Teachers teach many things that are therapeutic. They are managing children's behavior all day long, but that doesn't make them therapists, that makes them good teachers. Some of the same ideas we teach in therapy are also applicable to all people. Mark Greenburg, When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom, The Atlantic
Back to school for kids and teachers – and some of us moms are happy to get back to a routine again. It's a busy time for children and teens with school, homework, recreational and competitive programs, as they become scheduled and engaged during the school year.
It's an exciting time for kids, with fall and winter just around the corner. For my kids, it means getting ready for hot chocolate and cozy nights, Halloween and Christmas. It's also a time to turn to serious studies and make plans for the coming months.
For teachers, the start of the school year is stressful, challenging, and time-consuming. So many new faces, personalities, and learning styles! Individual and group education plans come together in these first few weeks, and the time spent before, during, and after class can be overwhelming.
How can all this excitement and stress be turned into calm learning, daily intention, focused attention, and a sense of accomplishment?
Mindfulness-based stress reduction to the rescue
It has been reported that a quarter of American adolescents suffer from attention-deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) or anxiety, according to a 2010 Johns Hopkins study. This is probably a fair estimate for Canadian teens as well.
Studies have also revealed that mindfulness training in the classroom can have a significant effect on the mental health of the growing child's brain, leading to measurable reductions in anxiety and distractibility. More specifically, mindfulness training in schools improves the following four important learning skills:
- Attention: Numerous studies show improved attention and ability to stay on task, including better performance on objective tasks that measure attention.
- Emotional regulation: Mindfulness is associated with self-control and confidence across a number of studies. Mindfulness creates changes in the brain that correspond to less reactivity and better ability to engage in tasks even when emotions are activated.
- Compassion: Studies also report that teachers and students randomly assigned to mindfulness training are more likely to help someone in need, and they tend to have greater self-compassion.
- Calm: Studies find that regular mindfulness practice reduces feelings of stress and lessens feelings of anxiety and distress in people faced with a stressful social situation.
In schools, kids face the initial stress of meeting new classmates and facing unfamiliar tasks, and the ongoing pressures of meeting homework deadlines and worrying about tests and grades. But when they are taught mindfulness skills to use every day, they report benefits ranging from better sleep and diminished stress to increased focus on schoolwork.
In mindful classrooms, teachers address a different type of intelligence from rote memory and test-taking skills. Mindfulness training lays the foundation for building good character, enhancing resilience and self-control, and creating long-term life fulfillment in our students.
As the studies have shown, mindfulness training also results in lower stress and higher job satisfaction for teachers. It's a win-win approach that is gaining energy, momentum, and attention around the world:
- In the UK, Oxford researchers announced in 2016, plans to launch a large-scale, seven-year, $10 million study on mindfulness in education in 2017.
- In the US, there are several large grassroots projects to teach mindfulness classroom skills to teachers and students.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction in Vancouver
I'll be running a Mindfulness for Youth program this fall 2016 (October 7 to December 12) at the West Vancouver Community Centre. Find details here. Mindfulness for Youth is based on the 8-week MBSR program but is specifically designed for youth aged between 12 and 15.
If you would like to get Mindfulness into your child’s school, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org