Put yourself in a teacher’s shoes for a minute. Hear the silence in the classroom after the students have gone home. See the colourful wall displays in your mind’s eye. Catch a whiff of ripe banana from someone’s forgotten lunch bag. Tomorrow will hold challenges, from learning objectives to trying behaviour. Could teaching mindfulness in schools help you meet them?
The UK government thinks so. In 2019, 370 UK schools joined a worldwide mindfulness programme. It’s testing how best to prepare young people for a changing world. The trial is due to run until 2021, but here’s what we’ve found out in the meantime:
State of the nation’s children
The headlines are worrying. There are more unhappy children; mental health disorders are increasing. The government is investing £10 million in tackling bad behaviour. And low-level disruptive behaviour can cost pupils up to 38 days of learning per year. The list goes on.
All due to a complex mix of factors, but adding up to a lot of pressure on the youngest members of society. Would teaching mindfulness in the classroom give them new tools to cope? Or only create teachers another thing to do?
The benefits of mindfulness have been proven through research. Mostly for adults, but studies focusing on children are catching up. And the results so far are promising, showing:
- Increased attention span
- Reduction in stress and anxiety
- Better regulation of emotions
- Improved sleep
- Greater compassion, including towards yourself
Research also shows that this translates into better attendance and grades – both high on school inspectors’ lists. But mindfulness in schools isn’t a cure-all. It can only mitigate stress in children’s lives. Our kids have less freedom to explore than ever, but they need an array of healthy habits. Good runarounds outside included.
The teacher’s perspective
From breakfast clubs to sanitary products, schools are doing more to support vulnerable children. This means the pastoral role of teachers is getting bigger. At what point does the workload become unachievable?
In fact, teachers themselves benefit from mindfulness programmes too. One in three UK teachers leaves the profession within five years of qualifying, often citing stress. Without addressing underlying pressures, mindfulness becomes just a sticking plaster. But it can be a tool in schools’ efforts to look after their staff.
Setting up a mindfulness programme doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. For most schools, the biggest investment is sending a teacher for training. And while activities should be age-appropriate, it’s not all about the lotus position. Many exercises can be integrated in an assembly or used to focus minds after lunch. Mindful movement, eating or colouring can all be effective with different age groups. For more ideas, why not check out our blog?
Head, shoulders, amygdala, hippocampus…
Our children will live in a world that doesn’t exist yet. Teaching old certainties may not be enough to prepare them. Instead, they need the mental ‘tools’ to navigate uncertainty with confidence. Teaching mindfulness in schools can give them just that.
So, what do you think? Should mindfulness be taught in schools? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.