The practice of mindfulness has become incredibly popular in schools. Mindfulness works by creating an environment for learning and allowing for whole-child development of skills such as self-regulation, focus, and empathy. Many schools also include a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programme to assist teachers in creating a positive classroom environment and to communicate school-wide behavior expectations. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL programs should support the development of five key skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
In 2000-2001 I was carrying out action research for my PhD, investigating why some pupils got excluded and others didn’t and what schools could do about it. I introduced meditation and sharing circles to Year 7 drama at a time when it seemed new and radical, and it had a positive impact on the pupils I was working with. I combined meditation with a ‘check in’ or listening circle which allowed pupils to:
This is a topic that is close to my heart as I have had a lot of close family experience mental health concerns. Their treatment and reception by others has varied. I have also watched others struggle to ask for and accept help and support for fear of the stigma or reaction from others. The impact that this delay has had on them has cost them their education in some instances, their marriage and job in others. As a teacher, I also want my students to feel comfortable and confident - teenage years are tough enough as it is!
When I talk to people about mindfulness, and mindfulness in schools, I find a lot of people know of the idea, but that they don’t really know much about what it means. There’s a vague idea of it meaning you pay more attention to what's going on around you, which seems a fine idea for a teacher, but not much real detail. So, what does it really mean? Is it really beneficial? And if it is, what can be done to get it into the classroom when the school doesn't have a proper mindfulness programme?