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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.