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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Common Misconceptions Of Mindfulness With Children – Makes Them Calmer, Makes Them Happier.

The consistent misconception around mindfulness I hear from parents, teachers & children is that mindfulness practices make children calmer and happier.

This isn’t strictly true. Children who practice mindfulness are actually just as calm or ‘uncalm’ as they have ever been & they are often ‘running on’ the same amount of happiness or unhappiness as they have been before mindfulness was introduced into their lives.

What mindfulness practice does provide for children is support for difficult situations. Every child whether they practice mindfulness or not should and will regularly find the world tough. They will often not get what they want and get the things they don’t want. This causes them distress. Whether it is with friendships, in their learning outcomes or simply wanting something they can’t have.

If you offer no support or tools to children who find themselves in uncomfortable & upsetting positions they may abandon what they are doing or negative emotions will overwhelm them regularly and they can’t function.

But if it is you as the teacher or parent run over and try to rescue the child from this ill-ease too quickly and too comfortingly, the message you send is that it is was right to get upset because failure or frustration are terrible things that we should avoid as much as possible! This isn’t the reality we live in. Life is full of sufferings; like being attached to concepts of ourself or a desire to have things a certain way.

Its in these incidents mindfulness practices should be encouraged and will help children. Encourage children to persist but suggest a period of mindful breathing or a friendly but ultimately matter-of-fact kind of response to their upset. This gives a more mindful, positive and ultimately realistic message about how to deal with issues in a calmer and happier way.

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.

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

.

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!

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.

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.