It might not be regarded as a coincidence that in recent years there has been an increase in problems within the school context, which mainly concern cases of school bullying, violence, depression, other negative emotions or even extreme manifestations of anxiety among students. Many times these problems are so advanced, that, in order to be treated, the intervention of a specialist psychologist is truly needed.
However, it is almost self-evident that there are ways, which could slow down, completely prevent, or simply procure for the emergence of the incidents mentioned above. A basic prevention can be provided by the dynamic practical application of positive psychology techniques, within the school context. One of these practices/approaches, which can dynamically prevent negative feelings through self-awareness, is definitely mindfulness.
What is mindfulness in a school context?
In trying to define mindfulness in a school context, we would start from a basic principle that concerns its nature or even the reference point we use every time we talk about the concept.
Mindfulness is not an academic lesson, nor does it have any specific recipe. It is not something that one can study a manual or book on how it is done or on how it can be applied. Mindfulness seems to be something like a way of life, a way of thinking or even a practice. The path of practice rather than the theory behind it is the first decision that a teacher should make.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that there is no title or profession defined as Mindfulness Teacher. Every teacher, of any specialty, whatever course they deliver can apply techniques of mindfulness. As the mindfulness specialist, Janet Etty-Leal, mentions '... what counts for a teacher is the actual embodiment of mindfulness in the class...'—this embodiment should be expressed throughout a daily mindful application and implementation, via behaviors and activities of mindfulness.
A second basic principle for the practical application of mindfulness in education is for the teacher to be able to apply it themselves first, before applying it to students.
In order for this daily application to take place, the teacher must begin his/her own "journey of mindfulness", as well as live, as much as possible, according to these principles. The basic principle for teachers is to spend a lot of time with themselves and on themselves, realizing exactly what they like, how they can experience happiness, achieve objectives and how transferable can all these be to the students.
In order for a person to be able to stand as a living example of mindfulness, they must first become an example. If they do not try to find their own way, they will not be able to show that way to others.
Imagine a teacher who is rude to the students, does not to listen to the students’ opinions, or cannot realize the students’ needs; it would be impossible to deliver a convincing mindfulness lesson because any teaching would contradict with his actions. Any teacher should apply the principles of individual contemplation and action first to theirselves and then to the students.
Another important reason, why mindfulness should first become an individual matter of the teacher and then a collective act in the classroom, is to ensure the authenticity of the teacher’s mindfulness. When the teacher is someone who lives by the principles of mindfulness, they automatically wrap in authenticity and honesty all these actions. This authenticity and honesty can stand as a guarantee for acceptance by the students. The students immediately realize that the one who talks to them about mindfulness is someone who knows exactly what they are talking about.
Before we begin to apply mindfulness in a school context, it is important to understand that this particular practice cannot be imposed by anyone on anyone. This practice is an invitation to a "personal journey of discovery". A journey without a final destination but with many interesting stops that help in self-improvement, collective consciousness and cooperation. The students must feel the need on this journey on their own and the teacher, with their actions, can inspire them towards this direction.
Which mindfulness activities shall I bring forward in class?
Some activities that could prepare and help children find a way to mindfulness are the following. It’s worth mentioning that many of them can be adapted or integrated in any primary and secondary education programs:
- A visit to a rural farm, where they can experience events of animal care and feel positive feelings.
- A lesson in nature that may rest their minds from the narrow confines of the classroom and help them understand how the brain needs oxygen to function.
- During many mindfulness practices within schools, many lessons are held with students leaving their shoes out of the classroom so that they can feel the contact with the floor but also to realize that they are leaving their "old self" at the door before looking for a new one through the lesson.
- Use as many musical stimuli and melodies as possible to help children develop positive emotions and, eventually, perfrom better, too.
- The use of games or gamification techniques helps children a lot in the development of cooperation and team spirit.
- Storytelling is a unique opportunity to develop mindfulness. Students love the flow of stories and can identify, analyze and discuss many different topics, focusing on the heroes of their stories and their actions. Through stories the focus also can shift into interpersonal relationships with others, as well as the differences in perspectives that may exist in life.
- At even more advanced levels, it is recommended to use meditation techniques to develop even clearer, conscious thinking that will help children find their own pieces of mindfulness.
Are you intrested in Teaching Happiness In The Language Classroom? Our resource book ,Teaching Hapiness, features a collection of mindfulness activities that foster positive thinking and feelings of belonging in the ESL class!
It is worth noting that all the above activities or techniques are not "miracle pills or magic wands", and in order to be successful, two basic conditions are needed.
- Very good preparation on the part of the teacher
- Complete integration with the general curriculum or the specific subject that one teacher
The younger you start, the better it is!
There may be an additional reflection about the age that could be considered more appropriate, to teach mindfulness in a school context. Purely from experience, I would say that from the younger age someone starts to teach mindfulness, the better. Many teachers may thing that mindfulness might be easier to be taught to secondary school students, because it contains somewhat more complex concepts, which perhaps can be understood better by older children. But the reality is that teenage or even older students may see these practices with some skepticism or even dismiss them as a waste of time. By suggesting below some techniques for teachers perhaps, just by reading them, we can understand that these techniques may be more accepted by children than by teenagers.
What will my students gain?
The advantages that classes can gain through the practice of mindfulness can be the following:
- Greater development of social intelligence as children better understand how important it is to share and express their feelings with others.
- Every day choices “are gradually illuminated by self-awareness” (Etty-Leal, 2010). It’s not important what you do but how much conscious you are about what you do and this is a step-by-step, day-by-day trip.
- It helps teachers give more constructive feedback on the lesson, as students can better perceive and value it.
- Students listen more closely to their classmates and teachers and get more involved in the whole process of active learning.
In summary, mindfulness in education is not something that can be taught as a school subject but something that can only be expressed through a living, human model, which is none other than the teacher themselves, and their attitudes on a daily basis.
Mindfulness is an open invitation to students, towards a journey that will help them discover their own abilities, their own inclinations and at the same time become more respectful and effective in all their collaborations.
The article was first published in the TESOL GREECE JOURNAL, Issue 156, October –December 2022, ISSN:2653-8873, pages 39-42 and adapted for Express Publishing.
Education, I. o. (2019, November). The Positive Education Podcast. Geelong, Australia.
J, E.-L. (2010). Meditation Capsules:a mindfulness program for childern. Melbourne: Australia: Meditation Capsules.
Norrish, J. (2015). Positive Education. New York: Oxford University Press.