Cheltenham College hosted an insightful education conference for headteachers from independent schools on Thursday 28 January, on a topic very popular in the media at present; mindfulness.
What actually is mindfulness? How does mindfulness work? And how exactly does mindfulness relate to pupils? Questions, which were on many of the headteachers minds, who had gathered from all over the country to listen to two speakers; Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre Psychotherapist, Chris Cullen and Director of theMindfulness in Schools Project, Claire Kelly.
As Mr Crispin Dawson, Deputy Head (Pastoral) from Cheltenham College noted in his introduction, nationally there is a 200 percent rise in the number of pupils who suffer from exam pressure for pupils, one in ten young people of school age have mental health issues; the immediacy and ease of communication via social media channels, and issues of self-image conspire to create an environment that some children find impossible to navigate. Nowadays, there is a need, more than ever, to examine ways in which schools can provide young people with the tools they need to cope with these pressures.
Mindfulness is described as ‘present moment awareness’, which is accessed through sensing the body and paying attention, on purpose, to being in the present moment. Alongside the benefits of reduced stress, anxiety, and general wellbeing, pupils who have been taught mindfulness training, have reported their capacity to concentrate has greatly improved, thus improving their productivity. Chris Cullen, stated people can sabotage themselves from overthinking thoughts, mindfulness teaches pupils to try and stop themselves from reliving situations or worrying about possible future ones.
Chris used the analogy of a bus to help the audience understand how important it is to keep our attention in the present. Being mindful is the capacity to stay on the pavement rather than get on the ‘thought bus’ which comes along at 2.00am and if you get on board your thoughts tend to be on a constant loop. Using techniques such as anchoring parts of the body to stop yourself getting on that ‘bus’ i.e. paying attention to the way your hands, soles of feet and body feel, will bring you into the ‘now’ (the present), and stop you from getting on that ‘bus’.
Chris enthused, “Schools are recognising that supporting the good mental health of children and young people, both in education and for the longer term is a crucial part of a schools responsibility. Mindfulness is evidence based training in the skills of good mental health that fits well into the PSHE curriculum. The Mindfulness in Schools Project, run by teachers and former teachers provides very accessible resources for supporting schools.”
The public may have many preconceived ideas about mindfulness and Claire Kelly spoke about what mindfulness is not. It is not, as she stated, a breathing exercise, a relaxation technique or a quick fix or cure for anything. However schools, such as Cheltenham College, are realising the benefit it can have on pupils in terms of developing the whole individual, both academically and pastorally.
Mindfulness is for everyone and every pupil, not just for those who think they need it, i.e. those who are stressed or anxious. For example it has had hugely positive effects for sports athletes and teams, such as rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, a mindfulness practitioner, who used it as a personal technique to aid him in kicking the winning drop goal at the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
The Mindfulness in Schools Project offers two programmes .B (Dot B) for 11-18 years and Paws B for 7 -11 years, teaching the same fundamentals of mindfulness but in different ways. Claire said, “Our aim is not to force everyone to do mindfulness but for everyone to know what it is, for some to practice it occasionally and for a few to do it on a regular basis, purely because of all the benefits it has.”
Cheltenham College has introduced a wellbeing programme, called Floreat which encourages pupils to flourish in all aspects of their lives. In launching the programme this year, College is restating the importance of holistic development that will help young people be aware of and respond to, today’s increasingly complex and demanding world. Floreat will help them become all rounded people, happy, confident and resilient and through to appreciate the world around them with one hand whilst giving back with the other.
As the conference concluded, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt left a lingering message; ”Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.”