In out last blog post, we introduced Sergeant Jason Newton to our readers. Known as “the mindful officer,” he’s been kind enough to share the story of how he has embraced mindfulness, as well as his advocacy for teaching a holistic approach to his colleagues, in Colorado, to help with stress. In the second installment of this series, we shift our focus to his teaching of mindfulness in a classroom setting.
Q. After you cultivated mindfulness for yourself, how did you begin your work as a teacher of these practices?
When I first started down this road several years ago, I developed the Mindful Officer Class and presented it to staff and received considerable positive feedback, but the idea was also met with a lot of resistance. I was told that mindfulness was a “religious practice” and we had to have a “separation between church and state.” I heard many bizarre excuses not to take this seriously — anything to resist change and the discomfort that sometimes goes along with that. In the pursuit of this worthwhile cause, I did not let that get me down. I kept studying on my own and talking with every officer I could about the power of mindfulness.
Then, in the summer of 2016, something major happened that changed the climate around mindfulness; our Training Academy lost a recruit officer to suicide. It hit me hard and I knew that I needed to do something more. I once again reached out to the Training Academy and told them that I wanted to help and be part of the Academy. I shared a few short stories with them about how it changed my life and that I believed in it, sincerely. Finally, they listened.
The Training Academy soon gave me a shot and allowed me to offer the class. My first two elective classes started on April 12, 2017 to sworn and civilian staff. I was met with some skepticism, and some even signed up just to find ways to mock the class. Thankfully, the first two classes went really well; I was then asked to teach at the Academy in July to a class of 62 new officers. Since then, the class has grown in popularity and now is a part of the Training Academy, the Community Service Officer Academy, and is an integral component of the self-care focus during a week-long team-training on the topic of Crisis Intervention.
Q. What topics did you cover in these first classes?
The class teaches officers how mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into their daily work and personal lives to deal with the hidden emotional impacts of the job. When we explain how stress negatively impacts their bodies and general well-being, they start paying attention. Group dialogues about how stress can impact so many specific things: emotional health, your romantic life, gums, heart, weight, aging and the immune system, are also a part of the syllabus.
We then take time to talk about the positive aspects of mindfulness and practice a few techniques that they can use at work or in life, such as: meditation, mono-tasking, mindful eating, active listening, taking a break from technology and yoga. One of our key skills that is taught and practiced is tactical breathing (a stress-relieving technique developed first for soldiers in combat situations). Finally, all participants in the class leave with a guide that lists online resources they can use to support their interest in mindfulness.
Q. How have you changed your approach to teaching since you started? How have you reacted to feedback to improve your instruction?
I have changed my approach a bit; incorporating more videos showing how some of the techniques can be used to make officers more tactically sound, especially in the field. I have found that many officers use basic mindfulness in their everyday life and it’s fun to show them that it is based in medical research, and not just a “hippy thing”. There will always be skeptics in every class, but from personal practice and anecdotal feedback from past students, I know it works and can saves lives, so I will keep on sharing with anyone willing to listen.
Q. What are some examples of reactions you’ve received lately from officers who have taken your course?
Over the last couple of years, the class has reached hundreds of officers and civilians. I have received some great feedback from top-ranking command staff, officers and civilian staff that have taken the class. One of the best compliments came from an officer who reached out to me several months after taking my class. He wrote:
He went on to tell me that it has helped him to open up a “really awesome discussion” between him and his dad.
Q. How do you think teaching mindfulness can improve the performance of officers in the field?
If we look at this type of training, you can easily imagine how many situations can turn out differently when officers have the benefit of mindfulness in their toolbox. We can all learn from mindfulness teachings: take a step back and truly listen without judgment. I believe that when officers head out on the streets with this approach that they can mitigate many issues they face and help to build a bridge between the community and police – especially in communities with under-represented and under-served populations.