Whole Schools Mindfulness App

The Whole Schools Mindfulness App teaches mindfulness on any computer or mobile device.

How your idea will meet the five elements listed in the submission guidelines:

In January 2012, the Center for Mindful Learning (CML) began the process of developing its Whole Schools Mindfulness App (WSMA). The goal is to offer mindfulness training to virtually unlimited numbers of people worldwide. The two significant aspects of the program that makes this goal possible are: (1) the program is extremely user-friendly and can be easily accessed from any computer or mobile device; and (2) people with very little training can guide others or themselves through an effective mindfulness practice.

In order to begin development of the WSMA for schools, CML partnered with Smilie Elementary School and South Burlington High School (SBHS) in Vermont.CML decided that the product would be more effective if everyone in a school population learned mindfulness together. Therefore, CML created the program to allow everyone in a school (students, teachers, administrators, and staff) to practice mindfulness together for ten minutes every day using the software.

During the initial design phase, CML staff worked closely with the entire population at Smilie School to create and test the program.

The program at SBHS was initiated by two high school students who were interested in the effects of mindfulness in their own school. They asked to collaborate with CML and the University of Vermont Psychology Department on a scientific pilot study, and on April 30, 2012, the program and scientific study began.

The basic WSMA uses audio guidance to lead a 5-minute mindfulness practice. The software allows the user to set up a class for a specific population and/or age group. Each class includes a progression of skill building techniques that allows an individual or group to move from introductory to more advanced lessons.

To begin a practice session a student is selected to be the “Leader of the Day” and selects a technique. When the 5-minute guidance is finished, the app poses several questions to the Leader of the Day about their experience. According to these answers, the system selects and plays a relevant mindfulness lesson. Then the computer program facilitates a brief discussion which allows the participants to engage in authentic relationship-building immediately after the practice and while still in a relaxed, mindful state. At the conclusion, the app invites the teacher to craft a “Message of the Day.”

The Whole Schools Mindfulness App teaches three basic techniques: “Relax”, “Listen”, and “Dream.”

The technique “Relax” helps participants to cultivate self-awareness and authenticity. When people can identify and experience relaxation in their body they become more aware of both relaxed and resistant states. This awareness helps people to better manage stress. Relaxation also increases the ability to be authentic – it’s easier to be authentic and honest when one is relaxed.

By practicing the “Listen” technique, users learn how to listen with more concentration, clarity, and equanimity. When people are able to listen clearly and without resistance to themselves and others, they are able to learn new things, know themselves, and build honest and caring relationships. Listening builds cooperation based on empathy and trust.

The last technique, “Dream” builds all four relationship skills with an emphasis on self-awareness. By practicing “Dream” users have the opportunity to deeply imagine their life, relationships, and goals in a way they can be proud of. Consequently they become more aware of who and how they want to be in the world. From this awareness they can take action to live with more empathy, trust, and authenticity.

What sets this program apart from similar efforts:

After two months of testing, we reached the groundbreaking conclusion that, through an automated system and a minimally trained teacher, an entire school can learn and practice mindfulness. We’ve watched elementary students and teachers enthusiastically interact with our computer prototype and learn mindfulness skills. Some of the teachers at Smilie School have been voluntarily using the initial product in their classroom twice a day – that is, they have been electing to use the product MORE than required. Before starting this process we had no clear evidence that mindfulness could be taught effectively through a computer program/app, and now we can say with certainty that not only is it possible, it can be done very effectively.

Although other mindfulness apps may exist for individuals, to our knowledge, no product of this kind is in widespread use in schools. Additionally, this mindfulness app is interactive in ways other mindfulness apps which simply offer guided meditations are not.

External validation and/or support (if any) that your idea has received to date:

CML is actively working with Smilie Elementary and SBHS to track improvements in stress management and happiness through questionnaires; improved behavior through existing school measures such as suspension rates; improved learning measured through typical academic standards such as grades; greater student satisfaction through improved truancy rates; greater teacher and administration job satisfaction through improved attendance.

Additionally, UVM is currently conducting its pilot study of the program using myriad scientific measures and tools.

To date, we have received the following anecdotal reports about the WSMA:

Smilie School Principal Mary Woodruff reported, “Teachers have noticed that students’ listening and focus is greater as a result of these mindfulness activities.”

Also, one Smilie School teacher reported, “The software itself works well and I have enjoyed seeing it evolve,” while another teacher reported, “I do want you to know that I have been really impressed with the language used as the mindfulness website has been evolving.” A third teacher reported, “We are enjoying mindfulness.”

While the reports from program implementation at SBHS have been unavailable due to the confidentiality of the scientific study, teachers at SBHS have, without CML’s encouragement, elected to start staff meetings using it.

A brief budget and timeline for bringing the idea to completion:

Project Budget for Fiscal Year 2012: $188,520. Of this amount, CML has secured approximately $108,000 and is actively pursuing the additional $80,520 in funding.

January 2012 – May 2012: CML developed three iterations of the WSMA in collaboration with the teachers and faculty at Smilie Elementary School, and the current version is now in use at Smilie School and SBHS, where the UVM Psychology Department launched a pilot study of the WSMA. CML also began developing a strategic plan and marketing plan to offer the WSMA to schools nationwide.

June 2012 – August 2012: The University of Vermont will evaluate the data from the study it has conducted at SBHS, and if the results are positive, will apply for grant funding for further study. CML will be making further refinements and improvements to the software and graphic presentation during the summer.

September 2012 – December 2012: The WSMA will be offered at Smilie School and SBHS. Data points (GPA, behavioral incidents, attendance, questionnaires) will be tracked by Smilie School, SBHS, and CML. Staff trainings and support is provided by CML. CML will begin marketing and offering the WSMA to schools nationwide. CML plans to design other versions of the mindfulness app for businesses, non-profits, and individuals beginning in the fall of 2012

January 2013 – May 2013: The WSMA will continue at Smilie Elementary and SBHS. Data will be analyzed and conclusions of the effectiveness of the program will be drawn. CML will continue to market and offer the WSMA to schools nationwide.

Brief bios of your team members including qualifications and past experience:

Soryu Forall (Teal Scott), Founder and Mindfulness Education Director, teaches mindfulness full-time to both youth and adults, providing instruction at residential retreats around the U.S. and internationally, one-on-one in Vermont, over the phone, the Internet and through text messaging. He also teaches in public schools, and has worked with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, bringing mindfulness into education.

Ted Holtz, Software Developer, has been designing products to improve the way people communicate since the mid-1990’s. Founding Impact Telecommunications, Inc. in 1995, he developed technology sold in Japan and in more than 30 other countries. He’s created mindfulness support technology including mindfulness games, mindfulness-based social networking, computer-based mindfulness instruction, and tools to aid mindfulness teachers.

Harrison Heyl, Executive Director, has taught mindfulness to youth at numerous schools and after-school programs. Harrison possesses a wide range of work experience over the past 20 years in the fields of education, finance, business, administration, project management and government.

Lindsay Foreman, Programs Director, has worked with youth in schools and social service agencies for over 10 years. Before joining CML, Lindsay developed a successful program offering mindfulness based Yoga programs to hundreds of kids in schools, at-risk youth programs, camps, and several social service agencies.

Lida Winfield (Teacher and Advisor) is an artist and performer who has taught dance, theater, spoken word and storytelling for twelve years. For the past six years, Lida has taught teachers how to use dance and theater in the classroom as an instructional tool. Over the last three years, Lida has developed a program that merges dance and mindfulness.