Janice Houlihan, MEd: Helping Students Use Mindfulness to Reduce Bullying

janice-houlihan_headshotJanice Houlihan-classCan children intervene when they see someone being bullied?  Can bullies learn to behave differently?  Alumna, Janice Houlihan, cofounder of the nonprofit Inner Explorer (IE), answers these questions with a resounding “Yes!” “Mindfulness practices help the bully, victim, and any witnesses involved develop a deeper awareness of themselves, resilience, compassion, and a greater ability to regulate their emotional responses.”

In an experiential type of learning Janice calls “learning from the inside out,” students are taught to learn about topics such as kindness by feeling the emotion and then translating that feeling into acts of kindness. IE audio-guided mindfulness meditations allow K–12 students and teachers to easily engage in mindfulness practices for 10 minutes each day.  These guided meditations are based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society, initiated at the UMass Medical School.

Early results of a randomized controlled trial of kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms that implemented Inner Explorer’s mindfulness programs showed an estimated 50 percent reduction in reactive behavior and bullying incidents during the 2012–2013 school year. Quarterly grade point averages (GPAs) improved by 7–15 percent. Currently, there are 111 preschool and elementary classrooms in 12 schools in California, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York taking part in the program.

Janice graduated with her MEd in Instructional Design in 2005. “I relied upon the needs analysis skills I learned in the program to focus on what we wanted students and teachers to be able to do after the learning intervention and how best to get there,” she says. She has continued to keep in touch with the instructional design program since graduation, “I have tremendous faith in the talent of the students at UMass Boston and have collaborated with a few ID graduate students in an internship capacity to create our online training programs for teachers.” Visit www.innerexplorer.org to learn more about the Inner Explorer.

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