Mindfulness in local schools
Jan Grigg MSc has been teaching Biology in the Moray and Highland area for over 20 years with two years a Headteacher of a small Secondary School. As a Biology teacher in Moray, she found that introducing Mindfulness at the start of an ordinary classroom lesson can help pupils to settle down and have a more productive lesson. Often pupils are quite chatty at the start of a new lesson, which is understandable as they move around the school, hearing new stories and seeing who is around. In order to have a productive efficient lesson teachers can use a variety of strategies; Jan has found this works with her pupils and that they usually appreciate the 5 minutes peace and quiet before a new subject is taught. As adults we often forget how tiring the school day can be for many pupils as we have high expectations of them to 'pay attention' and yet many have not really been taught attention skills.
Since 2010 Jan has successfully taught over 3500 secondary school pupils how to do short meditation practices; and they ask for it when they come to class. She was initially surprised to see how keen they were and started to integrate what she noticed into her research into Mindfulness. From 2010-2013 she studied for an MSc in Mindfulness Studies with University of Aberdeen and found a very positive response form her pupils with 94% of science and Biology pupils enjoying the experience and getting benefits such as 'feeling calmer', being able to pay attention better' after the practice. She wrote a 6 week program and introduced it to two Secondary schools, following the progress of the pupils and recording their experiences in questionnaires and in interviews.
The pupils affectionately call the meditations 'Chill-out' and although this gives the idea its just about relaxing, it is often much more profound than that. Pupils get the opportunity to develop their emotional literacy, noticing their thoughts, feelings and how their body is feeling in that moment, focus on their breath as a way of bringing themselves into the present moment. They then bring awareness to their senses, sights, sounds etc. This high level of self-awareness leads to greater meta-cognition and ability to self-regulate. In turn Jan found the group cohesion was much stronger, greater tolerance of difference, increased awareness of the present moment, and increased ability to pay attentions and learn new ideas.
The main benefit of course is the increased ability to learn, and who pupils feel safe in the classroom, that when the teacher is able to be a strong leader but also calm, relaxed and compassionate they themselves are able to relax and are able to access their higher order thinking skills. She noticed that classes were able to increase their test results as they progressed developing calmness and self-confidence.
All of these finding point to the potential of Mindfulness being introduced to schools to benefit many pupils. Pupils with autism and Asperger's syndrome often benefitted more than expected by the chill out sessions and some reported quite amazing levels of awareness and ability to be aware socially in class.
Not for everyone
Jan emphasises her important findings that not all pupils enjoy mindfulness, in fact she estimates that approximately 6% will not want to take part for various reasons. It is critical then that the teacher be very well trained in Mindfulness for themselves as a practitioner, and have at least one years' experience with the Mindfulness practices themselves. This helps to ensure that they understand some of the potential difficulties that may arise as a result of being quiet and noticing what is going on for you and how to deal with them. Sometimes the pupils life may have serious emotional difficulties arising, and it is critical that pupils are not forced to take part. Jan has found that these pupils are often happy to sit and doodle in the back of their jotters, and just enjoy the time and space to themselves while the peer pupils actively take part.