Mindfulness for pupils and staff
Last year, Michael (MAR) lead a mindfulness course for staff following the program currently being delivered to Year 11 (materials available via Google Classroom). The course is designed to introduce pupils to the practice of mindfulness, which helps them develop skills of resilience, and hopes to promote wellbeing.
Michael felt strongly that colleagues should also be able to access and benefit from these core principles, so he ran a number of courses for staff after school and during lunchtimes.
What is mindfulness?
The NHS website introduces mindfulness as “paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you” because it “can improve your mental wellbeing” so that you can “enjoy life more and understand [yourself] better.”
It is loosely based around meditation, but it also helps people to accept situations and move on, rather than dwelling on them. The Oxford Mindfulness Centre states that meditation is linked to reduced blood pressure and risk from cardiovascular disease, and says that people who practice mindfulness are less likely to suffer from depression and exhaustion
Well-being across the school
This mindfulness course for staff was initiated by Michael, but the school is trying to promote (and increase) staff wellbeing in general. We know intuitively that wellbeing is important, and thankfully its importance has been increasingly highlighted in recent years. The importance of staff wellbeing to school performance, for example, is backed up by research.
Our school has a wellbeing committee, which has supported initiatives such as the “secret buddy” scheme (initiated by YGO) and the formation of some guidelines on emailing “out-of-hours”.
What went well
The course was well-received and well-attended by staff from across the school. When I asked a colleague about the course, she said:
“I used what I’d learned last night, actually. I woke at 4am and my mind was whirring with all the things I have to do. I remembered about breathing in for 7 and out for 11. I concentrated on that. It allowed me to shut everything else out. It worked!”
As with so many things within any school, one of the main challenges was time, both for Michael and for the attendees (as well as for the wanting-to-attend but not-quite-managing-it- ees).
This approach is most effective when practised little and often, rather than trying to do some kind of blitz every few weeks. The course involved a regular time commitment, which can be challenging during term-time (although this arguably highlights the need for these kinds of things in the first place!).
Michael is willing to run another course for staff if there is a demand, but he would also like to try drip-feeding ideas from mindfulness into the school culture. For example, introducing “FOFBOCs” (sitting quietly breathing for a few minutes)” or other mindful activities activities (mindful colouring) to form time. He talked about various ideas, such as simply filling a circle on a piece of paper with anything: any kind of picture/ pattern/ words; and then noting how you feel underneath it (as you do, for example, when you post a status on Facebook). However, as referred to above, Michael is conscious that he doesn’t want this to be “another thing” that form teachers are asked to do.
The plan? Ninja Wellbeing – introduce some key practices, and nobody knows they are being “mindful”.
A personal perspective
I attended one of the mindfulness sessions with Michael but, to my shame, I didn’t get to any others. Things “got in the way”. However, since sitting down with him and talking about writing this post, I have actually developed my own approach in an unexpected way.
We talked about how there are many aspects of Mindfulness that overlap with yoga practice. I have enjoyed practising yoga for many years now, but I tended to concentrate on the physical benefits, rather than the mental ones. I found that yoga improved my general state of mind but, because I run and swim, I tended to look at yoga as another aspect of my physical “training”, and just practice once or twice each week.
Since talking about all this to Michael, I have completely changed my approach. I now try to integrate a little bit of meditation or yoga into each day. I appreciate the time and space that it gives me. I now notice, for example, how just standing on one leg for a while forces me to concentrate on something removed from everyday life for a bit.
Sometimes, you just need someone to give you a little prod, and point out the obvious!
If you’d like to read more about this, these articles are useful starting points:
Post by MAR/NKA