Founder of Learning to Thrive Alan Brown works with schools and school districts to create mindfulness and positive education programs at the building or district level and is a frequent presenter on wellbeing and the science of thriving. Alan serves as a Lead Teacher and Curriculum Designer for the flagship training program of Mindful Schools, the Mindful Teacher Certification Program, and is also the Director of Integrative & Co-Curricular Learning at Grace Church School in New York City, where he leads the school’s mindfulness programs for students, teachers, and parents. In these roles he has trained thousands of educators from all over the world to practice and teach mindfulness and the science of wellbeing.
Alan has worked for over 15 years in both public and private settings as a humanities instructor and school administrator, and has previously worked with many other schools and districts as a trainer for GLSEN (the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network), where he served on the National Advisory Board for several years. In addition to his academic degrees in the humanities from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago and a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy, Alan holds advanced certifications or training in mindfulness in education, positive psychology, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and vinyasa yoga.
In addition to his work in education, Alan is an advocate for mindfulness to the Tourette Syndrome community. He is currently collaborating with Massachusetts General Hospital and Bowdoin College on a clinical trial to assess the efficacy of mindfulness-based treatment for Tourette Syndrome and tics. He is also the facilitator of the Tourette Association’s NYC family resource & support group.
Blending a thorough understanding of the unique challenges facing students, parents, and teachers, with a firm belief that all people can learn to thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally, Alan offers practices that are both time-honored and evidence-based through organizational consulting, speaking, coaching, and teaching.
Growing up, I was known to my teachers as the fidgety kid who had a hard time staying still, staying quiet, and “behaving” in class. In middle school, I learned that this was actually Tourette Syndrome, coupled with what would today be recognized as ADHD and OCD. Between frequent involuntary motor and vocal tics, feeling constantly hyper, and regular obsessions like a constant need for symmetry, I found it very hard to meet the behavioral expectations of school, and the only solution offered at the time was heavy medication that would cause weight gain, sluggishness, and a dulled experience.
When I began my career in education, I was naturally drawn to supporting student wellbeing, but I found that teaching over 400 students ushered in a level of stress and busyness that only exacerbated my tics and other symptoms. Though well-intentioned, I was not at all a model of health.
I heard about mindfulness and positive education practices as things that might be helpful to stressed students, not realizing at that point how much I needed them myself. Luckily, training in these required me to learn these practices for myself first. To my surprise, I quickly experienced a shift in my own health. I found that when I actually listened to my body, it told me what it needed. Through attention on my breath and body, I learned to regulate my own nervous system and I learned I could control my tics and be still. The ADHD and OCD subsided as well, as my focus sharpened and my rigid thinking relaxed. And all of this without medication, which was nothing short of a miracle for me.
My teaching changed too as I grew more patient, present, attentive, forgiving, and calm. I was looking for what lessons and skills I could give to students, but I learned that the most powerful intervention I could offer was my own self-aware and self-regulated presence.
While they’re not a magic bullet or cure-all, I’ve seen these practices change the lives of teachers, parents, and students alike. It is my firm belief and desire that everyone should have access to this set of practices and skills that is so transformative, and that schools should teach children to recognize and cultivate what is right with them, instead of focusing on what is wrong.
With all that we know now about the science of wellbeing, shouldn’t we make it a cornerstone of education that every person learn to thrive?
In the Media
Mindful Magazine featured Alan Brown’s work as a school administrator in their special issue on education: “The Future of Mindful Education: Mindful Classrooms”
Alan Brown discusses “What Does a Mindful Classroom Look Like?” in this panel for the 2019 Mindfulness in Education Summit (coming soon)
Learning to Thrive’s long term partnership with the Holmdel Public Schools is featured in this article.
“Mindfulness in Education and Schools with Alan Brown” — an interview with the Meditation Freedom podcast