‘Mindfulness’ as a concept and a practice has rapidly entered the zeitgeist, helping to define the spirit and ideas of our times, including in education. Not much more than a decade ago a Google search for mindfulness and education would show the Garrison Institute Initiative for Contemplative Teaching and Learning at the top of the search results with not much to follow. Now, the same search yields 16,400,000 results in 31 seconds.
Given the increasingly complex demands of teaching and learning and the now proven benefits of mindfulness practices this shift seems unsurprising.
One of the key drivers for mindfulness becoming a part of what is defining the spirit and ideas of our times, is the success of the now world renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. Supported by over thirty years of research evidence, MBSR has served general and specific populations, including teachers and parents; and has been adapted successfully for adolescents and young children.
In his book, ‘The Emotional Life of Your Brain’, Davidson points out that ‘MBSR can shift you toward the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience spectrum and the Positive end of the Outlook spectrum’.
Practicing mindfulness can bring perspective, relief and renewed commitment to teachers.
The nexus of teacher and student well-being, relationships and learning is at the heart of the mindfulness movement in education. Children’s social emotional development, well-being and learning, with teacher quality and adult-child interactions as a catalyst are at the heart of early childhood education policy and practice. Teacher stress compromises optimal outcomes and increasing numbers of teachers are on the brink of burnout, stress related rates of teacher attrition are unprecedented. The relevance of mindfulness practices for teaching and learning has never been more apparent.
My interest in all this began soon after I started practicing meditation and experienced some of these now proven benefits – feeling less stressed, more focused, flexible, creative and organized. I began experimenting with integrating some simple mindfulness practices into my classroom. The students, undergraduate early-childhood educators, mostly lapped it up. For me it felt risky, maverick. That was 2001. Since then, inspired by my on-going personal practice and the response of my students, I have researched and written about mindfulness, trained to teach MBSR and calm-abiding meditation, attended MindUp, Mindful Schools and CARE for Teachers trainings, twice been scholar-in-residence at the Garrison Institute and lead mindfulness courses and retreats in Australia and overseas.
Now there are teachers all around the globe who, having experienced the benefits of regular mindfulness practice, are finding ways to bring these benefits to their students. Publication of the MindUp curriculum and an array of books such as ‘Teach, Breathe Learn’, ‘The Way of Mindful Education’ and ‘Mindfulness for Teachers’ are supporting their efforts. In the Australian context, Yoga Tools for Schools and Yoga To Go Kids also deserve a mention.
Every day, everywhere I turn I am reminded that mindfulness is here and here to stay. Mindfulness serves the interests of individuals committed to living the fullness of their human potential and supporting others to do likewise. Practicing mindfulness activates and strengthens emotional intelligence, curiosity, concentration, compassion and cognitive flexibility. The value of mindfulness in education begins with the mindful teacher and extends to offering mindfulness practices to students as life skill in the context of establishing and maintaining supportive and safe learning environments.