Let the children boogie – What teachers can learn from Bowie & Jean-Jacques Rousseau

bowie

Having hit David Bowie pretty hard since his death this year and this corresponding to another reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile or On Education. These are the things Rousseau & Bowie have taught me about facilitating children’s education. I try to have them as my compass but sometimes it’s hard in the current climate.

1. Try not to interfere negatively with or suppress children’s natural tendencies & aptitudes.

2. Try only to teach something when the child is ready to learn it.

3. Try not to make rote-learning the dominant mode of education for a child.

4. Try to let children primarily learn in context and through experience and ‘projects’.

5. Do not treat a child’s attempted acquisition of moral knowledge differently from their acquisition of other types of knowledge. Hold both in high regard.

Children’s Writing And Mindfulness

Writing reflects our way of tying to observe our thoughts and mind.

This article has been a long time coming. To try and approach the complex issues of the relationship between mindfulness and writing has been interesting but difficult. Any attempt to understand writing and mindfulness must begin with the relationship between writing and thought.

Thinking is the business of the brain. Mindfulness is a way of potentially observing our own minds from the ‘inside’, to see how we know what we know or how we do what we do, and so it is with writing. Writing, therefore, is naturally a mindful experience. To practice writing is to practice mindfulness.

We have an enormously complex and efficient theory of the world in our head, so coherent and comprehensive that it enables us to write and understand sentences we have never heard or read before in our lives. Writing, like mindfulness, is  a way to directly gaze into our own mind to explore what this theory is; to examine how it works. Children, (as with most adults) traditionally, find it very hard to observe their own thinking ‘as it comes’ but they can observe the products of their thoughts through what they write very easily. This is what makes writing one of the most powerful tools a child can have.

It’s important to look at the relationship between mindfulness and writing.

The uses of writing for children (and indeed adults) is often;

  • To establish or reflect personal relationships with others. – Interactional ‘me and you’
  • To express our perception of ourselves. – Personal ‘awareness of self’
  • As a record of our present moment. Perpetuating ‘how it is’

The uses of mindfulness for children (and indeed adults) is often;

  • To establish or reflect personal relationships with others. (Compassion)
  • To examine our perception of ourselves. (Self-examination)
  • To be in the present moment.

Just as mindfulness is a way of separating our ideas from ourselves in a way that is easy for us to examine, so it is with writing.

Stimulus ->           //         -> Reaction

Stimulus -> Space/Time -> Response

As the above diagram shows mindfulness can provide space between stimulus and response. The same can be said of writing for children. Children can be rehearsed or otherwise performed in their mind. It not only provides opportunity to try out and even refine things they want to say on paper, but can also give rise to new ideas they did not think they were capable of – or know were there.

Writing, like mindfulness, is a tool that helps organise and develop the possibilities of our own minds. Writing can be an extension of a meditative practice. To make sense of and reflect on the world.

Writing is the slowest of all the uses of language. It is at times painfully slow! The average rate of writing being around 10-12 words a minute for children. The remarkable thing is that thought can slow down enough to produce itself in words. Not only is this is mindfulness in practice but also a way mindfulness can benefit children’s writing.

Observing the products of thought is in many respects the same way that meditators  attempt to observe thought itself. Writing for children is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to knowledge that they can’t observe directly.

I would argue that is is more efficient than speaking in many respects because of its relative permanence to the present moment and because its easy to stand back and observe it as an independent entity. Exactly what is required from meditation on our thoughts.

The beautiful and magical thing that writing can do for children is more than just reflect on underlying thought. Writing liberates it and develops it.

By observing the action of writing, children can learn things about themselves they may not have known for themselves and share this with themselves & others. This allows them to explore their brain’s potential. It may be better to regard this as potential, rather than a settled state or finished structure, a potential that may constantly expand…

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.

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.

