Discussing & Encouraging The Usage Of Different Concepts Of ‘Thought’ With Children.

The meanings of ‘thought‘.

In writing this blog post I have already raised a wry smile. I doubt if I’ll be able to communicate a precise definition and therefore a meaning for the world ‘thought‘.

To discuss the meaning of the word would be a lengthy and a rather semantic exercise and would actually bring us no further towards understanding what actually goes on in the brain when we think.

Checking the dictionary brings us no further to the goal either. Dictionaries offer synonyms – similar meanings clothed in different words – or examples of the use of words – they do not tell us anything about their real or imagined referents.

In fact, the dictionary may seem to add to the confusion. For example, it tell us that the word thought can be used in a multiplicity of ways, some of them even quite oppositely to others!

A short selection from the dictionary notes: formulate in the mind, reason about; reflect, ponder, meditate; decide, judge, intend, plan; believe, suppose; expect, anticipate, hope, remember, call to mind, visualise, conceive, fancy, invent, speculate.

This brings me to the title of this blog post. I do not know why we as educators are so reluctant to acknowledge the ‘mystery’ of thought. Especially since our world seem so full of it in so many ways. Children are rarely exposed to this selection of thought. Although I’m sure children more than anyone could understand them and respect them!

Instead we tend to encourage them to believe that only knowledge exists – not thought. The educated person knows everything that it is necessary to know, or at least knows where to look it up. Why do we associate ignorance with stupidity, and value dogma over doubt? Is it our sense of authority as a place of knowledge (school) that means we can’t show uncertainties and encourage all the varieties of thought to flourish?

mindful mind skills

To encourage this array of ‘understanding the mind’ and the variety of thoughts – the use of these mindfulness skills could be extremely beneficial.

All of the above refer to something brain does that is not directly observable. Thought is exclusively the business of the brain. I also regard thought as an activity of mindfulness. I do not propose you can therefore distinguish mindfulness from reasoning, perception, comprehension or problem solving, or any of the other categories of brain activity.

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Just Because I Practice Mindfulness, Doesn’t Mean I’m Perfect.

RoadSignPerfection

Well that wasn’t very mindful‘. – The dreaded accusation that can be thrown at anyone who ‘outs’ that they practice mindfulness.

When difficulties have arisen with parents in the past in relation to them or my interactions with their children I have had to deal with this statement.

It’s a difficult one because more often than I would like I do do things that are indeed ‘not mindful’ or compassionate!

My intention is to be as mindful as I can. This can fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour and unless you are a Buddha, a guru, Jesus – (or an estate agent 😉 ) you will sometimes do things that aren’t always compassionate. I’m a learner of mindfulness just like the children and my other co-workers.

What concerns me about the introduction of mindfulness into education is the unattainable expectations that could come with it; from parents and staff, to children and management/leadership.

What is required is a supportive atmosphere – where people are not demonised for what they haven’t done mindfully, but rather celebrate the everyday mindfulness they do conduct and the effort that is being put in.

Mindfulness Activities For Children

Please read the introduction below before downloading this resource.

mindfulness practices for children Mindfulness: Practices For Children

Edition One: The Basics – 2015 Edition.

DOWNLOAD

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Introduction:

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is concentrating on what is at the forefront of your mind, in the present moment, with insight & compassion. Mindfulness practices are often intentional and systemic ways of developing a compassionate and insightful presence to an activity.

Focus on the breath is a key facet of mindfulness practice. Neuroscience shows that this makes us aware of the subjectiveness and transient nature of thoughts and emotions, rather than them being something unmoveable and permanent.

It allows there to be space between day-to-day stimulus and automatic reaction.

Stimulus ->           ! ! !        -> Reaction

Stimulus -> Space/Time -> Response

How this resource should be used

The teaching of mindfulness practices to children is actually only a small aspect of what constitutes a ‘mindful pedagogy’ and bringing all the possible benefits of mindfulness to children.

