills at BIS because research suggests that they lead to life success, and contribute to good learning outcomes for academic success. Whilst “academic success” is different for each child, it maximises the opportunity for a child to realise their dreams. Because of our Integral perspective we have combined these theories of education into one pedagogical model and one curriculum to best serve this outcome.
However, people are commonly confused by this Integral approach, assuming that the primary goal of meditation and relaxation in our curriculum is focused on helping children feel safe and comfortable. Popular media touts the benefits of relaxation and mindfulness but educational research in this area has been ongoing since the 1970s. Benson, Wilcher, Greenberg, Huggins, Ennis, Zuttermeister, Myers and Friedman (2000) outline the benefits of a richly incorporated relaxation program, showing significant increases in student academic performance:
Students who had more than two exposures to semester long classes in which teachers had been trained…had higher grade point averages, work habit scores and cooperation scores than students who had two or fewer exposures. In addition, students who had more exposures to the relaxation response curriculum showed an improvement in academic scores over the course of the 2-year period (Benson, et al., 2000, p. 156).
When people consider the span of our social and emotional curriculum they might perceive us as a school that is focused upon children’s self-esteem and social skills. Research into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been performed with a range of meta studies investigating outcomes. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning group is one of the world leaders in this area, with a range of studies that reveal distinct academic outcomes across grades (Payton, Weissberg, Durlak, Dymnicki, & Taylor, 2008). The importance of relatedness to significant others in the school environment (parents, teachers, and friends) for students in grades 3 to 6 is key to their long term academic performance and their completion of school (Furrer & Skinner, 2003). It teaches them resilience; to be courageous in their learning; and to persist when faced with obstacles.
SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Comparing results from these reviews to findings obtained in reviews of interventions by other research teams suggests that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs offered to school-age youth (Payton, Weissberg, Durlak, Dymnicki, & Taylor, 2008).
Newcomers to BIS might see “self-direction” and think that we are all about children being independent learners. When we explore the link between self-direction and academic outcomes we need only peruse the literature that discusses the interconnectedness between a child’s self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-regulation for a clear understanding of the connection. Self-directed learning allows students to increase their motivation and sense of competence by teaching them how to think about their thinking (metacognition) and develop the emotional and cognitive structures to be resilient when confronted by challenges.
The evolutionary value of this kind of motivation is obvious: Any species that dedicates time and energy to learning how to be effective will eventually develop a rich action repertoire as well as knowledge about opportunities and constraints in the environment. In times of trouble, this “competence” is key to both surviving and thriving (Skinner & Greene, 2008, p. 122).
So next time you consider the diverse nature of our curriculum remember that academic achievement sits at the core, for every child deserves the chance to achieve their dreams. The best way to ensure this happens is by valuing each child’s emotional and cognitive developmental journey.
Benson, H., Wilcher, M., Greenberg, B., Huggins, E., Ennis, M., Zuttermeister, P., et al. (2000). Academic Performance Among Middle School Students After Exposure to a Relaxation Response Curriculum. Journal of Research and Development in Education , 33 (3), 156-165.
Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. (2003). Sense of Relatedness as a Factor in Children’s Academic Engagement and Performance. Journal of Educational Psychology , 95 (1), 148–162.
Payton, J., Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Dymnicki, A. B., & Taylor, R. D. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Illinois: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
Skinner, E., & Greene, T. (2008). Perceived Control, Coping, and Engagement. In T. L. Good, 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook 1 (pp. 121-130). California: Sage.