Mindfulness in Schools

MINDFULNESS IS SHOWN TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OF TOXIC STRESS ON SCHOOLS

If you’re one of those people who advocate that schools should teach kids something useful, then you are going to love this blog ….


STRESSED OUT TEACHERS


I used to work for a UK teachers helpline, whenever stress got the better of a teacher or if they generally felt ground down by stress, they had (and still have) an option to call and chat to a trained counselor and receive emotional support. The rationale for the helpline is that by not addressing stress and its causes teachers are likely to become increasingly anxious and that could eventually lead to depression. 


When teachers are suffering from stress, schools need to understand that stress transmitted from others can change the brain in the same way as a real stress does. Without due care and attention, widespread levels of harmful stress in any situation can become the toxic norm.


First of all, having a high degree of responsibility for students can cause unremitting stress in and of itself, but we don’t all get stressed by the same things. The American Federation of Teachers surveyed its members about what was causing them stress - the results points to several factors. While most educators report having control over classroom-level decisions, like teaching techniques and homework and grading policies, they have less influence over school-wide decisions. 


Most teachers have minor or no influence over school budget decisions, nearly half have little or no say in determining professional development content, and 40 percent said they have minor or no influence in establishing curriculum at their schools. 


In workplaces everywhere, this lack of involvement in decisions about our working environment is cited as a common reason for job dissatisfaction.


MINDFUL TEACHERS


Having a faculty of mindful teachers has to be the perfect situation for any school.


Being mindful means taking conscious steps to avoid a mindless state, which isn’t the same as when we are effortlessly absorbed in a task. Being mindful is always acting in full awareness of what we are doing and why we are doing it.



Being mindful is something your grandmother might have said, “Be mindful of others” or “Be mindful of the time.” The word itself as well as its meaning continues the same - mindfulness is focused awareness of the present moment.  Teacher or not, adults can benefit from the forgotten art of paying attention by practicing the virtue of mindfulness.


How so? 


Well, it’s because our most careless errors often arise from being on automatic pilot, neglecting the dictates of reason and acting without planning or thought. A small disclaimer here - teachers are awesome planners!

 

MINDFUL KIDS


With kids it’s different, we need to teach them mindfulness so that they can learn to filter information from noise and devote attention only to the things that really matter to them, both now and in the future.


In schools children learn and there is structure and a point to learning and being spoon-fed information, often in quite large amounts, but beyond the confines of our learning environments it’s different.


Every moment of every day we are flooded with information, more than any normal person, let alone what a kid could take in and process in a lifetime. Some of this information is useful; some is useless and some even harmful.



Wouldn’t it be great to teach kids to live the full measure of every moment, to always be aware of who and where they are, so that they may best extract all the happiness and meaning that there is to be had from life? 


WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?


Mindfulness meditation has morphed from a spiritual to a self-help practice. Mindfulness is a state of being mindful, and being mindful means living in the present. It would be easy to assume that mindfulness is a cure, since we often list the many benefits that mindfulness can bring to aid and restore normal or near normal functioning in a range of conditions.


Here are some benefits attributed to mindfulness that relate to adults:

  • Reducing excessive dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
  • Reducing pain.
  • Reducing high blood pressure.
  • Improving sleep patterns.
  • Improving the symptoms of physical conditions such as psoriasis and fibromyalgia.
  • Helping with the treatment of substance abuse, stress and anxiety and recurrent depression.


Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. Mindfulness meditation practice can address underlying emotional and social skills including the ability to:

  • Feel in control.
  • Make meaningful relationships.
  • Accept experience without denying the facts.
  • Manage difficult feelings.
  • Be calm, resilient, compassionate and empathic.


Mindfulness meditation practice can also help with intellectual skills, improving sustained attention, visuo- spatial memory, working memory, and concentration.



WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?


For the cynics out there, there is a clear distinction between helping children to be “mindful” and simply getting them to sit still and behave. Being mindful means always seeking to learn more and appreciating the value of knowledge.


The UK Mindfulness in Schools Project (MISP)  see report, suggest that for schools to engage in mindfulness is to likely see beneficial results on the emotional wellbeing, mental health, ability to learn and even the physical health of their students. Such interventions are relatively cheap to introduce, have an impact fairly quickly, can fit into a wide range of contexts and above all are enjoyable and civilising, for pupils and staff.


STUDIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN


When children and young people pupils learn to be more ‘present’ and less anxious, they often find they can pay attention better and improve the quality of their performance, in the classroom, on the sports field, and in the performing arts for example. They often become more focused, more able to approach situations from a fresh perspective, use existing knowledge more effectively. 



Following a course in mindfulness 7 to 9 year-olds produced parent and teacher- rated improvements in so called ‘executive function’ (which refers to the ability to problem solve, plan, initiate and control and monitor one’s own actions, to pay attention, be mentally flexible and multi-task, and to employ verbal reasoning). Those with lower pre- course self-regulation were observed to experience greatest improvements in behavioural regulation, meta-cognition and executive function.


In studies, significant improvements were found too among 9 to 13 year old children who were struggling academically. In particular measures of attention and focus, reductions in anxiety, emotional reactivity and behaviour problems compared to those who had not yet taken part in mindfulness programmes.


STUDIES WITH ADOLESCENTS


Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep and self-esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behaviour and emotions, self-awareness and empathy.


Mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory, and enhance planning, problem solving, and reasoning skills.

CAN MINDFULNESS HELP WITH MANAGING STUDY WORKLOAD?


Of course! When young people learn to be more ‘present’ and less anxious, they often find they become more focused, more able to approach situations from a fresh perspective, use existing knowledge more effectively, and pay attention.

 



Adolescents who are mindful, either through temperament or training, tend to experience greater well-being. Mindfulness correlates positively with positive emotion, greater popularity, having more friends, and even a sense of a connection with nature.


TRAIL BLAZERS


Because there is no single group or institution overseeing mindfulness in education, nobody knows exactly how many teachers have incorporated these techniques into their classrooms or how they’re doing it. The nonprofits MindUP and Mindful Schools say they’ve seen a steady increase in the number of teachers seeking their guidance in recent years; MindUP says it’s reached 500,000 students around the world over the last decade, and Mindful Schools says it reached 300,000 in the US in the past five years. These groups - along with the dozen or so other curriculums from other mindfulness-in-education startups that have sprouted up in recent years - say that mindfulness is a useful tool for counteracting rising levels of anxiety and depression among children.


SOME TECHNIQUES FOR MIDNFULNESS


Meditation may calm your mind, make you grow more brain, but what if yours is not a mindful school or you don’t have time to take a 10-day meditation retreat? 


Here are a few techniques to introduce yourself to mindfulness.


Start slow

If you are reading this while sitting on the train or at your desk, direct your attention to your feet. Can you feel each toe and where it makes contact with the ground? What about the soles of your feet? Next, do the same with your hands: Notice how each finger feels on whatever surface they are resting. Go through them mentally one by one, pausing for a few seconds at each. Then try to feel them all at once. How does the air feel as it touches the skin on your hands?


Get interested in your breath

Close your eyes in a quiet place and spend three continuous minutes focusing on your breath. Breathe normally through your nose. Which nostril is the air passing in and out of? (Fun fact: For most people, breath typically passes through only one nostril at any given time.) How does it feel? As you focus on your breathing, try to calm down your thoughts. If a thought comes up, try to put it aside and refocus on noticing the pace of your breath and how it feels.



Finally

I found this saying and it is really apt.

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” 

Hallelujah for both!

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