Autumn Totton (Co-Founder) and Emily Mitchell (Mindfulness Teacher and Programmes Manager) from The Mindfulness Project, answer your questions and offer tips on how to practise mindfulness or introduce it into a learning environment.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, this webchat transcript is available to all during the week of May 14-20.
Emily and Autumn have been working in the field of mindfulness for many years, and share their expert knowledge on how, from reducing stress to boosting productivity, mindfulness can be an effective tool to incorporate into the learning environment. Find out more about how mindfulness can help you communicate more effectively with learners and improve your own wellbeing so you can be more effective in the classroom.
I teach learners who do suffer or are at risk of suffering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Can you give advice on how mindfulness can be used to support throughout learning?
That's a good question and an important area mindfulness is being researched in. Mindfulness has certainly been shown to be helpful for people who have PTSD (and to manage symptoms of), but I would recommend using caution in this area. Mindfulness is not a panacea, and for people with PTSD or who have trauma, I would only recommend mindfulness being taught by a fully qualified mindfulness teacher who is also a clinician.
- Thank you, I agree, it’s a very delicate area and I’m constantly conscious of ‘potential triggers’ when planning lessons.
Can mindfulness in Education help ESOL students (English for speakers of other languages) when some of them are used to more traditional methods of teaching?
I would say that since it’s very much about teaching basic mindfulness techniques and exercises to use in the classroom - these can be made accessible to this audience by simplifying the language to some extent. I think the principles can be understood universally and would definitely complement the traditional methods of teaching.
- You are right - they might find it unusual to start with but eventually they will understand what is about.
I have only just heard about mindfulness because of this webchat. I would like to understand how I can use this to impact on my learners in relation to anxiety and self confidence.
Mindfulness is helpful for anxiety as it trains us to live more in the present moment. So, with anxiety, we tend to be off living in the future, worrying about things that often never even happen! By training our attention through formal mindfulness practice, we can learn to notice where the mind is and bring it back (to something in the present moment) when it is somewhere unhelpful.
For self-confidence, I think mindfulness can be helpful in numerous ways, but one is that it helps us develop this capacity to trust in ourselves, and to notice any negative thoughts as not the truth that they are simply just mental events in the mind. Mindfulness has also been shown to result in improvements with self-compassion too, which would help improve self-confidence.
Do you advise teachers to incorporate mindfulness as a starter activity in a lesson to help/support learner's focus on the lesson? If so, are there any strategies I could use?
Do you practice mindfulness yourself? If not, I would recommend going to a class to get a taster yourself. But I think it's a great idea to use mindfulness as a starter activity at the beginning of a lesson. There are also some great training programmes specifically aimed at training teachers to bring mindfulness into the classroom.
Here is an example of an activity you can use:
- Mindful Minute: Ring a bell as a signal that the group will just take a minute in silence. The instructions can be to close your eyes, focus on your breathing (and you can invite people to put a hand on the belly to connect with the breath) and then ring the bell after one minute.
- Thank you, I will endeavour to attend a class to experience mindfulness first hand, and will try out this strategy in my next lesson as it will be helpful with the nature of learners I have.
Is there anything for further education (FE)?
Mindfulness in Schools Projects offers a course suitable for a group of FE teachers who are just starting out on the path to teaching mindfulness to students. It is called .begin and is a live, group-based and teacher-led eight-week course accessed online from home.
Once FE teachers have embraced mindfulness and are practising it in their own lives then they will be eligible for the Teach .b training course.
There is also a programme and book called Courage to Teach, which are relevant for teachers at all levels. In addition, a UK-based mindfulness teacher, Barbara Reid, is delivering a workshop on on 4 July 2018, hosted by Space2Think that you may also be interested in attending.
I'd love to roll mindfulness out to my staff at my Academy; I think that's a great place to start with the vision that staff will then support our learners. What sort of course would you recommend?
I think that's a really great idea and I think you would see a big difference in the staff and learners wellbeing. We recommend the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course as a starting point for almost anyone looking to develop a mindfulness practice. You could also contact the Mindfulness in Schools Project as they might also have/know something suitable.
I'm interested in ideas and how others promote mindfulness for learners within their teaching - I teach employability at various levels and Level 3 Award in Education and Training (AET).
A great way to share mindfulness with learners is for teachers to actually practice mindfulness themselves, so they embody it. You can also start introducing short mindfulness classes within lessons too (perhaps at the beginning and end, and taking mindful pauses).
