Is there a place for teaching mindfulness in UK schools?

For many educators, making the classroom a quieter and calmer place would be ideal – so could mindfulness be the answer to this?

Mindfulness is a brain-training technique that can be used to achieve inner peace and mental clarity. The organisation Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) puts forth the following definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness involves learning to direct our attention to our experience as it unfolds, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, it trains us to respond skilfully to whatever is happening right now, be that good or bad.”

As part of classroom management, mindfulness can create a more positive environment for learning. When looking at how to motivate students, it can be seen that those who feel more relaxed and less afraid of consequences such as bad marks, or less stressed about upcoming exams, can become more engaged in school.

Hand's frame over the wheat field

Benefits of mindfulness

According to the WHO, by 2030, mental health issues will place the biggest burden on our health care services.

Mindfulness has been shown to help with conditions such as depression, stress and ADHD, all of which can be present in pupils in today’s competitive school environment. There are however many other benefits to this method, according to experts.

“Mindfulness is essentially about attention,” says Professor Willem Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford. “It’s about being able to attend to whatever it is we choose to attend to, and inhibit things that come into mind.” Dr. Kuyken alongside other academics carried out a feasibility study across 522 secondary school students, to determine the effectiveness of mindfulness. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with levels of stress and low-grade depressive symptoms down in the groups that received mindfulness training.

How to teach mindfulness

As part of classroom management strategies, mindfulness can help students improve focus, become better equipped to handle stressful situations, be more engaged in the classroom, and overall enjoy a more peaceful and positive academic experience.

Breathing exercises have been shown to be helpful, and there are many resources that can help you integrate these into your classroom. Encourage students to take a pause after learning something new, or before starting a test or lesson. You could also encourage students to be in the moment by keeping a mood journal or diary, in which they right down exactly how they are feeling in the moment. Ask them to make an entry during something relaxing, such as a fun lesson or just before break, and an entry before or after studying for an exam. You can discuss some of the feelings in them to help students become mindful their feelings and external triggers, so they can better control and react to them.

The Guardian Teacher Network has compiled a number of strategies utilized by real teachers, and these outline ways in which to implement mindfulness to help with anything from exam stress and prep to keeping your classroom calm.