Over the last few years we’ve seen a much needed awareness of the benefits of social emotional learning together with an understanding of how a student’s wellbeing impacts on their learning and long term life chances. As a result there’s been a huge explosion in the number of mindfulness CPD courses available to Irish teachers. A lot of these courses put the emphasis on bringing a sense of the calm to the classroom; an attractive proposition for any busy, over stretched teacher. Some courses offer the evidence based Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Having done this course myself and found it very beneficial, I think it would be particularly helpful for those wishing to manage their own stress levels and adopt a mindful based approach to their teaching and to their relationships with students and colleagues. There is an excellent completely free version available of MBSR available online through the Palouise Mindfulness website which includes all of the necessary guided meditations, activities and reading material for the complete 8 week course. It’s not designed specifically with educators in mind so the content is based on general experiences but the principles and practices outlined can be used in any context.
Adopting a more mindful approach to your own life is one thing, introducing meditation practice into a classroom to use with students is another thing altogether. Where do you get the time? Will it be worth it? How do you co-ordinate a session with a group of students? How will they respond? There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that regular mindfulness sessions in the classroom can have hugely beneficial effects from improved student behaviour and concentration through to a greater sense of overall wellbeing; all positive results that underpin academic achievement. Mindfulness itself is simply paying attention, moment by moment, usually to the breath. Learning by its very nature requires mindfulness on behalf of the learner, needing full attention and concentration. By following simple guided meditations students can learn how to quieten their mind, to turn off any unnecessary “notifications” and focus on the present moment. With regular practice this can become second nature, helping students to reduce their stress levels and self regulate their thoughts and emotions.
There are lots of ways to incorporate mindfulness in your teaching and lots of guided meditations available online but it can be tricky to find an easy and age appropriate app that includes meditations along with supporting lesson plans to cover all educational levels from primary upwards. I discovered Smiling Mind by accident when looking for meditation education resources. It’s a free Australian app (pc, android and IOS) developed by a not for profit tasked with bringing meditation/mindfulness to the masses. The app provides an easily accessible introduction to meditation for kids based on a mindfulness-based programme designed to support well being and positive mental health. The Smiling Mind Education Programme also provides educators with a range of free resources including complete lesson plans and “take home” activities that complement the Australian Curriculum. It can be used in the classroom with the following age groups:
- 7 – 9 Years
- 10 – 12 Years
- 13 – 15 Years
- 16 – 18 Years
All age group activities are age appropriate so for example in the Age 7 to 9 Years grouping the meditation practice is imagined as a “bubble journey” showing students how to breathe and become aware of their breath in an easily understood way; whereas the 16 to 18 year old section discusses how to develop a growth mindset. Each activity in the programme, including the guided audio meditations (5 to 15 mins duration), is sequential and designed to build on previous activities and meditation practices.
I love the programme and if you don’t mind the soft Aussie accent it’s a fantastic free and very useful Mindfulness/Meditation resource that would easily complement any school’s student wellbeing initiative. There’s even a section on “Back to School” for Students, Teachers and Parents, with 8 short meditation sessions, so what’s not to love! However, you don’t seem to be able to set up individual student accounts which would give them restricted access to their age group content only. All accounts seem to be treated the same with Facebook and Twitter being fully integrated. So when you signup you can access all courses including workplace, adult and education programmes, which itself could be confusing for younger students. This is a shame as there’s a really useful dashboard on login which gives you a breakdown of your progress. Also it would be great to be able to log in as a teacher and see your students’ progress but that’s the kind of add-on that turns a free app into a premium app so that’s completely forgiven. The signup and social media issues aside, all in all the content itself is excellent at each age stage, cognisant of developmental needs and I would definitely recommend signing up to review, particularly if you are looking for a ready to go mindfulness programme for use in the classroom.