I had used general relaxation techniques informally a few times during my time as a primary school teacher (especially when the children came in from a long, hot, sticky dinnertime with short fuses and 100 different stories relating to their social time outside). I found that a just a few minutes spent in this way was hugely beneficial and had a knock-on effect for the rest of the day.
So, with the intention of using it back in schools at some point, it was with much interest that I set about completing the Mindfulness Now course with Nick Cooke and Aston Colley in May 2014, learning more about various techniques and the 7 elements of mindfulness as outlined by western mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn:
- letting go
- beginner’s mind
It was during the first two sessions back in a mainstream primary school but working as a Teacher of Mindfulness with just six children (all of whom had been targeted specifically as needing mindfulness as a tool) that I realized it wasn’t going to be as simple as I had first envisaged. Their specific behavioural and social needs really tested number 5 on that list - my own trust in what I was doing!
I, personally, was in a transition phase between being a mainstream teacher and being a mindfulness practitioner, and having begun to practise the 7 attitudes in my own life, I was finding it increasingly difficult to enforce rules for behaviour that I had previously been so familiar with. I had read articles saying things along the lines of “Sometimes we have to let go and just allow the children’s energy to find their own balance” (www.mindbodygreen.com) and “Although it may be tempting to use mindfulness as a disciplinary tool, mindfulness should not be used to demand a certain behaviour. It inherently includes the quality of acceptance,” (www.greatergood.berkeley.edu).
What many of us may tend to forget is the fact that children are naturally mindful. They perhaps do not have to be still and quiet and calm in order to be practising mindfulness. Most children are naturally excited, inquisitive and on-the-go, experiencing all that life throws at them without too much worry. The children I was working alongside needed acceptance of who they are, what they do, why they behave in certain ways, how they do things and see things sometimes quite differently from the rest of us. Many children, because of their specific needs, find it incredibly difficult to sit still and to be quiet. So should we expect this from them?
Adults tend to conform. And if they do not like mindfulness or think it is not for them, then they have the choice as to whether they come back next time. These children did not have the choice. It was my job, therefore, to achieve a balance between ‘I know what I’m talking about and therefore you need to do it this way’ and ‘Let’s just see how you do this for yourselves because you might actually know better than I do’.
I’m still learning. And I hazard a guess I’ll still be learning in however many years down the line.
Two things seem to be for sure though: 1) The number of children who exhibit behavioural and social issues, and could benefit hugely from mindfulness, seems to continue to rise and 2) The number of teachers and support staff experiencing high levels of stress due to the inherent demands of the job, also continues to grow. As a result, I can see that mindfulness will continue to be an increasingly valuable tool for use in both primary and secondary schools.