Learning for the Moment – Mindfulness in Schools
The current trend for mindfulness training is almost certainly a backlash against the ever distracting smart phone, social media and instant news world we live in.
New technology offers a distraction for every occasion, whether it is watching a film on a long train journey or checking your facebook ten times an hour. As W.H Davies pointed out in his famous poem, ‘we have no time to stand and stare’. No generation is more distracted than ours and with this in mind, more and more schools are now starting to offer mindfulness training to their pupils, often with fantastic results.
Mindfulness is an essential Buddhist teaching. It means to live in the moment, to spend time every day just noticing where you are, how to feel, what you can see and feel and to direct your attention to feelings, emotions and physical sensations that are happening now. Essentially though, mindfulness means observing, not judging. Rather than feeling distress about a sore back, a person using mindfulness will take note of the sensation and simply examine how it feels.
Using daily meditation and other less formal exercises, people who practice mindfulness are soon able to stop and take stock,
to truly experience the moment rather than living their lives on auto-pilot, thinking about other things all the time and missing what is happening to them right now.
The modern school environment is full of distractions and pressures. An estimated 32.3 per cent of 15-25 year olds have at least one psychiatric condition and the pressure to achieve at all levels of education means there is a great deal of stress in and around the classroom.
Several schools are now teaching mindfulness to their students, or using it as a regular part of lesson planning. Organisations such as Mindfulness in Schools have created lesson plans especially for education institutions. Their .b (pronounced ‘dot bee’ ) course has been specifically crafted by teaching experts and mindfulness practitioners and offers a nine lesson plan which will introduce secondary school aged pupils to the basics of mindfulness. The course starts with explaining what mindfulness is and why it is worth learning and moves through recognising worry, reacting and responding, mindful movement and other useful skills.
There are definitely advantages for teaching staff when it comes to mindfulness lessons! Teaching pupils how to be still, silent and focus their attention has a definite positive effect when it comes to behaviour in the classroom and the majority of teachers say that on the whole, pupils’ behaviour definitely improves. The quiet observation of emotions mindfulness teaches also helps pupils become less reactive to other people, which means a much more harmonious school.
But the positive benefits for teachers are not the main reason schools are taking up mindfulness. With the focus on personal, social health and economic education becoming a mainstay of education, the lessons are designed towards personal development with an eye on the pupil’s future. The skills they learn now can help them grow into confident, emotionally stable and happy individuals and provide a good basis from which to tackle some of the more tricky moments in life.
Not all hippie hype
Mindfulness and meditation has spent a long time in the domain of the free-spirited hippie. However, modern day techniques have moved away from Buddhism and all-things alternative and now work on a solid scientific basis. Psychologists have studied the effects of both behaviour and biology after mindfulness practice and there is solid evidence that the technique can have a positive benefit in many areas.
More and more studies are being carried out into the effect of mindfulness practice and training. Research so far shows that pupils report feeling happier, get along better with others, can concentrate better and feel fewer effects from mental illnesses such as anorexia and depression.
But beyond pure response-based studies, there is also distinct scientific evidence that mindfulness can change the way we think. Brain scans show profound alterations in the structure and function of the brain which leads to improved quality of both thought and feeling. These changes also only need half an hour’s meditation a day for around eight weeks to begin to show. Learning and memory structures were also strengthened by meditating regularly too, which can only be a good thing for education!
Just a passing fad?
It is pretty understandable that something which has become very popular very quickly might be dismissed as ‘just another fad’. However, with the clear benefits for both adults and children, it is hard to see it ever fading away. Far from just helping children through their school years, some of the top companies around the world are now training their staff in similar techniques to help with productivity. Learning the skills early can only benefit the workforce of the future. So far from being a fad, it is likely that mindfulness will soon be on the curriculum of more and more schools.