Why I love a bit of mindfulness
In my teaching career, one of my work friends affectionately referred to be as being a bit ‘Hippy Jo Jo’. I’ll take that, I always have kept an open mind when it comes to introducing an approach that may be seen as alternative. It was the same friend who put me on to mindfulness some years back, ‘See what you can find out, Kel, it might be something we could do.’ She was right. It wasn’t as trendy then, not so widely used and certainly not a regular feature in the classroom. We both attended training and it soon became clear that the act of focusing suited me very well. That said, for a number of weeks, I existed without a head. Body scan meditation generally started at the feet in our sessions and I was rarely awake past my stomach so it was a novel experience when we started at the head rendering me legless a few other times! Practise at home capitalised on this and as someone who has a tendency to over think and fret, especially at bedtime, body scans became a regular feature of my evening routine, setting me up for a great night’s sleep. Lovely! The more familiar I became with the techniques, the easier I found it to turn any opportunity into a meditation or a moment to be fully present. Once this started being such a regular feature of my every day, I was keen to put my mind to how I would use the techniques in a classroom.
Looking into what was available at the time, I discovered what sounded to be some excellent programmes for schools but they typically came at quite a cost. Fair enough as the packages were no doubt robust and well considered but I felt that there was simplicity to the principles that made it really very accessible without the need for considerable expense. If any of you are unfamiliar with the concept of mindfulness, I’d say that its best described as paying attention; something that we ask children to do every day yet rarely do we take the time to teach them how to actually do it. (As an aside, I’m of the opinion that children are naturally mindful, it’s just that their attention isn’t necessarily where we would want it to be focused in a classroom but that’s a whole different blog). With mindfulness, you learn to give your attention fully to the task in hand, be that watching glitter swirl around a bottle of water, listening for every sound you can possibly hear, or pretty much anything to do with the experience of living. It teaches kindness and acceptance and self awareness. It really is quite fabulous. There are clear benefits for good mental health, not least because when you are present you are not caught up in what has been or what might be, you can just be, in the moment.
I met with a teacher at a local special school who routinely used mindfulness techniques with her very young children to great effect. She really helped me to think through a possible route to explore with children and so I set about writing an easy to use, pick up and have a go type resource for school teachers. I’ve written another since, reshaping and developing the ideas of the first based on the work I had done with varying classes of children. One of my more recent wellbeing projects in a school has set me on another one with a more physical exploration of focusing techniques.
The thing that really struck me about the use of the techniques though, was the children that it really had an impact with. The ones on paper that you’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘Oh, X will never go for that. Y will never listen for long enough. Z can’t sit still….’ blah blah… insert your own doubts. These children were typically the ones that became hugely engaged with it, possibly because they really needed the calm it brought. Apart from the fact that this was just a picture to witness, the thing that really gave me a buzz was the astonished look on the adults’ faces when they observed what these tricky types actually did in response to the activities over the sessions. In one class, there were five adults poised and ready to swoop down and remove their respective charges if things seemed to be going awry. Not only did they gaze in wonder at how beautifully the class responded, they later commented on how the use of the techniques at high tension times over the following weeks helped to create calm among the pupils but also soothed the mounting stress levels of the teacher. I’d say that’s an intervention worth using if it creates a win for both pupils and teachers. Bonus!