Other important factors to consider are:

You as an educator having a practice. Children benefit most from mindfulness if their teacher practices it themselves. By having a mindfulness practice of your own you create a compassionate and nurturing environment for children to learn in. It also means you have a strong ‘subject knowledge’ for which to fall back on and not only rely on these type of resources (or pedagogical knowledge). The best teachers are the ones that have a combination of good subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and passion for what they teach. Mindfulness should be no different. There is nothing wrong with learning along with the children for a while but for more details on creating your own practice please visit my website. mindfulintheclassroom.wordpress.com

The school having a ‘culture’ of mindfulness. If this material is taught out of context in a school not based on an ethos of mindfulness and a school which doesn’t hold the concepts of mindfulness in highest of regards – benefits of these activities will remain limited. Again, if you are looking to provide a ‘mindful culture’ in your school please visit my website for more details.

Continue your own CPD. Continue to be creative and look to develop your understanding of mindfulness. Create new ideas, research and look for the connections between mindfulness and subjects within the curriculum.  Please share these and any other questions or experience on my website or via twitter @ryoungdharma or the hashtag #mindfuledchat for great ideas.

Finally enjoy yourself!

Teachers & Schools: A Guide To Having A Mindfulness Practice & Why

To read about the other phases in becoming a mindful school please click here. 

Phase 1: Providing mindfulness practice for staff which will help towards their well-being.

Objectives

  • Providing opportunities for staff to practice mindfulness.
  • Creating an environment where mindfulness is part of the fabric of the school.
  • Treating mindfulness practice as a type of ‘subject knowledge’.
  • Providing supportive CPD (Continued Professional Development) opportunities like any other curriculum subject.

This phase is focused on the idea of providing staff with a mindfulness practice for themselves. It’s through this increase in practice by members of staff that a nurturing environment for all will come. If enough members of the school take part in mindfulness practice, a guest or volunteer should be able to feel it as they come through the door.

The science & research behind mindfulness, whilst interesting, can be found here. Mindfulness is largely an experienced-based rather than intellectually-based practice.

Why you, the staff?

Many staff suffer from stress, tense work environments and crisis of confidence. Staff’s well-being is vital to the well-being of children and it is right that they are cared for too. This is one reason why it is important that staff have an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Once this is provided and the well-being of staff is being taken care of, the school environment will begin to change & it too will become nurturing. Children will already benefit from mindfulness in this way. Soon teacher will have enough knowledge to teach it for the children in the class too.

How to practice mindfulness

HeadspaceIf you wish to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness, it’s necessary to set aside time for a daily practice. A great start is to sign up to Headspace.com (No! I don’t work for them! – It really is just great & I use it daily)– This website and app has a ten day free trial, which will really show you how five minutes each day can make a difference to your well-being, environment and how you interact with other staff & children. I, along with Headspace, suggest doing it first thing in the morning before school, but understand that it’s about choosing a time that is most practical to you.

mindfulness bellYou might also want to download a mindfulness bell app which is useful for setting timings for your meditations. There are many free apps of this kind available.

Alternatively you can use this very simple exercise below – Best used with the mindfulness bell app or this website to give you timings.

Start with breathing meditation

Here is a basic breathing mindfulness practice which takes around 5/10 minutes. This is available for download and simply follow the instructions.

Mindfulness Practice Breathing Pic

Daily practice is important

At first you will feel a lot of the benefits from mindfulness, this will soon plateau and you may find it becomes a lot more difficult. It’s important to stick with it and keep the daily routine. Some meditations will be a disaster – you’ll be unable to focus on the breath, your mind all over the place. This is normal. You will have good days and bad days, but it’s always subject to change. Every meditation is a fresh start, so don’t worry.

Informal mindfulness

What you will notice once you have started your practice is the impact it has on your day-to-day running around. You will see it aid you in the rest of your life beyond the morning meditation itself. You can use your breath to help create that space between stimulus and reaction – otherwise known as informal mindfulness.

Unforeseen things happen in schools on a near daily basis – particularly when working with children! In such situations, you may notice your mindfulness practice begins to be a great help in maintaining calm and help you make better decisions.

Keeping a record

You may like to keep a record of the meditations you conducted and whether you felt they went well or not. You may be able to pick up on patterns and you can keep track of missed days. You may want to meet and talk about your records as a school, share good practice and seek advice from others on common difficulties.

