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.

The Three Aims That Mindful Schools Should Adopt

The idea around the three aims of ‘The Mindfulness Pedagogy’ is that every school should have these three principal aims integrated in their school’s vision or ethos and should be understood with clarity by children, teachers & parents.

  1. Well-being of staff & children in the school. To nurture in children a sense of well-being, self-esteem & self-examination.
  2. Create a mindfulness environment school-wide. To help children build and then enjoy a community and to understand the concept of interdependence.
  3. Explore the relationships between learning & mindfulness. To help children become enthusiastic & life-long learners & achievers.

1. Well-being of staff & children in the school. To nurture/develop in children a sense of well-being, self-esteem & self-examination.

“Real education can only begin out of a foundation of self-awareness. Know the truth of yourself.”  John Gatto

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.

2. Create a mindfulness environment school-wide. To help children build and then enjoy a community and to understand the concept of interdependence.

Encouraging compassion through self-knowledge

To promote respect for self and through that for peers and adults and all living things; for other generations, diversity and difference, for language, culture and custom, for ideas and values and for those habits of willing courtesy and kindness between persons. To ensure that respect is mutual. To understand the interchange of learning & human relations through the promotion of the concepts like impermanence & interdependence.

Promoting interdependence & sustainability

To develop children’s understanding of humanity’s dependence for well-being and survival on reasonable relationships between individuals, groups, communities and nations, and on a sustainable relationship with the natural world, and help children to move from mere ‘understanding’ to positive action in order that they can make a difference and be in no doubt they have the power to do so.

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.

3. Explore the relationships between learning & mindfulness. To help children become enthusiastic & life-long learners & achievers

 ‘It is about maximising children’s learning potential through good teaching and the proper application of evidence about how children develop and learn and how happy teachers teach more effectively.’

 ‘Any school which strives to educate the whole person should also ensure proper academic standards.’ – The Elephant’s footprint

Exploring, knowing, understanding and making sense

To enable children to encounter and be able to explore the wealth of human experience through introduction to and active engagement in, the different ways through which we make sense of our world and act upon it: intellectual, ethical, spiritual, creative, social, emotional and physical; through language, mathematics, science, the humanities, the arts, religion and other ways of knowing and understanding. Learning is grounded in a mixture of amazement and curiosity which constitutes childhood wonder. Further to this we would encourage children to know & celebrate how the learning strategies they employ are closely related to many mindful principles. (See other post)

Fostering skilful behaviours

To foster in children skilful behaviours on which learning and a rewarding ethical life most depend: mindfulness practices,  mindful speaking & deep listening, inquiry & debate, literacy, mathematics, science, information technology, the creative and performing arts; but also in practical activities: communication, compassion, creativity, invention, mindfulness, problem-solving & reflection.

Exciting the imagination

To excite children’s imagination in order that they can advance beyond present understanding, extend the boundaries of their lives, contemplate a world possible as well as actual, understand cause and effect, develop the capacity for empathy, and reflect on and regulate their behaviour; to explore and test language, ideas and arguments in activity and form of thought. To experience the delights – and pains – of imagining, and of entering into the imaginative world of others, is to become a more rounded person.

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.