How Mindfulness Is So Good At Connecting Well-Being To Academic Achievement In Class.

There is a rhythm to all complex behaviour. When energy is expended it must be restored (stay with me here). The heart beats and rests, we breathe in and out, we work and rest (please stay with me). Learning is no exception – it is very fatiguing.

It requires tension and the right degree of anxiety to go out and meet the challenge, to adapt, and to accommodate. No muscle in the body can function for more than a few seconds without rest. The secret of any continuous endeavour, any task requiring effort and perseverance, like learning is the secret of rhythmic restoration of strength. It is here that mindfulness comes into play.

Learning in a mindful pedagogy classroom follows a rhythm of challenge and relaxation, tension and reward. See below.

The tension line. Proposal, Confirmation, Relaxation, Challenge, Error, Self-correction, Confirmation.

Stress line

On the other hand, in a mindlessness, competitive, non-compassionate classroom the tension line is quite different. It waits on outside relief and if this comes not as help but as rebuff, as is too often the case when you are an inept learner, it may look like this:

mindless line

It is our way as educators to value the cognitive and devalue the emotional. The emotional accompaniments – or should we say, the emotional heart – of any human activity refuses to be ignored. No matter how meticulous we are about getting things intellectually right, unless things are emotionally right, human activity is at a tragic disadvantage.

This is why the first aim of a mindfulness pedagogy is so important.

  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.

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).

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.

To read more about the three aims of a mindful pedagogy click here.

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How Can We Document Children’s Progress In Mindfulness Practice?

With interest in ‘Mindfulness In Education’ hitting an all time high, the question will soon come as to how it impacts children over the longer term & what teachers are doing to document this profound change in the children as evidence.

Assessment of children’s development in traditional subjects is often continuous and usually takes place through dialogue with individual children, the class and through the acts of learning. Mindfulness should be no different, if it is to achieve high status within a school’s curriculum.

Documenting & sharing children’s application of mindfulness principles, skills as well as concrete examples of deepening & applied understanding should be regular. For example through parents’ evenings, pupil conferences & school reports. This would allow schools to celebrate application and progress as well as show where development of skills could be undertaken. The following table shows the framework in which this could be done:

Click on Image for a Downloadable PDF Version

Click on Image for a Downloadable PDF Version

How these stages show development

1 -2 Self Regulation: Development in these stages is looking to see if a child is understanding themselves more fully. Seeking to have more empowerment over their actions and feelings. Self regulation is the primary goal of this phase.

2-3 Self Examination: Development in this stage is looking to see if a child is becoming more self-aware. They are more able to examine themselves to under how their relationships with others are being effected by their thoughts, speech and actions.

3-5 Others: Development in this stage is looking to see if a child can begin to look beyond themselves and better understand the community they are sharing with others and their feelings and intentions. This should bring about a better sense of belonging and interdependence.

Selflessness: Development in this stage is looking at helping others and looking beyond just the local community. Understanding that happiness and sorrow are often shared sensations.

How you can encourage development

Intentions: Explaining to children that there are two types of happiness: hedonism & eudamionia. Hedoism is about aesthetic pleasure centered around making sure we are satisfied. Eudaimonia is about feel happiness through feeling connected enough with other people and providing help and comfort for others.

Attention: If a concept above is in deficit within a school, class, group or individual give it more attention. This is particularly valuable in the early stages. Attention on the present moment and breath can provide focus, calm and most importantly time/distance between thought and action for children. This can help them make better decisions for themselves and for how they treat others.

OpennessAn openness to accept and be compassionate towards the fact that they might not get what they want and will often get the things they don’t want. The openness to the fact the other people have thoughts, feelings, intentions and be interested in them. Finally an openness to the idea that what they think and feel now is subject to near constant tension and change – for better or worse.

[Based on Ronte & Ronte, Everybody Present: Mindfulness In Education]

Not a mark scheme

There is absolutely no suggestion that this framework would be used to assess or ‘mark scheme’ a child’s kindness in a linear way. Morality and ethics are of course in a constant state of tension and change which often depend on circumstance and well being. It would be inappropriate to ‘assess’ and therefore judge a child on single moments in time.This framework should be regularly used to review the effectiveness of the school’s purpose & aims for mindfulness in their school. Note that this is not ‘levelled’ or ‘scored’ but instead is a way to capture where the children are in their application of skills over the course of their schooling or as it is put in the framework ‘their journey so far’.

I do believe that acts of kindness can be observed and therefore should get the recognition they deserve. I don’t asserted that kindness can be taught. However we can observe a deepening understanding and application of kindness, and in this sense progression can be seen.

What this framework does allow is for teachers and schools with this particular ethos to document, note, acknowledge and celebrate children’s demonstration of compassion and kindness over the course of their schooling using positive anecdotal evidence.

This allows children to see that you hold these concepts in the highest of regards and are determined to celebrate this, not only with the children themselves, but with their peers, their loved ones and the school community as a whole. Ultimately we can disregard the tag of ‘mindfulness’ if it makes people feel more comfortable. Because these ‘mindful values’ are universal, fundamental, cross-cultural and are not time-bound. Compassion. Kindness. Collective responsibility. All these concepts have been a key strand of the human story and what it means to be a member of a community since the dawn of civilisation.

I would also be disappointed if a school that was introducing mindfulness into its curriculum was unable to document children benefiting individually or (even more importantly) collectively over the course of their time in school.

It is absolutely right to expect children to progress from all the basic levels over the course of their schooling and I list them below. How, for example, could any school accept that children might not develop in these ways? What a miserable experience that would be.

  • Find it hard to be positive about themselves or others.
  • Finds it difficult to engage in meditation activities.
  • Struggles to share and accept responsibility. Doesn’t always make others feel safe in their company. Finds strong emotions overwhelming and overpowering.
  • Only the self is really recognised.
  • Finds it tough to be caring towards living things, people and property. Harms people through speech and action. Finds it really tricky to share. Often feels the need to be untruthful and harsh in their speech.

It’s important to note that in our school and in an increasing number of schools the teaching of mindfulness is in no way a priority over academic goals, and to suggest so is foolish and ill informed. On the contrary, children’s learning is profoundly impaired if they are unhappy and find themselves in a dysfunctional and hostile learning environment.

So go forth! Observe, encourage, celebrate & develop.