Mindfulness Record Sheet Pic

Download: My Mindfulness Record Sheet.

Appoint a  subject leader or co-ordinator

You may also want to think about people in the school who could be appointed ‘subject leaders’ or co-ordinators for this phase – someone people can go to if they need help. They could also set up a time in school when they practice so people can join together to do a practice collectively. – Alternatively you could work in partnership with me (leave a comment at the bottom of this page or via twitter @mindfulpedagogy).

Challenges you will face!                    

  • It’s not easy to maintain the mindfulness practice. It requires discipline and a systematic approach to make it a new habit. This is where keeping a record or seeing your co-ordinator will help. You can also contact us with any questions.
  • Feeling like you don’t have time to do it is another common challenge for staff. This is why we recommend starting with 5 minutes at a fixed time in the morning using either the Headspace trial or a clock or electronic bell to time the meditation period for you.
  • You will at times get bored, sleepy, distracted, irritated and even resentful. Agitation is the biggest culprit here. If you are bored, be more disciplined and focus the mind. Be more willing to ‘let go’ of distracting thoughts and leave them for the two-minutes you give yourself to ‘free think’ at the end of the meditation time – if you can do this you are actually performing your meditations extremely well.
  • Sitting in silence can be uncomfortable and many thoughts can arise. At times these can be too much. If this is the case ensure you have someone to talk to either personally or at school.
  • There is no end or goal. Some people can find this incredibly difficult to accept and can cause people to simply dismiss their practice as a waste of time. This isn’t true. Think of each practice as filling up a bath full of water and when the practice has finished the plug is pulled out. You need to ensure you go back and top up the water regularly.

What meditation is not

  • Meditation can on occasions be extremely tiring and hard to do. It can feel like your mind is getting the better of you and you’re too tired to ‘tame’ it. This will happen from time to time.
  • Meditation is not about ‘clearing your mind’. It is about letting thoughts come and go – and not ‘play’ or ‘entertain’ them. I often explain this to children via the idea of you being a frog on a log, your thoughts being flies passing by. Whilst it is tempting to open an eye and begin trying to catch these ‘flies’ with your tongue and ‘chew’ on them – it is part of the practice to simply leave them bee and allow them to come and go.
  • It’s not about accepting everything and anything and becoming passive. In fact it will help you better understand how you are feeling and why. Again it comes back to the idea of it creating ‘space’ between stimulus and reaction.
  • You can’t get angry or upset anymore. Undesirable emotions will continue to be in your life but you may notice them quicker and as a result give yourself time to make better decisions as a consequence.

Meeting up in a couple of months time

At the end of this phase all staff should get together, reflect and discuss the impact regular mindfulness practice has had on your:

  • Well-being
  • Interactions with each-other
  • The children
  • Their work
  • The school environment.

You should then begin to consider what benefits you potentially see for the children? Asking questions like– how does my mindfulness practice and the learning environment I create affect my students?  This question should be reflected on individually, in class teams and by the school as a whole. This will make for excellent preparation for the next phase – Contact me for more details @mindfulpedagogy or leave a comment.

A Guide On How To Implement ‘The Mindfulness Pedagogy’ Into Your School.

  • To read about what  ‘The mindfulness pedagogy’ is – click here.
  • To read about the three aims of ‘The mindfulness pedagogy’ – click here.

There is a five phase process to the implementation of the mindfulness pedagogy in a school:

  1. Providing mindfulness practice subject knowledge for staff – which will help towards their well-being. – For more information click here.
  2. Provide pedagogical knowledge via CPD to staff to equip them with the skills to teach it to children.
  3. Begin providing mindfulness practices for the children in class to look after their well-being.
  4. Begin promoting an ‘atmosphere of mindfulness’ school-wide & celebrate progress of staff & children.
  5. Begin using mindfulness to enhance children’s learning.

So it starts with the staff’s well-being – providing opportunity for & subject knowledge in mindfulness practice will led to a greater understanding for the staff individually and improve their well-being at work and therefore their interactions with their workload, relationships with other staff, with the children and the learning environment of their classroom.

Once staff have enough knowledge within themselves, they can begin to think about providing it to the children in class. This will lead to a cultural shift in the school and the school can begin to see whole-school differences taking place and celebrate individual success in children.

