An Education in Mindfulness

Original post from Mindful Schools Web site written by Megan Cowan, posted October 19, 2010.

Three things are needed to be a good student 1) Show up to class 2) Do your assignments and 3) Be mindful. According to the research folks at Mindful Schools (MS) have done, being mindful can make a huge difference for kids in the classroom: They develop more empathy, pay better attention in class and get better grades. And they carry those skills with them after they leave school. 

So what’s this mindfulness stuff? According to MS’s Web site it’s teaching “students to pay attention to their experiences,” or, as I like to think of it, it’s meditation off the cushion–it’s practicing all the time. But the way MS works goes beyond working with one individual student and even goes beyond working in just one classroom, MS is a school-wide program. Most of the programs are taught in low-income schools (71%) and the sessions, which last 8 weeks are 15 minutes long, very doable for most students. All students in the school learn techniques that allow them to be more mindful, and teachers are instructed in how to teach it and bring it into the classroom as a part of their regular curriculum. To get a sense of how mindful teachers affect students, take a look at an excerpt from the MS blog site:

A teacher who has a mindfulness practice brings a certain presence with them into the
 classroom. They are indirectly teaching students what it’s like to use mindfulness, or to 
be mindful in various situations.

If they use their mindfulness in times of stress or difficulty, they are demonstrating
 healthy, skillful responses without even mentioning mindfulness. When they are able 
to be fully present with a student or class, the students learn what good listening and 
kindness is through observation. When a teacher can remain calm amidst chaos, students 
witness that as a possibility for themselves.

Teachers with mindful qualities teach mindfulness through their actions; they might be 
less reactive and more patient, they might have gentler or kinder speech, students might
 feel more comfortable and safer in their classroom. Mindful qualities can be inherent 
in a teacher who has never learned mindfulness, or they can be cultivated through a
mindfulness practice.

When these teachers decide to teach their students mindfulness directly through 
mindfulness techniques and lessons, you can be confident that the impact will be positive.

The question that is arising in the mindfulness in education movement is whether
teachers without training in mindfulness can effectively deliver mindfulness lessons to
students.

The biggest concern is probably that mindfulness could be misunderstood, misused or 
misrepresented. If a teacher uses mindfulness as a punishment or disciplinary tool, they 
have misused mindfulness. If a teacher tells students to use mindful breathing when they
 are upset but the teacher him/herself cannot access the same tool, students are getting
conflicting information. Mindfulness invites a certain quality of stillness, acceptance,
and patience. If students’ minds calm down during mindfulness, it would be deeply
unfortunate for a teacher to behave in a contradictory way.

Also, students will often have questions about mindfulness. Only an experienced 
practitioner will be able to answer all questions appropriately. This is particularly true as 
students get older.

On the other hand, many of the mindfulness instructions are quite simple and could
 potentially be incorporated for a couple minutes each day. The key is having teachers
 who are at least interested in mindfulness and who are confident that their students
 would benefit from the lessons. Inevitably, the more training classroom teachers have 
in mindfulness for themselves, the more they will be able to demonstrate its indirect 
application throughout the day. Also, the more training classroom teachers have in how 
to deliver mindfulness instructions to students, the more likely mindfulness will find its 
way into the school day directly.

The good news is that teachers will know right away if mindfulness is proving easy to
implement or whether they need more training.

Mindful Schools requires all teachers who use our curriculum to receive at least 12 hours
of training in mindfulness (through our Mindfulness Fundamentals class or equivalent
experience). We also provide a detailed Curriculum Training. Please see our training page or emailinfo@mindfulschools.org for more information.

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