A mindful approach

Dame Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, CEO of the Bright Futures Educational Trust, explains why mindfulness should be on the curriculum

Mental wellbeing amongst schoolchildren has been highlighted again, with the latest research by the Journal of Adolescent Health confirming that, in a climate of limited resources, not enough is being done to support emotional health in schools.

But while schools must focus on their students’ academic performance, it’s vital that attention is paid to positive mental health and the impact this can have on study. With that in mind, the popularity of mindfulness training is on the rise and there is a good argument to be put forward for its implementation.

Broken down to its simplest form, mindfulness is the awareness that emerges from paying attention – on purpose – in the present moment with curiosity and kindness.

When implemented properly and through regular teaching, mindfulness has the potential to improve issues such as self-esteem and self-regulation whilst proving popular with both staff and students.

The benefits of a mindfulness programme implemented in this manner is being felt across the Bright Futures Educational Trust, and no more so than at Stanley Grove Primary Academy. The school’s mindfulness programme has been running for over two years as part of a wider character development initiative. Through an adoption of the Mindfulness in Schools Project’s Paws b programme, the children enjoy sensory-based exercises that encourage them to understand and reflect on their emotions. Due to the experiential nature of the lessons, the children really engage with the sessions, and they show a high level of maturity in explaining how they connect with themselves internally.

Not far from Stanley Grove is Melland High School, a SEN-specialist academy for 11 – 19-year-olds. For students with learning difficulties or issues with self-regulation, mindfulness can have a major impact on their learning and wellbeing. Many of the students at Melland suffer from anxiety-based behavioural issues so staff tailor sessions to focus on issues like breathing regulation and grounding themselves. Just these lessons alone have had a major impact, with parents reporting on the positive change on behaviour at home, and students feeling they can control their anxiety and communicate better.

But, of course, while these individual examples demonstrate an immediate impact, encouraging mindfulness in schools has to be focused on the long term and these sessions are part of a long-term commitment. As educators, we need to develop cultures in which pupils are encouraged to believe in their potential and to trust their inner resources.

It goes without saying that a child’s mental health has an influence on their attainment, and mindfulness can play its part.  Wellbeing starts with emotional literacy and intelligence, which in turn can make a real difference to children’s behaviour and ability
to flourish, both inside and outside of the classroom. And, by involving teachers as well, it is a practice that can have a positive impact on the whole school.


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