How being mindful in class has made me a more effective & reflective teacher.

What we do, think, say and feel as teacher is embedded in social structures that most often are invisible but no less real. The social structures of schools and classrooms are complex, layered with aspects of power, and usually taken for granted. Mindfulness is a fruitful way to unpack or come to see these structures more clearly, thereby coming to know your pupils, way of teaching, social interactions more fully.

Being in a school environment where mindfulness is encouraged can open opportunities for learning & reflecting. Focusing on critical incidents within your day in a state of mindfulness creates space for knowing through a process of stopping & reflecting.

The term ‘critical incident’ can be defined as:

  • An everyday event that stands out,
  • Vivid happenings that are considered significant or memorable,
  • A problematic situation that presents itself as a unique case and promotes reflection,
  • Highly charged moments and episodes that have enormous consequences for personal change and development.

There is a growing emphasis on integrating mindfulness into the field of teacher education. For me it has provided a rich tool for analysing critical incidents to improve my teaching practices and help me model the process of reflection on critical incidents with my pupils.

Critical incidents are not ‘things’ that exist independently of an observer and are awaiting discovery like gold nuggets or desert islands, but like all data, critical incidents are created. Incidents happen, but critical incidents are produced by the way we look at a situation.  – Tripp.

As a result, its our interpretations and feelings which make an event significant and critical. In order to turn an event into a critical incident, we do more than simply label it. We investigate some of the underlying structures that produce that kind of incident.

Not all critical incidents have to be dramatic or obvious either. It is only through mindful reflection that these rather typical incidents can be unearthed for examination. Mindful reflection involves discovering underlying meaning of what is usually taken for granted and entails observation of what events constitute turning points, change in group conversations, uncovering something that had already been going on without detection or acknowledgement.

Small events, sometimes even unnoticed situations within the classroom have been turned into critical incidents. Their ‘criticality’ is based on justification, significance, and then meaning given to them in a context of inquiry and provokes a will to reflect on that particular event, thereby rendering it visible and susceptible to further analysis and change.

Questions worth reflecting on when dealing with a critical incident are:

  1. Whose interests are either served or denied by the actions in my ‘critical incident’?
  2. What conditions are sustaining this action?
  3. What power relationships between the school, senior staff, teachers, support staff, parents or children are being expressed?
  4. What structural, organizational and cultural factors are likely to prevent the school, senior staff, teachers, support staff, parents or children from engaging in alternative ways?
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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.