Place & Time: The Vital Role Geography & History Have In Promoting Mindfulness In Schools

Place & Time

This principally includes how History shapes culture, events, consciousness and identity and the lessons which it offers to our understanding of present and future; and geographical study of location, other people, other places and human interdependence, locally, nationally, and globally. Like the arts, this subject seeks to give children an understanding of:

  • Who they are,
  • Change and continuity,
  • Cause and effect,
  • Why society is arranged as it is,
  • The interaction between humankind and the physical environment.

In opening up children’s understanding of these matters the subject may range beyond the boundaries of what is conventionally included – for example Forest Schooling, which can make up a school’s curriculum.

Place and Time not only provides links to other curriculum areas but lies at the heart of the children’s everyday lives, showing how the past can impact upon the present and ultimately, the future. The subject aims to equip children with the basic skills required to be confident and capable members of the community, as well as to appreciate the importance of the role they play in respecting and preserving the society they are a part of. Lastly, ‘Place & Time’ provides a platform from which children can communicate their ideas and query the existing world around them. For many, Place & Time will be the first time that ‘big questions’ about the world have been asked and is an opportunity for such questions to be debated and philosophised.

The approach to history is for children to know that things have not always been as they are now, and by implication that they need not remain the same in the future. This is the teaching of Impermanence in its clearest form. They will also learn of some of the best examples of wisdom that have taken place in history and learn from these historical examples. Children, through history, also come to recognise that whilst many things have changed and will continue to change there is a degree of Interdependence with the past; that of seeing connections between what happens in the modern day and how things were done in the past; including the principle of cause and effect (Karma); particularly through local study. Through the discipline of social history and the interpretation of primary resources children can practise empathy, compassion, morality and patience. With a better understanding of primary resources they also practise treating things with care and doing no harm. 

The study of human geography emphasises the interdependence of people across the planet. The children learn about how other children in the world live and about the sufferings that occur. They learn to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a stable affluent society. Physical geography encompasses valuing nature, conservation and recognising threats to our world. Studying the rainforest inspires children to raise money for a conservation project, and charity work on a local and global scale should be encouraged. Understanding and possible application of the 10 One Planet principles should also be encouraged and central to both local and global human geography study.

This Is How You Integrate Mindfulness & Learning

mindful mind skills

‘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.

Learning Strategies* Mindful Principles
Managing Distractions, Noticing & Present Moment Right Mindfulness, Right Effort & Meditation
Responding (Not Reacting), Thinking Aloud, Thinking Time & Responsibility Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration
Meta-learning, Reflection, Revising & Planning Impermanence, Interdependence, Meditation, Wisdom
Making Links, Questioning & Trying Things Out. Right Effort, Patience, Meditation
Listening, Empathy & Collaboration Interdependence, Loving Kindness, Right Speech, Right Action,  The Middle Way, Patience

 *Based on Guy Claxton’s (Co-author of the Elephant’s Footprint) work on learnacy. [http://www.buildinglearningpower.co.uk/images/blpia_extract.pdf]

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 & potentially promotes wisdom. 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 a better schools. If a school is an advocate of children’s voices. They will recognise the importance of listening to their learners and their opinions about their school and their education and indeed the children are invited to input into their ‘community curriculum’.

What children have to say:

Managing Distractions

Ignoring chats when you’re supposed to is one aspect of managing distractions. It’s when I try to put a stop to anything that might cause me to stop learning. It’s an important skill to practice because it helps you learn better. (For example if someone is doing funny faces try and ignore them. Try focusing your mind on your own work).

Noticing

Noticing is an important skill because many amazing things happen in the day and it’s sad to miss things.

Perseverance

This skill is important to practice. It is when we keep trying even when things look difficult.

Present Moment

Focusing on what is happening now. It is an important skill because if you don’t focus on the here and now you can be confused or you can miss out on what is happening in the now.

Reflecting

Is a very important skill because it allows us to look at something we have done and gives us a second chance for example; My dad was once shouting down the phone and I shouted “Stop shouting.” I reflected on this in the afternoon and realised that it wasn’t a very good idea to shout myself.

Meta-Learning.

