For those new to mindfulness

Those new to mindfulness, including head teachers and policy makers, might like to look into the now fairly convincing evidence from practice and research studies and consider its potential to impact not only on the mental health and well-being of their students and staff, but also on their core business of improving the quality of students’ learning and staff teaching. When a well-designed program is well taught, the consensus is clear that schools find mindfulness attractive, acceptable, easy to integrate into a range of contexts, cost-effective, and a relatively quick way to help students and staff face the many challenges and choices the modern world throws at them.

However, mindfulness, although good value for the time and money invested in it, has to be of sufficient quality, and “any old” mindfulness will not do—it is not a rock-bottom, cheap and easy option to be delivered by anyone with the help of a script or CD that then brings overnight miracles. The evidence for mindfulness comes from high-quality programs, taught by educated trainers with a regular personal practice, and there is no evidence that more random or dilute interventions are effective. Programs need to be selected with care, good quality trainers employed, time allowed for it to take effect, and there should be realistic expectations of modest gains.

Those in schools who would teach mindfulness need to learn it themselves, so they understand its somewhat paradoxical and non-traditional processes from within and model the core attitudes of open-minded non-judgmentalism in an authentic and convincing way (Albrecht et al. 2012; Crane et al. 2010). The analogy is often made with swimming: You would not expect to learn to swim from someone who had never encountered the physicality of water or the bodily and emotional experience of swimming in it. Heads and policy makers might at least have a go at studying mindfulness themselves, to explore its personal value and appreciate the need for courses to be taught by those with sufficient training and commitment to understand it from within.

Those who take to mindfulness, and this particular route is not for everyone, will almost certainly find it helps them to experience, model, and embody the particular qualities that mindfulness develops, such as flexibility, attention, open-minded curiosity, kindliness, empathy, compassion, acceptance, and patience, in their everyday interactions with colleagues and children. These are not “odd,” left-field qualities, they are the skills and attitudes to which most educators aspire but that few of us have naturally, and underlie all effective engagement with young people.

Through mindfulness, and the stilling and calming practices it engenders, schools are starting to help staff and students look inwards as well as outwards, and manage their minds in a quiet but effective manner that offers new hope to schools and young people. It is well worth the consideration of anyone involved in the education of the citizens of tomorrow.

We end with two specific but fairly typical quotations from those who have experienced a mindfulness course:

I tend to use Mindfulness to create pauses in my day. The sessions I hold for students are part of my own formal practice, but I do a lot of mindful eating, showering, as well as more ‘heavy meditation—20-30 mins sitting session—but not as often as I should. Mindfulness practice definitely makes me less reactive and more responsive and also proactive (instead of moaning). It also has a calming effect around me—students and colleagues.

A-Level Mathematics teacher (Weare 2015)

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to think of some witty comment that would encourage other students to practice it, but all I can say is that it gives me the chance to reach my full potential in all situations in life. With mindfulness I have an option out of the crippling fear, shakes and anxiety that set me back and the chance to believe that I could achieve my potential . . . The time I’ve invested in mindfulness has proven to be one of the best choices that I’ve made.

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