THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS IN SCHOOLS

A world away from noisy classrooms, it appears that schools are realising the benefits – both mentally and in terms of academic performance – of meditation

It seems that the education system is beginning to realise the value not just of academic prowess, but of ‘life lessons’ too. A vote against ‘relationship education’ by the House of Lords two years ago has seen schools incorporating it into sex education individually due to its immense importance, and many people believe we should introduce classes on everything from managing money to the benefits of physical health, not just PE. With this in mind it seems beneficial to also include ways of thinking in the curriculum. Meditation is a now being introduced in an increasing number of schools as a way of relaxing and training children to think and learn in a calm and structured way.

Marilyn Devonish is an expert in Accelerated Learning and spoke about the benefits of meditation as a state in which to increase your learning potential. She believes that ‘learning is state dependent’ and that most children when being tested on their knowledge, such as in exams, are in ‘fight or flight’ mode, full of adrenalin and stress, which hinders their ability to recall information. She says that being in a meditative state ‘lowers blood pressure, reduces the amount of stress hormone released into the body, which in turn calms the mind’. She explains that when in this mode, we have ‘greater left and right brain integration and therefore have access to more memory and creativity, which greatly enhances learning’. In Marilyn’s Accelerated Learning State, her students are able to Photoread (her main training course) and absorb much more information as a result of being in a relaxed environment. Can this translate to large groups of school children however?

The benefits of mindfulness in schools

St James Senior Girls’ offer philosophy and meditation classes

The St James’ group of schools are certainly advocates of quiet time. St James’ Senior Boys’ School in Ashford has already implemented meditation as part of the school day, Headteacher David Brazier is a firm enthusiast about the benefits: ‘For ten minutes twice a day, students are encouraged to leave all material, emotional and mental concerns.’ He insists that this practise is ‘not just a “bolt-on”, but that during these sessions the students connect with [their] essential nature, a unity beyond gender, form and identity’. The St James Senior Girls’ School, likewise, provide their pupils with regular opportunities to be silent, so that they might discover how to be inwardly free and deeply at ease within themselves. And looking at the younger age group, St James Junior School pupils enjoy moments of quiet reflection and stillness throughout the day; a connection with something peaceful and unchanging in today’s busy world.

Ofsted agree that wellbeing practises ‘underpins [children’s] attainment and achievement in school’. So it seems that less academic and more spiritual methods are increasingly being seen as intertwining with the academic side of education to provide the best results. In addition, Kadampa School in Derbyshire firmly believes that meditation increases a certain value system of ‘respect, compassion and consideration for others.’ So a by product of meditation is much more than just calming the children, but a model for encouraging interaction with fellow pupils.

Seeing a gap in the curriculum for activities like St James’ pupils partake in, Giles Bryant created Wellbeing In Schools, a resource hub for teachers to implement meditation and other techniques to improve wellbeing within students. Together with a group of industry professionals he offers a number of staff training courses and classroom sessions to enable teachers to include things such as meditation and yoga, as well as healthy eating into their teaching, and the younger they start (as with most positive behaviour) the better. The company has been running for over five years now and Giles has been involved in ‘hundreds’ of workshops across the country, so it seems that this really is a growing trend proving to contribute to real results in the classroom.

The values that meditation promotes and enhances – calmness, wellbeing, empathy, emotion, reflection and evaluation – can only be considered a good thing when translated to learning. It is no surprise to hear that in David Brazier’s experience the boys are benefitting more – their aggression is replaced by something calming, and an activity that brings everyone together rather than pitting them against one another in tests and competitions. It can only be a good thing: after all, with all the pressure education can throw at us, it is always tackled better with a calm head.

Words: Alexandra Haddow