Once a culture has been established teachers can then begin to explore ways in which mindfulness can enhance learning.

Mindfulness Is Vital For Girls In School – And Here’s Why

When people come around to look at the school I work in, they are often interested in how mindfulness ‘helps the boys’. I always find this a curious question.

Whilst some might go down the stereotyped view that mindfulness is good for calming children down and indeed it does – (see here). This is not its most profound or exciting feature, nor is it by the way the increase in academic achievement!

I find the most exciting development is in communication. What mindfulness allows is a level playing field and a culture of communication, compassion, sharing, deep listening & development of individual and collective well-being. It is through this creation of a nurturing environment in the classroom or school, through the use of mindfulness practices and a mindful pedagogy – (see here), that girls feel able to have a voice – even if it isn’t always audibly the loudest in the class (examples here).

Mindfulness in schools, when used intelligently, can help children deal with their strong emotions and emotional difficulties and as this article on BBC news states today, it’s an important contemporary issue.

Many have the misconception that girls generally enjoy and accept school better than boys. I have always disagreed. It often actually that they are dealing with a great deal of emotional issues but aren’t always given the time, commitment or strategies to observe it, reflect on it and share it with a loving community who will look to help them and for which they are seen as an equal part.

If you are interested and have the time why not take a look at the three aims of mindfulness in schools and think how these aims could help girls and young women in your class. Of course we have to remember if it is good for one group it is often just as useful to another.

Here are some extracts below:

Well-being

Through the promotion of the school as a community for children, we should aim to attend to children’s capabilities, needs, hopes and anxieties in the here and now and promote their mental, emotional and physical well-being and welfare. We should believe in a strong sense of self and a positive outlook on life are not only desirable in themselves; they are also conducive to learning and to engage wholeheartedly in all kinds of worthwhile activities and relationships. Well-being also means attending to future fulfilment and not just present needs and capabilities. This means “holding everyone to their highest possible potentials” (Stephen Batchelor – Co-author of the Elephant’s footprint).

Empowerment & Autonomy

We should also aim to empower children through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, personal qualities and an understanding of compassionate living to discover and lead rewarding lives and right livelihoods and find meaning for themselves in a continuously changing world. We should have confidence that children will be able to discriminate in their choice of activities and relationships and to see beyond the surface appeal of appearance, fashion & celebrity to what is of abiding value, and retain their own centre when faced with shifting values & relationships.

Developing communal responsibility

To help children to become active citizens by encouraging their participation in decision-making within the class and school community and to advance their understanding of kindness, compassion, human rights, diversity, conflict resolution and social justice. To develop a sense that human interdependence and the fragility of the world require a concept of citizenship and a ‘one world’ attitude.

Celebrating culture and the community

To establish the school as a cultural site, a focal point of community life and thought. To enact within the school the behaviours and relationships on which community most directly depends, and in so doing encourage this ‘community’ to be lived outside the school. To appreciate that education is a major embodiment of a culture’s way of life, not just a preparation for it, and that school is a place of culture – that is, a place where a personal and collective culture is developed.

Enacting right-speech & deep listening

Right speech & deep listening can help children grasp that learning and reflecting on mindfulness practices is communal and that understanding builds through joint activity. To help children recognise that knowledge is not only transmitted but also negotiated and re-created. To continue to advance our pedagogy in which dialogue is central: between self and others, between present and past, between different ways of making sense.

By listening to our pupils we will become better schools. All schools should advocate children’s voices. We should recognise the importance of listening to our learners and their opinions about their school and their education.

A Fictitious Look At Mindfulness In Education In 2018

It’s 2018 and there seems to be many sticky issues within the mindfulness in education movement at present (mind the pun). Ideological positions are setting up trenches and soon no one will be willing to help the other and no one will succeed in bringing mindfulness to education or will provide profound positive changes for children. The current issues facing mindfulness in education in 2018 are:

  1. The obsession with teacher as mindfulness practitioner.
  2. The obsession with mindfulness ‘programmes’ and curricular for children.
  3. The obsession with professional educational researchers and mindfulness.
  • The obsession with teacher as mindfulness practitioner.

