Mindfulness brings calmness to classrooms and equips pupils with skills that will improve the quality of their lives.
Karen Russell-Graham investigates
The concept of mindfulness is difficult to define, but essentially involves learning to direct your attention to your experience as it is happening, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Instead of worrying about what has happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, it trains you to respond skilfully to what is happening now – good or bad.
Starting with the breath
Jill Cinan, vice principal of Melland High School, a special school in Manchester, has taught .b to a group that included students with severe learning difficulties, ASD and ADHD, as well as children on pupil premium funding and others who were living in care or experiencing problems at home.
At first, they had trouble regulating their breathing, so she turned to emWave Pro from HeartMath, a biofeedback program that teaches breathing and self-regulation techniques. Using a finger sensor, the software tracks how your thoughts and emotions affect your heartbeat and identifies when your heart, mind and body are in coherence.
The students could measure their coherence levels, displayed on screen in a coloured chart, and then watch how these improved when they focused on their breathing. Playing the built-in games further developed awareness. ‘I am 80 per cent stressed,’ they might say, looking at a reading. Then they would play a game, practise their breathing and begin to regulate – which meant they could now access self-regulation techniques. Using a finger sensor, the software tracks how your thoughts and emotions affect your heartbeat and identifies when your heart, mind and body are in coherence.
Creating a safe space to practise
Ms Cinan differentiated the course to make it relevant to the group’s particular issues and created a culture of ‘what goes on in the room stays in the room’ to give them the confidence to express their opinions and open up about personal matters.
Sometimes she modelled emotions, worries and specific feelings they found difficult to deal with, or acted out scenes with a colleague they trusted. ‘Now when someone is struggling, I can say: “Why not stop and breathe, ground yourself in the moment?”she says.
When educational psychologists evaluated the intervention using the short version of the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory, they noted a significant increase in the mean mindfulness score of the group. These findings were corroborated in interviews conducted by an impartial member of staff. Teachers also noticed an improvement in the speaking and listening component of English lessons.
Parental feedback was equally positive. At the annual review of a boy with inappropriate behaviours, one family member stated:
‘Mindfulness is so very important to have in his personal health care kit; perhaps the best thing he has ever done so far.’
‘Since he did the course, there have been no further instances of these behaviours,’ notes Ms Cinan.
The children themselves recorded their appreciation in a video.
‘I’ve been having some troubles at home and it’s helped me to get through it and to sleep much better,’ observed one.
‘It’s helped me to learn to calm down my temper… I used to shout; now I’ve learned I can communicate properly… and can talk in a group,’ remarked another.