How Mindfulness Transforms Education

Caverly Morgan describes how she brought mindfulness to teens in Portland, Oregon, and how working with young people has transformed her.

Caverly Morgan is one of the pioneers who wants to make mindfulness a rec- ognized discipline in public education. As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Peace in Schools, she aims to change how teenagers cope with stress, negative thinking, and difficult emotions. Morgan has created a year- long, for-credit mindfulness class that’s now offered in half a dozen public high schools in Portland, Oregon.

What led you to meditation?

I was traveling abroad on a program that studied ecology and social issues, and a friend gave me a copy of That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek, by Cheri Huber. The book had a profound impact on me. It planted a seed in me, you know, to really have a different relationship with myself and the world.

What gave you the idea to bring mindfulness training to teenagers?

An adult student in one of my work- shops thought what she was learning in the workshop would have an impact on the teenagers she taught and invited me to one of her classes. When I went, I immediately saw how the teens were like sponges for mind- fulness, and became excited about the idea of getting to do more with them.

How did it become a school program?

When I moved to Portland, I decided to offer an after-school program at Wilson High School. One day the principal, Brian Chatard, told me that what I was teaching those teenagers needed to be brought to more of his population. High schools in Port- land, like those all over the country, struggle with teenage suicides. He recognized that what I was offering focused on a form of well-being that he hadn’t seen modeled in the school before. I pointed out that we’d need to do it during the school day; otherwise, we wouldn’t reach the huge percent- age of students who have jobs or home responsibilities. We were thrown into a gym to offer mindful move- ment and mindfulness to students in 10th-grade P.E. classes. The principal was expecting 20 to 25 students. More than 300 signed up for the class.

How does meditation fit in?

Sitting meditation is the bedrock of the class—all the mindfulness prac- tices we teach stem out of the stillness cultivated in the meditation. We also have about 20 minutes of mindful movement and move from there into various mindfulness practices.

And the name “Peace in Schools?”

Our program shows students that we have the opportunity to experience really deep and lasting happiness and peace. In my experience, mindfulness can pave the way to that kind of peace.

“We have a chance to understand what it means to really see and know each other—that’s the real foundation of peace.”

In our classroom, teens can do mind- ful walking, eating, and sitting medi- tation, and body scans, learning how to direct their attention. All of this happens within an environment of “CARE”—confidentiality, acceptance, respect, and empathy. A container of trust is created, and it’s out of that environment of trust and care that we deepen the experience of observing negative self-talk, discovering what it means to access self-compassion, and unpacking how we get stuck in good– bad thinking.

I see these teens approximately 75 hours over the course of each semes- ter. With that kind of space, we have a chance to understand what it means to really see and know each other— that’s the real foundation of peace.

What’s the most important thing the teenagers in your classes learn?

All these teens are at risk. They’re simply at risk in different ways.
One thing we never do is talk at the teens—we’re always engaged with them, and that’s empowering for a teenager who may not be getting that in any other class. We help them express themselves, and their application of who they authentically are in the world could take a million different forms.

What do you get from the program?

A deep experience of love and connectivity that’s grounded in the everyday world. It’s impossible to do this work with teenagers and not fall deeply in love with them. When you bring this curriculum to teens, your first and most important job is to embody unconditional love and presence. And that’s transformative for any teacher.