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guest post by Keith Horan, MSc in Mindfulness-Based Approaches
I spent 13 years teaching Science and Geography in a Secondary school in Galway, in the West of Ireland. Alongside my school teaching ran a love of practicing and teaching Mindfulness. Over the years, I found ways of teaching Mindfulness to as many students as possible in the school.
Along the way, I took a career break from teaching and spent two years travelling to different schools in the region delivering Mindfulness programs. While I was doing this, I noticed that all the Mindfulness work I had done in my own school collapsed!
This experience led me think about how a Mindfulness program could have a long-term, sustainable impact on a school community. Trying to answer that question led to a research project as part of my MSc in Mindfulness-Based Approaches.
There are a number of excellent Mindfulness programs that have been developed for schools. Examples include the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), MindUp, Learning to BREATHE, Mindful Schools, and Stressed Teens. My research aimed to figure out the best way to implement these programs.
I interviewed ten teachers who were involved in delivering Mindfulness programs in Irish Secondary schools. Based on their responses, here are five tips for successfully implementing a Mindfulness program at your school.
1. Whole Staff Education
There’s a widespread perception that Mindfulness is primarily about relaxation. Many school staff don’t realise that Mindfulness could potentially lead to themselves and their students feeling quite vulnerable.
The question has to be asked: How comfortable is your school’s staff with their own vulnerability? It’s often the case that the exploration of personal experience, which is intrinsic to a Mindfulness course, may be unfamiliar to staff groups.
Taking the time to inform staff about how Mindfulness works can be very beneficial. This whole staff education needs to be a slow process, ideally led by a teacher within the school who has their peers’ trust.
Introducing Mindfulness training for staff not only allows teachers to understand the benefits for students, but can also lead towards a more open and understanding staff culture.
2. Management Support
Educating management on the potential benefits of Mindfulness programs is critical. Otherwise, they may perceive that the programs take away from valuable classroom time.
In addition, where management have an understanding of the benefits of Mindfulness, implementation is more likely to impact on the whole school, including both staff and students. It’s also more likely that full Mindfulness programs would be taught and that training for in-school facilitators would be supported.
The involvement and support of management communicates to both teachers and students that the school values and is committed to the Mindfulness program.
3. Locate within Curriculum
Mindfulness programs work best when they are located within the school curriculum, instead of being introduced as extra “one-off” topics. The teachers I interviewed recommended the Social and Emotional Learning subject area (SEL in the US, PSHE in most of the UK, SPHE in Ireland).
Repeated practice is needed for Mindfulness to have an impact on student wellbeing, so it’s important to make time for full Mindfulness programs to be delivered. The most effective way for this to occur is for the programs to be located within the school curriculum.
4. In School Facilitators
A surprising outcome from the study was the preference for in-school facilitators instead of external facilitators—especially considering that at the time I was an external Mindfulness facilitator!
The main reason is that the students can develop a greater continuity in their Mindfulness practice. Continuing to see the facilitating teacher in the school reminds the students about their practice and also gives them the opportunity to ask further questions, share concerns, etc.
An additional argument in favour of in-school facilitators is that specific teaching skills are needed for the classroom. This is particularly important when delivering a Mindfulness program, where challenging behaviour and non-participation from students needs to be handled skilfully.
External facilitators who didn’t have a school teaching background found that they struggled with classroom management. Delivering a Mindfulness program in a school setting is quite different from teaching adults who’ve chosen to participate in a Mindfulness workshop.
5. Personal Practice and Training
Whether the person delivering the program is an in-school or external facilitator, their level of personal practice and training is critical.
As I mentioned earlier, Mindfulness practice is not just about relaxing. In looking at our experience, we can encounter our own anxiety, fear and vulnerability. To teach Mindfulness, facilitators have to have experienced and paid attention to their own difficulties. Only then can they authentically help students to explore their own experience.
Worryingly, a number of teachers who do not have a personal Mindfulness practice are being asked by their school Principals to deliver a Mindfulness program.
In addition to personal practice, teachers need specific training in how to deliver the particular Mindfulness program being implemented at their school. Good training gives teachers the confidence to guide Mindfulness practices and to successfully create a safe environment where Mindful reflection can take place.
Mindfulness practice can have a wonderful influence on students and school staff alike. While it takes time and careful planning to successfully implement a Mindfulness program, the positive long-term impact makes the effort worthwhile.
I hope these tips help you create an effective and sustainable Mindfulness program at your school.
About the Author
Keith Horan is a qualified meditation teacher and former school teacher with an MSc in Mindfulness-Based Approaches from the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University, Wales. He offers retreat days and 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses in Kinvara, County Galway, Ireland, and online guided meditations at www.keithhoran.com
Effective Mindfulness-Based Approaches, for Students and Teachers (interview with Keith Horan)
Mindfulness in Schools: Research-Based Support for Teacher Training
Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga to Teens
Video Playlist: The Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids