Hayden teachers focus on being mindful of stress

Matt Stensland

— To create a better learning environment, Hayden Valley Elementary School teachers Friday were learning how to cope with stress.

Steamboat Springs resident Kristen Race taught the daylong training called Mindful Life. Race holds a doctorate in child, family and school psychology from the University of Denver.

She developed the Mindful Life program about seven years ago and said more than 2,000 teachers have gone through the training, including those at the Steamboat elementary schools, early childhood centers and Emerald Mountain School.

“In addition to the benefit to kids and managing their stress, it’s helping the teachers,” Race said.

Kristi Brown, health and wellness coordinator with the Hayden School District, said the training was made possible by an $8,000 grant from the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation based in Steamboat.

“Without their grant, we couldn’t have done this,” Principal Rhonda Sweetser said.

In addition to Friday’s training, two teachers will attend multi-day training during the summer. The teachers then will learn how to teach the Mindful Life program.

“These coaches and mentors will allow us to sustain our Mindful Life culture through turnovers in staff over time,” Brown said.

Sweetser said understanding the concept of stress will help the faculty understand how their personal attitudes and feelings affect the classroom.

“We can also have a greater understanding of the kids,” Sweetser said.

Race said one of the most basic tools that is taught in the Mindful Life program is breathing exercises. Teachers were told to concentrate on breathing, and if their mind got distracted, they were told to refocus on breathing.

“You’re strengthening what we call the smart part of your brain,” Race said.

During the afternoon portion of the training, Race had a model of the human brain and showed the teachers where the amygdala was located. She said emotions trigger the “amygdala alarm.”

“When that happens, it’s like our mind is filled with smoke,” said Race, who added that it makes it difficult for people to make good decisions.

She then went through a breathing exercise with the teachers.

“We have to do something to put out that fire,” Race said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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