Susan GioIa

a.k.a. "Ms. CHILL" by WE students

I was introduced to mindfulness when I began to study Mindfulness Based Stress reduction (MBSR) in 2010 to help a friend struggling with PTSD and a loved one with ALS. My nature is to research things pretty aggressively before I commit my time and energy to anything. At that time, MBSR was emerging as the most successful program for veterans in terms of people returning to the program and improved well-being.

While studying MBSR to understand and help others, I found myself changing in very positive ways. My relationships, parenting, home life and health were improving (and I didn’t even think I had problems!) and so were the people around me. I have been a devout practitioner since then.

So many of the people who came to MBSR for relief had been carrying their pains and illnesses for many years, some since childhood. I thought, “wouldn’t it be better to teach this stuff to kids so that if and when the traumas and stresses of life happen, they will be prepared and won’t have to carry it so long?” When I called UMass to talk more about how I could get into the program, they referred me to Mindful Schools in Petaluma, CA, a leading not-for-profit training organization and network of mindful educators spanning all 50 U.S. states and 100+ countries. The founder of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn was on the board at Mindful Schools.

I was invited by a group of teachers at Westchester Elementary to present the mindfulness program to ten classrooms (K-5) to demonstrate how to  integrate mindfulness into their school day. In 2015, I worked with Zen City and a group of teachers and counselors from the Webster Groves School District to teach mindfulness to kids transitioning into the sixth grade. I delivered lessons in mindfulness basics, mindfulness of thoughts and emotions, mindfulness in social media, mindfulness of friendships.

I spent the next four years working as an outsider provider of mindfulness tools and strategies to teachers, students, counselors and parents. I helped teachers develop their own personal and classroom practices, to demonstrate how these small blasts of mindfulness can be worked into the average school day, and to offer research, support and productive conversation that will allow them to make this program their own. I returned to Westchester in the spring to repeat the program for the teachers who have requested additional training. 

Mindfulness is an experiential thing, just reading a manual won't bring it about.  It's like any other skill, it takes training and practice to do it right. I believe Westchester's bottom-up, organic approach to the program is the best model for mindfulness in education. A few interested teachers, with various degrees of personal practice and interest, invite mindfulness into their classrooms. They practice right alongside with the students.

I completed my Mindfulness Trainer certification in July 2017.

I love hearing how many ways teachers have been able to apply mindfulness techniques throughout the day. But I get the most joy from seeing how the kids use it in school and at home with their parents and siblings. It's an honor to be part of this movement and I have made it my mission to share these mindfulness techniques with children, teachers and families in my community.