Research evidence shows that education and health are closely linked . Promoting the health and well-being of teachers and students within schools has the potential to improve teaching and learning and health and wellbeing outcomes .
Teachers are challenged to balance the different learning needs of students while at the same time managing the behaviours that occur in the classroom. This is not an easy task. More than half of people working in education feel their job has had a negative impact on their mental health . Increasing levels of stress teachers experience have a direct impact on their health and careers. Levels of teacher stress also negatively impacts on both retention and recruitment with many authorities struggling to fill vacancies. Programs that train students and teachers in the awareness, understanding and skills that lead to positive learning environments can alleviate the burden placed on teachers and benefit student learning.
A promising approach to enhancing the well-being and learning outcomes of children and teachers is the provisions of training in mindfulness in schools.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation. Supported by over 40 years of research across a number of sectors and applications; Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement. The aim is to become more aware of thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgemental way, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we can manage them better.
Regular mindfulness practice can help us to act with clarity, wisdom and perspective, rather than simply reacting in the heat of the moment. We are more able to focus on solutions rather than problems and to manage conflict and stress more effectively.
Why Mindfulness in Schools?
Mindfulness is being used in schools, colleges and universities to help both teachers and students. Mindfulness helps students and teachers to improve their concentration, attention, conflict resolution, and empathy.
A school that is mindful is one that encourages open classrooms and promotes multiple intelligences. Teachers do not simply impart knowledge and skills through practice and repetition but they develop and cultivate a more mindful approach to teaching and learning that benefits teachers, students and the schools as a whole . By using mindfulness-based interventions in the classroom, children and young people can benefit from positive outcomes in well-being such as reducing anxiety and distress as well as improving behaviour. Similarly, teachers can increase their well-being and teaching effectiveness by improving their ability to manage classroom behaviour and establish and maintain supportive relationships with students .
What Does Research Have to Say?
Several studies have confirmed the positive impacts of mindfulness in schools. Mindfulness training for primary and secondary school students has shown strong and promising effects. For example, in one study mindfulness training was delivered to students in 15-min sessions 3 times per week for a total of 5 weeks. After this period, teachers reported improved classroom behaviour in their students such as paying more attention, enhanced self-control, increased participation in activities, and more caring and respect for others. What is even more interesting is that these effects lasted up to 7 weeks post-training .
In another study mindfulness training was introduced to secondary schools students. The young people who participated in the intervention reported fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress levels, and an improved sense of psychological well-being even after 3-months .
Mindfulness training for teachers has also shown positive effects. In one study a group of primary school teachers undertook an 8-week mindfulness course. The results showed improvement for most teachers for anxiety, depression, and stress . In another study a group of pre-school teachers attended an 8-week mindfulness course. During the mindfulness training for these teachers, levels of challenging behaviours decreased and there was an increase in compliance with teachers’ requests .
These results underline the role of the teacher-student interaction in the learning process and the immediate problem as a symptom of a deeper underlying situation. They are better able to convince subordinates and superiors to consider alternative ways of seeing, thinking and acting.
How to Begin Your Journey
You can practice mindfulness by formal and informal exercises. The informal approach consists of practicing mindfulness in daily or routine activities such as eating, walking, etc. Any pause becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness. The purpose is to notice how the mind and body feel throughout the day in various circumstances. As well as practising mindfulness in daily activities, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice. The formal practice is what is normally called meditation. This involves setting aside a specific time to sit silently or to walk mindfully.
How to Start in My Classroom?
Teachers can apply three useful practices to develop a more mindful classroom :
Look closely: Although we would all like to believe that we are open to new information, the fact is that we often leave out much of our environment, filling in the gaps with previously learned information. Developing a more mindful classroom means giving students both the time to explore and the assurance that something valuable exists to be found.
Explore possibilities and perspectives: Exploring the world may be natural to children, but this is certainly not the case when it comes to perspective taking. Adopting another’s perspective and considering different perspectives is an ability that needs to be cultivated. Teachers can encourage children to examine paintings, books, drawings etc. and imagine what it would be like to be inside, as a participant, rather than outside as a viewer.
Introduce ambiguity: Ambiguous situations naturally make us more mindful than familiar situations because they demand much more processing. However, ambiguous situations do not necessarily serve learning. However, conditional, as opposed to absolute, instruction can help. In this form of instruction, participants encounter information in an open rather than absolute format, for example, by saying that this “could be” or this “may be”. When ambiguity is introduced in this way, the learner is prompted to shift from a passive to an active role. The student becomes engaged not in memorising information but in making sense of the situation. Mindfulness needs to be introduced to children and young people in the same way, as an approach that may be of benefit to them.
You could also consider introducing informal and formal mindfulness exercises . Sessions of one to two minutes, as silent or guided meditations, several times a week have proven effective for children and young people. Also, connecting mindfulness with regular daily activities such as eating, working and playing is a useful way to develop patience and self-awareness.
In daily meditation, children and young people can be given a number of opportunities to reflect on and discuss experiences that have affected them. Such meditations may involve situations in which, for instance, they did not get what they wanted, or were given what they did not want. Children and young people reflect on the experience and talk about it. This process requires receptive and non-judgemental listening by the teacher and is frequently experienced as positive and meaningful by both students and teachers.
How Do I Implement Mindfulness in My School?
Educators looking to employ mindfulness-based interventions in their schools should give careful consideration to the following :
Identify the target: Are you planning to train teachers, students or both? Mindfulness is being used in education to help teachers and students to improve their attention, interactions with each other, and mutual understanding. Mindfulness can be integrated into the classroom by training teachers to develop personal mindful practices, by introducing students to mindfulness and mindfulness practices, and by combining teacher-student training.
Assure high-quality implementation: Have you clearly defined your goals? Agreed the contents? Considered the needs of everyone involved? Selected a good mindfulness teacher? Poor program implementation can adversely affect the program’s effectiveness, including learning outcomes for students. Competent instruction, school support including both a shared vision and engaged school staff, and consistent support from administration are critical ingredients to ensuring high-quality implementation. Additionally, engaging young children with mindfulness requires an experienced approach that takes into account their shorter attention spans and emotional development.
Ongoing evaluation: Have you considered a pre, during, and after intervention evaluation? Have you checked that the mindfulness provider systematically assesses their results? The strength, capacity, and resources of interventions need to be assessed ongoing in order to achieve successful outcomes. And do not forget, a good programme is based on strong evidence.
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