We introduce this chapter with a teacher's comments:
Waikiki School confused me at first. I showed up expecting an average public elementary school, but this is not what I found. Before even entering the school office I noticed signs and slogans everywhere about thinking, about intelligence, and about joy. The office had "Mindfulness" displayed everywhere. The staff was smiling, laughing, helpful, and relaxed even though there was a lot going on. There was a sense of community, of excitement but order; and as the day progressed I saw this in the classroom, the teachers room, and even on the playground. The school had a great "feeling" about it—a feeling that I learned later has been created by a commitment to thinking.
As a reading teacher, later as the music and dance teacher, and finally full-time in the special education department, I have worked with every student in the school, have been in every classroom, and have seen the benefits of the "mindful" focus across the board. I was amazed by the students' abilities to take risks and their ability to decrease their impulsivity even during high-energy activities. They had a little slogan to "STAR" their behavior that they knew meant Stop, Think, Apply mindfulness, and then Respond. But it was their sheer enjoyment of what they were doing that delighted me most and best demonstrates the benefit of the mindful school. Happy kids learn more, retain more, and are more willing to share knowledge. Overall the students did an outstanding job learning the music and dance material, remembering concepts, and demonstrating improvement in skills as measured by their performances, which were excellent. All performance standards were met, and exceeded, with exuberance. The primary benefit for the students, in the end, was their success.
A good example of the benefits of the mindful school for students and teachers happened while I was assisting the 6th grade teacher during a language arts lesson. I walked in to find the class and teacher in mid-discussion on the floor, in a circle. Something very serious had happened—someone had been shoved pretty hard. The teacher guided the students in sharing one by one how the incident made them feel, steering them away from names and specifics. They passed a plush Scooby-Doo [stuffed animal] and waited quietly while everyone shared; some students spoke at length, some just a sentence, but all were heard. The teacher then drew their attention to the mindful behaviors that applied to the incident and asked the students to select one and explain how they would have applied this behavior to the situation. The students then shared their ideas. As it turned out, the consequences for the participants in the situation were grave, but the focus was on the collective construction of alternative behaviors for similar situations in the future. Blame was diffused, and understanding provided learning for all. I was amazed by this process, and especially that 6th graders were capable of it. I learned that the students practiced this circle thinking tool regularly, and had since the 1st grade.
Waikiki School serves 391 students from kindergarten through grade 6. More than 50 percent of the students live outside the school's boundaries and attend by choice. Its draw may be its unique curriculum, which couples instruction in the Hawaii State Content Standards with instruction in the Habits of Mind. Using research to identify behaviors associated with effective adults, we emphasize the explicit teaching of these behaviors to all students in the school. The infusion of this model within standards-based instruction defines the strength of Waikiki School.