Mindfulness in Schools
Wed March 23rd 2016
There is a growing recognition of the need to help children and adolescents learn social and emotional skills as part of their educational experience. The significant rise of anxiety and depression levels within school age students has attracted a great deal of interest in the Western World particularly the UK and the USA. Half of people who suffer with mental and emotional health issues in their life have experienced their first symptoms by the age of 14 and it is recognised that 75% of these conditions start in adolescents. Figures suggest that one in five teenage girls will suffer from some type of anxiety disorder and this may be as low as one in three girls in Independent girl's schools. There is much conjecture as to why student levels of resilience may be continuing to drop. Perfectionism and the belief that you need to attend a top university, be 'good at everything' and earn fame and fortune in order to be happy may be part of this, at least. The pressure from social media and the celebrity culture means these factors are all pervasive, and no student is immune from the hype of the 'always switched on 24/7 culture'.
In 2009 three highly experienced teachers at some of the UK's leading Independent schools rose to the challenge from the then minister of state to come up with an innovative solution to these and other issues associated with poor behavioural choices made by students, known to be impacting on school life and academic achievement. The three individuals concerned were also experienced mindfulness practitioners and understood mindfulness to be at the hub of social emotional learning. They embarked on creating a mindfulness course that would engage a teenage audience, educate them about the neuroscience behind our understanding of the mind and provide some simple take home skills to practice and use in different stress inducing situations. The course termed .b or Stop, breath and be has now been revised over a dozen times and investigated and reviewed by some of the UK's leading University's The program of ten forty five minute lessons is grounded in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy which itself has a substantial and ever growing evidential base. The program is designed to be 'broadcast' to an entire class rather than opting in by individuals, so that a shared experience can occur during the various discussions and feedback the class is engaged in each week. The program can only be taught by teachers trained by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (UK) who themselves have their own established mindfulness practice and have attended an eight week mindfulness based stress reduction program.
The .b program was the subject of a paper by Professor William Kuyken and co-workers published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in June 2014 which became the pilot study for the MYRIAD trial now underway in the UK. This trial involves following 7000 teenagers for up to 7 years, half of whom will be taught the .b mindfulness in schools program.
There are many other 'short' and other courses available to schools developed by individuals around the world with varying effect. However weather these courses are offered to schools or adults many highlight the research and literature on mindfulness as part of their marketing, despite the fact that the research findings cannot be generalised to their courses. There is a growing understanding that these skills need to be developed and practiced over time, and reinforced by classroom teachers, and whatever 'short' courses do they cannot claim the benefits of a well-designed peer reviewed course that has been subject to scientific scrutiny by independent universities.
John Kabat Zinn the founder of secular mindfulness based stress reduction is on record saying 'teaching mindfulness poorly to children and teenagers would be a travesty'. My own experience is that teaching mindfulness in the wider context of the neuroscience that provides a strong evidential basis for the practice engages adolescents and teenagers to the point that many continue to practice the techniques they found helpful long after the course has finished, which is similar to the research finding of Kuyken et al.
Leading Independent Schools teaching the .b program in the UK include:
St Johns College School
In New Zealand:
Diocesan School for Girls
International Schools in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok & SE Asia
Dr Nick Penney PhD
Mindfulness coach and self-employed teacher trainer for the Mindfulness in Schools Project (UK)
Mindfulness in Schools – For the flourishing of young minds www.mindfulnessinschools.org