- Thank you. I am lucky enough to live on the coast and I have a dog who likes to pause and let me take moments after a busy day. I also practise mindful cooking, so I do have an understanding outside of the classroom – it's inside that I'd like to do more. I work in the community sector delivering 6-14 week courses one day per week and we have quite tight timescales linked to guided learning hours for our courses, so until now I've focused on the coursework and what's needed for criteria, and so on. It's only recently as we see more mindfulness being explored within our organisation that I'd like to try and embed within teaching.
Is mindfulness a type of meditation?
Mindfulness as a broad term is about paying attention to the present moment (with certain attitudes like non-judgment). Mindfulness meditation is the technique used to cultivate the skills of mindfulness.
So, mindfulness it the thinking part and meditation is the doing part?
It's confusing as the terms are used interchangeably. I would put it as mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment, and the formal practice of this is mindfulness meditation.
How do you introduce mindfulness to your students and support staff?
It’s challenging if no one within the organisation has existing training in delivering it. We have had a lot of schools and teachers approach us about using our book called I am Here Now - A Creative Mindfulness Guide and Journal in their classrooms and even school-wide.
It introduces some key principles and practices and offers a link to a guided meditation to get people practicing mindfulness formally as well. Another option would be to have a qualified teacher come in to deliver some sessions that can then be maintained or designate one of your teachers/staff to complete a teacher training.
Do you need a qualification to practise mindfulness in your class/institution?
There are some great training programmes specifically aimed at training teachers to bring mindfulness into the classroom (for example, Mindfulness in Schools Project and Mindful Schools - for primary and secondary school students). But the real first step and prerequisite towards any teacher training is having your own practice and completing a mindfulness course. This doesn’t grant any qualifications to teach it, but it is the best place to start to convey the principles and techniques of the practice and model them to your students.
Are there any particular activities you can suggest we can try and incorporate into our classes?
Yes – here are some ideas for starters:
- Two Feet, One Breath: Just before you enter the classroom, take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and the feeling of your feet on the ground. This will help settle your nervous system and gather your attention to the present moment.
- FOFBOC: Bring awareness to “Feet on Floor, Bum on Chair”.
- Drop-In: At the start of your day sit down in a comfortable chair and allow yourself a minute or two of silence. As you sit there, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and briefly scan your body, Notice any tension or holding. And allow those areas to release as much as they want to as you breathe.
- Mindful Minute: When you notice the class is starting to lose focus or become restless, ring a bell as a signal that the group will just take a minute in silence. The instructions can be to close your eyes, focus on your breath, and then carry on. Or to just drop what you are doing and tune into the sounds around you. Just listening.
- “I am aware” sentence starter: Use this throughout the day as a way to check in with your experience and a prompt to take care of your needs.
- Periods of Silence: Sometimes instead of pairing people up or working in groups, try have everyone reflect on something individually for a few minutes. It will allow learners some space to really focus their attention on something without the distraction of groups chatting and the pressure of social interaction. It will also give the teacher a moment of quiet.
- Just like me:This can be used to bring compassion to a challenging student or to better relate to a student experiencing difficulty. It is a practice that can be done in private and involves bringing to mind the person’s struggle and relating to their challenge, for example: this student gets frustrated or anxious, just like me. And maybe place your hand on your heart as you imagine what this feels like. It can really strengthen a sense of compassion for them and yourself in difficult times.
- Mindful listening: Often when we engage in an exchange of ideas, we are very much caught in our thoughts and planning the next thing to say before the other speakers are even finished. To slow things down a bit and foster genuine listening and engaging, encourage students to just listen for one or two minutes while the other person speaks – just listening to their thoughts and ideas without having to say anything back. At the end they can alternate roles and then share their views.
Are there any research papers available where particular mindfulness activities were conducted and a reflection on the impact this had on learners?
There is some research in this area, and there is also currently a large Mindfulness in Schools trial being undertaken by The University of Oxford, Wellcome Trust and others (MYRIAD trial). This paper from the Journal of Educational Psychology might also be of interest.
Are there any particular courses that you recommend? Strategies that can be used with learners with SEND and associated anxiety?
We recommend our eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course as a starting point for almost anyone looking to develop a mindfulness practice. The practices are very much about coming back to our bodies and senses which settles the nervous system and keeps us from getting caught up in the thoughts about the past and worries about the future that can cause and perpetuate anxiety. In SEND cases, I think it would depend on the type and level needs. There is an organisation called Breath Works which has developed a programme for physical health conditions and there are some other specialised programmes out there as well.
Has any research been done and published on the impact of mindfulness on learners with complex issues or dual diagnosis, for example ADHD and ASC, and how this has affected progress within their learning journey?
There has been research performed on mindfulness and ADHD and we believe it has been shown to be helpful for ADHD in adults. You can find out more by reading this paper on the World Journal of Psychiatry website.
This live webchat took place on 26 April 2018.