In October 2016 there was a call for the inclusion of wellbeing/mindfulness in schools; Sir Anthony Seldon, vice chancellor at the University of Buckingham, even said that it should be included in school league tables. Richard Burnett, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Schools project, explains how the concept is supporting children’s social and emotional development
There are many roles for mindfulness in a school community. At the most basic level it’s a simple life skill for young people to learn in the same way they learn to read and to write but what it teaches them is the skill of paying attention – not in the narrow way that teachers might bark at a child, but in the much wider and richer sense of truly attending to whatever is happening at any particular moment. As with reading and writing, what they do with mindfulness once they have learned this skill is entirely up to them.
Some pupils find it helps them stay focused on their academic work, a few discover it can help them to achieve ‘flow’ in their music or sport and many find that ‘beditation’ – meditation at bedtime – helps them short-circuit the chattering mind and get to sleep. Jon Kabat-Zinn – the founding father of secular mindfulness – once described mindfulness as, ‘being alive, and knowing it’. Many students find they start to appreciate things they might not usually notice – for the first time they look out of the window of the school bus, they listen properly to a friend, they taste their food. Almost all pupils relish at least one lesson at school which is not relentlessly achievement-based and exam-focused.
It is not just for the pupils; if anything, the first place mindfulness needs to take root in a school is amongst the staff
Mindfulness is also a great way of addressing the kind of worries that all of us experience. Instead of relating to the anxious chatter in our head and the butterflies in our tummy as unpleasant things to be avoided, we learn to attend to them differently. Young people begin to recognise anxiety a little sooner than they used to; they learn how to ‘be with’ the stresses and strains of childhood and adolescence without being swept away by them. We teach them to ‘.b’ (pronounced dot-be) – literally to ‘stop’ and to ‘be’. It’s amazing how helpful it can be to simply feel your feet on the floor and notice your breathing.
You cannot teach mindfulness to young people unless you’ve experienced the benefits yourself
And, of course, it is not just for the pupils; if anything, the first place mindfulness needs to take root in a school is amongst the staff – perhaps in whoever is reading this very article. You cannot teach mindfulness to young people unless you’ve experienced the benefits yourself. Reduced stress, reduced absenteeism, greater teacher wellbeing and efficacy are just a handful of the benefits which the growing body of research suggests.