I recently attended the Mindfulness in Education Conference 2016 at the Institute of Education in central London, organised by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), which was attended by over 700 delegates, from all over the UK and abroad. It was a stimulating day of presentations and break-out sessions and a chance to find out how mindfulness is beginning to make a difference to the well-being of staff and pupils in schools. Although not a school teacher myself, I have teenage girls going through exam years at GCSE and A level, and know from our own experience as a family, the pressures and stresses that young people go through. I have recently trained in delivering the .b Foundations course for school staff through the Mindfulness in Schools Project.
The day was introduced by Professor Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor at the Universities of Southampton and Exeter, and a freelance consultant. She described mindfulness as the “WD40 of education – it unlocks doors”, and “helping people to live the lives they want.” Professor Mark Williams, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), gave a wonderfully clear talk about the origins and applications of mindfulness, tracing mindfulness to its roots in the long river of practical philosophy from Asia, through to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work in the Stress Reduction Clinic which he founded in 1979 at the University of Massachussets Medical School, and to the emergence of mindfulness today in diverse contexts right across the spectrum of society, offering a life-changing “way of cultivating a sense of changed narrative from self-criticism to self-care that is foundational for being fully human.”
Richard Burnett, Co-founder and Director of the Mindfulness in Schools Project, talked about how the possibility of introducing mindfulness in schools has now shifted from a field of possibility to a dawning growth of massive potential through the introduction of mindfulness courses into school curriculums , through the development of Paws.b and .b mindfulness courses for junior and secondary schools, and the recent .b Foundations training for school staff. He described how these courses offered the evolving possibility of “putting well-being at the heart of school” and “nurturing staff to nurture children”. He cautioned that mindfulness should not be adopted as a “panacea” and that it would be “token-istic” if a school were not embedded in mindfulness, through the thorough training of staff and the gradual development of a mindful culture within a school, a process that needed time to evolve and to be effective, and to grow in to place through the principles of established practice.
Anthony Selden, the biographer and historian, then chaired a lively panel discussion with children and teaching staff of schools where mindfulness has been successfully introduced, with an inspiring and realistic discussion of the challenges of introducing mindfulness to schools and the deep benefits it brings, not only to the core well-being of staff and children, but also to the children in terms of their capacity to handle their emotions, stresses and difficultes through the effective skills that mindfulness practice gives them for approaching life in general, as well as encouraging a creative response to learning with greater focus, resilience and increased performance ability, confidence, and emotional self-regulation A teacher who had experienced the 8 week course for staff said: “It was really holistic. It helped me with everything I had to deal with”.
The panel discusson was then followed by Tim Loughton MP who had worked on the All Party Paliamentary Group “Mindful Nation Report”, and cautioned that the increasing mental health issues of young people were “at risk of being seen as normal rather than as a crisis”. He highlighted mindfulness as “non-stigmatising, practical and popular” and that it wasn’t just a potential add-on in education, but something that needed to be “mainstream at the heart of education” with its researched benefits in supporting” health, creativity and productivity” and that this was “firmly on the radar of government now” as an important innovation in education policy.
A comment that summed up the potential for mindfulness supporting future generations came from a young girl, possibly aged 8 or 9, who sat calmly and quietly on her chair on stage in front of the 700 delegates and listening attentively throughout the long banter and discussion between panel members. When finally asked how mindfulness helped her in her school day, she simply replied “it just helps me to feel calm”.
For further information, go to www. mindfulnessinschools.org.