Some current developments

We will now explore two key areas in which mindfulness in schools is currently developing, namely linking with social and emotional learning and with staff development.

The “missing key” for SEL

Many in education are suggesting that schools need to do more to educate the heart and character, as well as the intellect. The last few decades have seen schools increasingly focusing on the mental, social, and emotional health and well-being of their students, as well as their academic learning. There is a cluster of social and emotional interventions going under a plethora of names, such as “resilience,” “life skills,” “character education,” mental health, well-being, and, more recently, “flourishing,” which attempt to develop this “non-cognitive” side of education. SEL has been defined as “the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL 2014) and is becoming globally widespread.

The evidence base for the broad thrust of SEL programs’ work is sound and the best of the interventions, when well implemented, have been shown to be effective in promoting positive well-being, reducing emotional, behavior, and social problems, teaching social and emotional skills, and enhancing academic learning (Zins et al. 2004). A landmark meta-analysis by Durlak et al. (2011) calculated that the effect sizes from the 207 SEL interventions they reviewed averaged to an 11% improvement in achievement tests overall. There was also a 25% improvement in social and emotional skills and a 10% decrease in classroom misbehavior, anxiety, and depression. The effects tended to be maintained for at least six months after the intervention.

Mindfulness appears to be valuable to add to SEL since it shares many of the goals of SEL, for example self-awareness, emotional regulation, and empathy. As

Shucksmith et al. (2007) concluded in their review of the field, if we look beneath the “branding," effective SEL-type interventions offer a very similar mix of CBT and social skills training for children in self-regulation, and for parents and teachers in appropriate relationship building, classroom management, and better methods of discipline. Mindfulness can be termed the “missing piece” that has the potential to work alongside these worthy but generally cognitive, verbal, and teacher-driven approaches and make them more effective. It can help otherwise rather cerebral approaches take on the new depth that comes from the grounded work of quiet exploration of mind and body; the objectivity that comes with relaxed and acceptant awareness of passing thoughts, feelings, and sensations; and the empowerment that comes from developing the inner self-management techniques required to take charge of one’s own growth and development (Lantieri and Nambiar 2012). In return, basing mindfulness within SEL is helpful for the development of mindfulness, ensuring the skills and attitudes that mindfulness meditation is attempting to cultivate are supported by a wider curriculum, which explores cognitive and real-world implications in more “normal” classroom and school activities and methodologies.

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