Meta-learning is knowing how you learn best and what you find is the easiest way for you to learn. For example some people are tactile learners, they need to you use their hands. Some are visual and some like to listen best. It is also about knowing who is best to work with on certain topics and who is maybe better to avoid due to distractions.

Revising

Revising is an important skill that we practice. Sometimes our teacher sends us back to look over our work because it could be wrong or need changing (but not always) it gives us a second chance to think again (revise it).

Planning

This skill is important because if you don’t plan, you don’t know what you are doing! And the thing that you want to do is more likely to fail!

Trying Things Out

Not saying no. This skill is important because it’s when I take a risk with something You’ve never done before. You might miss out on something you really like or are good at.

Questioning

Sometimes it is good to question the things we read or hear. This can help us get a better understanding or change our opinion on something.

Reasoning

Having a reason for doing or saying something. Explaining why my answer is right is reasoning in maths.

Making Links

This skill is important because it helps us make a web of knowledge and helps us use our knowledge in different subjects. For example today we were learning about shapes and space, we learnt that half a sphere is called a hemisphere. We soon made a link between this maths knowledge our geography knowledge. Because the globe is made up of two hemispheres.

Interdependence

Doing something with others. This is important because when we are older we have to work well with all different types of people. Understanding that we all share the space and are connected.

Listening

Listening and not talking. This skill is important because it helps me learn from other people’s ideas. It also helps me understand other people’s opinions & points of view.

Collaboration

This is when we work hard as a class to achieve something. This is an important skill because if we work well together we can achieve more.

Empathy

Trying to know how someone else is feeling. This skill is important because how I react to someone can make that person feel happier.

Responding not reacting

Mind before mouth. This skill is important because you might hurt someone else and regret it afterwards.

Mindfulness, The Teaching Of PE & Competition. Can it work?

how-healthy

Let us begin by establishing that PE should be renamed ‘physical & emotional health education‘. Teachers care deeply about the emotional health of their pupils but until the policy makers make it a priority schools can only do so much.

Physical & emotional health education would deal with the handling of human emotions and relationships and with the human body – its development and health, together with the skills of co-ordination and team-work acquired through a combination of sport, exercise and mindfulness practices.

It is vital that the significance of this configuration be properly understood. I believe that it makes pastoral as well as educational sense to group together physical and emotional health and indeed for it to be named a mandatory component of a school’s curriculum.

I’m convinced that through emotional health we promote conflict resolution, change from within, loving kindness, compassion, community building and the concept of interdependence.

Schools should continue to provide inter-class & inter-school tournaments which provide every child with the opportunity to compete. PE, like any other curriculum area is differentiated to cater for all abilities ensuring that all children gain a positive experience from their learning.

Complementing this physical learning will be the theory, knowledge and understanding of our body and what makes us healthy. A close link to ‘Citizenship and Ethics’ would help develop children’s emotional literacy… I’ll explain;

Soccer_team_BRAND_PHO_EN

Sport is one of the most mindful activities anyone can undertake. When a person is playing sport they are in the moment. Being competitive is part of our nature and can be seen as positive if viewed through the eyes of interconnectedness. Children want to work hard and play well for each other. Working hard shows how using right effort, loving-speech and right action can help us reach our full potential. Playing for a team and showing effort is what should bring us pleasure as much as winning.

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Losing provides us with valuable lessons in accepting the suffering which can come with this. How best to deal with those feelings is an important part of why we continue to take part in competitive sport with children. We should give children the skills on how to deal with this using mindfulness practices. 

Many sportspeople discuss the fact that their favourite part of playing is providing the platform for others to express themselves on the field. Defending well so other players have a chance to express themselves and create opportunities for their peers requires right effort, speech, action and mindfulness. The key thing we want children to take away from playing competitive sport at school is that of the community and teams working hard for each-other. We want to encourage loving-speech to be used when children see their peers, regardless of ability, putting in right-effort. In turn this will encourage children to see their peers as a place of refuge for when they are playing poorly, making mistakes or are disappointed by the result.