Mindfulness in Schools Report

14 August 2012

The central tenet of Mindfulness is focus on the present moment. Whilst on first approach pupils and teachers tend to assume it is about emptying the mind, which sounds pleasant but impossible, mindfulness is much more focused on awareness of what is going on right now. In sessions we work on awakening ourselves to sensory experiences, recognising that the process of judging takes our minds away from sensing, and we have fun. In one exercise pupils are asked to each take a potato and apply their sense of touch, vision and smell to it. The potatoes are then place in a bag and participants pick out their own potato by touch alone. Whilst enjoying the exercise the change in attitude towards the potato, a sense of knowing, almost of empathy, was evident. Kindness lies at the heart of this work, beginning with kindness to the self, through the process of suspending judgement and opening awareness. The breath is used in each session to train the mind. We aim to demystify the process and often describe the mind as a muscle with regular practice being the best way to train so that when the big challenges come along we know what to do.
During the spring and summer term I’ve worked with two groups of year 7 (first year) boys at a local Secondary school. Whilst reasons for referral varied teachers felt that learning of the pupils themselves, and of others in class, was being impeded by their pre-group behaviour. Mindfulness is a response to universal human tendencies and so there was no relevance in assessing or judging pupil behaviour in school, the focus of sessions is on learning from experience what the mind does and on creating a platform for further learning to take place. Fifteen pupils were worked with over seven half hour sessions at the end of which twelve were able to relate beneficial changes; one boy said “when I get told off, don’t answer back, just do the breathing” an especially positive feature of this feedback was when group members began to volunteer positive comments about each others’ behaviour. Form tutors were asked to complete pre and post evaluation, all aspects showed improvement with the most significant in “Self monitoring and regulation” showing an increased score of 50%. A copy of the evaluation report is available by email.
So what has all this to do with Quakers? Mindfulness practice is not the same as Quaker worship but it does open the door to possibilities; as Val Brown writes in her 2010 pamphlet “Living from the Centre”;
“When I was able to stabilise my awareness and concentration my capacity to open to the light within has enlivened and deepened, leading to clarity of mind and enhancing my experience of worship.”
It is not the aim of the project to persuade pupils or teachers to engage in worship. Rather it aims to provide tools which can be used to create space and to allow stillness in the busy worlds of both pupils and teachers. Perhaps then we can see what love will do.
I hope that others who are interested in this work will get in touch so that we can share experiences.
Lisa Hoyle, Clerk of Liverpool LM.