Bringing mindfulness to life at school

‘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.MindUp circle

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.Yoga2GoKids3

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.

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Sharn Rocco

Having experienced first hand the benefits of practicing mindfulness – feeling less stressed, more focused, open, flexible and organized, Dr Sharn Rocco began integrating mindfulness practices into her pedagogy and researching and teaching mindfulness in education, healthcare and community settings. In 2012, while scholar-in-residence for the Initiative on Contemplative Teaching and Learning at the Garrison Institute New York, Sharn resigned her tenure at James Cook University, to dedicate herself to the work of bringing mindfulness to life. Sharn has designed a unique Professional Development opportunity for teachers: Bringing Mindfulness to Life@School. The value of mindfulness in education begins with the mindful teacher and extends to offering mindfulness practices to students as a life skill. Practicing mindfulness helps teachers to establish and maintain supportive and safe learning environments. This is what underpins the design and delivery of the unique Professional Development course, ‘Bringing Mindfulness to Life@School’.

3 thoughts on “Bringing mindfulness to life at school”

    Sean says:

    Nice article!

    I think that mindful “parenting” is almost as important as mindful education or mindful teaching. Without the supportive atmosphere at home most of the positive effects in school can be destroyed.

    Sharn Rocco says:

    Shaun,
    I agree. Mindful parenting can make a positive impact on the child’s capacity to engage effectively with others and learning, in school and other settings. In fact I’ve recently read a wonderful book on just that subject: ‘Mindful Discipline’ by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White.
    That said, teachers have little control over what happens at home. Likewise children. We do however have a great deal of control over what happens within our classrooms and within ourselves. Practicing mindfulness can help us to harness and gain ever deeper insights into this capacity.
    Children often spend more than half their waking hours in our care. That is plenty of time to make a difference in their lives and for some, to create a safe haven from the troubled circumstances elsewhere.
    As teachers and carers we can do a great deal to help children to develop the feelings of competence, confidence and belonging that will hold them in good stead throughout their lives.

    […] couple of treasures from Early Childhood Australia now – this one about bringing the benefits of mindfulness to the classroom, and this stunner is from the most excellent Anne Stonehouse about the challenges of documenting […]

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