Written by Molly Schreiber, Founder + CEO, Challenge to Change, Inc.
"If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." ~ Dalai Lama
We are all aware of the school shooting which occurred at a high school in Perry, Iowa on January 4, 2024.
This shooting resulted in the death of a student, a sixth grader, and the injury of other students and staff, including the principal. The suspect, a fellow student, was found to have taken his own life. The motive behind the shooting is currently unknown, however some suspect it to be chronic bullying and investigations are ongoing. The community, school district and state of Iowa have been deeply affected by the tragedy, with support and counseling services being offered to students and staff.
Challenge To change, Inc. was founded in Dubuque, Iowa. Perry, Iowa is only a few hours from our homebase. Before January 4th, school shootings were not an “Iowa Problem.” As we know, school shootings are on the rise in our country. School shootings and violence has become a systemic problem in our schools. It seems we have found ourselves to be reactionary to this problem instead of working on the preventative measures to help with the ongoing mental health crisis within our society.
In this blog, I strive to address the growing mental health crisis in our communities, the need for mindful education, teaching skills of emotional regulation and the benefits of mindfulness. At C2C, we believe we are an organization born to be a major part of the solution.
In April of 1999, I was a student teaching in Dubuque, Iowa. I was in my last semester of my senior year at Clarke University. I was excited to enter into my career as an elementary educator. I was eager, driven to make a difference and had such passion for education. On that morning in April of 1999, I remember vividly when I first heard about the Columbine shooting in Colorado. My student teaching experience was memorable for so many formative moments in my educational career and unfortunately, the Columbine massacre was one of them.
As a novice teacher, I was deeply affected by this news. Never before had we heard of such an event happening in schools. Never before had we imagined students would turn on their fellow peers in such a manner. The deaths of the victims of Columbine helped me to act with empathy and compassion first. To see each student as a human being and not test numbers. It taught me to approach each student, no matter beliefs, outfit, color, gender or looks and see them as they truly were - a whole person with all the complexity that comes with that.
This experience led me to believe that if students are not self-regulated, they cannot learn. If they are not connected to their thoughts, feelings and emotions, they are not going to absorb the content I was trying to teach. Therefore, if my students were not learning in school, what was I going to do to make a difference and help them?
My student teaching, early experiences as an educator and the loss of my husband at 30 years old lead me to pause in my education career and really assess what we needed globally as an education system. It led me to take time away from the day to day grind. I was determined not fall into the “cog in the wheel of thinking” of what we are currently doing in education is okay. My time away from being an active teacher in schools has not only helped me see the problem of the growing mental health crisis, but to offer solutions. It is so easy for us as a society to point fingers at the “problems” instead of proposing solutions. I have decided to be a part of the solution.
The solution I propose and actively work on everyday with every breath I take is offering mindful education in schools. My experience in education professionally and personally have led me, as you all know, to open Challenge To Change, Inc. and offer preventative education to help ALL students come to know themselves better and self-regulate in times of anxiety, sadness, anger and frustration.
Video: A day in the life of a Mindful Education Instructor
My proposal is to offer mindful education to ALL students in the state of Iowa from PreK to college. We have expanded on this at C2C and now have something to offer to ALL community members as well. I have started this journey through our work at C2C and our partnerships with the mental health regions. However, we are not in all schools. Unfortunately, we were not in Perry, Iowa schools and communities.
I cannot say, as we do not have research, that mindfulness prevents school shootings. However, I can say that mindfulness offered from a young age through the teen years offers a whole toolbelt of wellness strategies that can be utilized at any time of dysregulation.
At C2C, we have found increasing mindfulness in schools can contribute to the prevention of outbreaks of anger and rage through arming the students with mindful education tools to bring them to a neutral state of being. The best part is that it's accessible - “all you need is your smart mind, your kind heart and a calm body.”
My eighteen year old daughter is now entering college to begin her career in education. I have faith in her and the educators of tomorrow, along with mindful education programs like ours, to strengthen the brain health muscle with the tools mindful education can provide. I want to help the future teachers of tomorrow, like my daughter, to have a student teaching experience with beautiful memories of making a difference.
How Mindfulness Creates Safer Communities
In my reflection after the Perry, Iowa school shooting, I have come to a conclusion of how mindfulness can help ALL students with preventative measures to live a safer life in their communities.
It's important to note that while mindfulness can contribute to preventing school shootings, it should be part of a comprehensive approach that includes mental health support, early intervention programs, and creating a safe and inclusive school environment. We, at Challenge To Change, Inc. can provide these services to each and every student, school and community and help become part of the solution of helping our future work hand in hand.
Here are my top five ways that mindfulness and offering mindful education in communities can help and why I believe our Mindful Education in Schools Program is essential to ALL Iowa's students to have in their education.
1. Emotional Regulation
Mindfulness practices help students develop emotional regulation skills, enabling them to manage their emotions in a healthy way. This can reduce the likelihood of impulsive and violent reactions to stress or conflict.
At C2C, we have a term called The Pause. We spell this with a capital P and a capital T. (You can read more about this philosophy in our book GROW.) When we pause between the stimulus and our response to that stimulus, we are able to collect our thoughts and acknowledge our emotions and allow impulses to pass. At C2C, we teach our practitioners, no matter their age, the importance of The Pause and different tools of how to teach our brains to invite an interruption and emotionally regulate.
2. Improved Mental Health
Our world of education is currently experiencing a mental health crisis. At C2C we have partnered with many amazing organizations in our state, such as Brain Health Now, to help educate the need for help in addressing brain health in our country. One of these examples is through our work in the Brain Health rooms in the high schools.
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. By addressing these underlying issues, the risk of students resorting to violence as a means of coping may be reduced.
3. Enhanced Empathy and Compassion
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, cultivate empathy and compassion by encouraging individuals to be present and non-judgmental. When students develop a greater understanding of others' perspectives and emotions, it can foster a sense of connection and reduce feelings of isolation or alienation.
Download our entire Guided Mindfulness Collection for FREE!
The lessons in our curriculum, no matter what age or population we are addressing, offer tools of developing empathy and compassion. The strategies we teach in these competencies help our students to first activate The Pause, then acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and finally act with empathy and compassion for others. When this skill is practiced and taught often, it becomes automatic. Our deepening mental health crisis in America isn't allowing space for this important skill to be taught, thus distancing our population from peer interaction and connection.
4. Conflict Resolution Skills
Mindfulness training can equip students with effective conflict resolution skills, teaching them to approach conflicts with empathy, active listening, and non-violent communication. This can help prevent conflicts from escalating to a point where violence becomes a potential solution.
Our Mindful Education in Schools Program not only addresses self-regulation for students, but also the leaders of the schools, businesses and facilities. For example, we have partnered with Dr. Liza Johnson and Six Seconds in providing our KCG: Personal Empowerment class. This training allows us to create space for educators to strengthen their own self-regulation and mindfulness skills allowing them to lead with empathy, compassion and nonviolent communication.
5. Cultivating a Sense of Community
Mindfulness practices can foster a sense of community and belonging within the school. When students feel connected to their peers and teachers, they are more likely to seek support and communicate their concerns, reducing the likelihood of resorting to violence.
Video: Send positive messages to those around you! Our world needs it! #mindfulmomentwithMolly
Connection is key in our programming at C2C. Community is at the core of our beliefs. We believe, at C2C, that we need to be connected to ourselves first, our community second and then we are able to best deliver our mindful education to the public. We practice community building skills through our Corporate Kindness Training internally and externally to organizations. We believe when we are connected as a community, we are then best able to provide the services and lead by example.