There is little doubt that teachers as mindfulness practitioners themselves will benefit children. Like with any other subject if the teacher is a master of their trade they are often (but not always) better equipped to teach it to others. It also allows the teacher to share anecdotes and advice from their practice. This brings with it a certain amount of authenticity too. For example everyone can remember the teacher who taught a subject they weren’t actually qualified in, interested in or passionate about and the same could be said for the teaching of meditation and mindfulness.

This why I’m still an advocate of the general principle that the majority of staff have a mindfulness practice of some kind (even if it is unconventional or personal to them) but there needs to be more flexibility and options open to teachers in how they come to arrive at the idea of mindfulness in class.

But, with that said, it is quickly becoming a bit elitist in the realms of mindfulness in education. You can understand why. There is the fear of the ‘marketisation’ of mindfulness, that anyone will soon be walking into schools and providing mindfulness ‘training’. Ironically there seems to be a lot of judgement from experienced teachers of mindfulness to those who are of ‘beginners mind’. It seems one has to have a certain authority to teach it otherwise you’re a ‘faker’.

This isn’t helpful nor is it supportive of the professional development needs of teachers and wouldn’t be seen in any other type of professional development within teaching. The reality is that mindfulness in education can be seen as a new type pedagogy and like all new pedagogies there has to be a certain amount of slack as teachers/schools adjust and find their own ways of deepening ‘it’ and improving their provision of ‘it’ over time. But that is the beautiful nature of the teaching community!

It won’t rest, it will be continually reflective and look at areas for development, but we have to get the pedagogy out there first and it may not initially be in the form everyone would desire.

The mindfulness education ‘movement’ has to accept that it may come about ‘the other way round’ for some teachers – that for some teachers seeing mindfulness provided school-wide in classrooms will be the spark needed to bring it into their own lives.

How often do teachers engage in activity outside of school and try to gain a deeper understanding of something for the benefit of the children in their care – well, this will happen with mindfulness too, but, with the added bonus that the teachers will directly or indirectly come around to helping themselves too. And you know what, if the teacher learns alongside the children they are teaching it too – that’s OK too!

  • The obsession with mindfulness ‘programmes’ and curricular for children.

An issue for 2018 is the explosion and introduction of mindfulness programmes & curricular for children. This is often resulting in mindfulness ‘lessons’ being carried out on some idol Tuesday afternoon just before home time. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with that and many teachers may remember a little subject called PSHE which would often (unfortunately) serve a similar purpose. The problem lies in the fact that mindfulness as is the case with PSHE isn’t just knowledge and skills that can be taught in isolation. Just as the concept of tolerance can’t be taught in a lesson if the school & its community doesn’t promote tolerance, mindfulness is more than that. It is an approach to teaching and learning and should be embedded across the domains of an average day, week, year or school life. Without mindfulness becoming a pedagogy in schools you limited the effectiveness of the good intentions of schools to provide an important life skill. What schools are beginning to realise in 2018 is that their children are dropping the mindfulness ‘lessons’ the moment the bell rings and simply aren’t seeing it at any other time – apart from seeing it on the visual timetable at the front of the class. This links to my article about the three aims of a mindful school, which would be the good starting points to providing a mindfulness pedagogy rather than simply a glorified extra curricular activity or dare I say it a time filler.

  • The obsession with professional educational researchers and mindfulness.

The obsession surrounding the scientific, neuroscientist or professional educational researchers conclusions around mindfulness means that the research community is suffocating out a more important aspect within the community and that is the concept of  practitioner led action research. Without action research the progress of mindfulness in education will remain limited. Teachers now need to start tackling this new pedagogy and researching its effects on the front line and sharing best practice. If the research community continues to dominate the area of mindfulness education we will see my first two points continue to get worse.  Without action research we will see the area of mindfulness in education become more and more elitist and no longer in the hands of the practitioners. Without action research we won’t be able to advance the effectiveness of mindfulness as a pedagogy and instead will be left with sterile, bland and unconnected mindfulness lessons, schemes of work and modules none of which will have a profound change on the culture of a school and therefore not a profound change of culture for children.