A few months ago, as part of a teaching qualification, I wrote a critical reflection essay on mindfulness in higher education, concluding that:
- The current higher education environment suffers from mindfulness not being practiced as part of students’ educational curriculum, and few students engage in mindfulness practice in their leisure time;
- It is therefore not only vital to teach students about mindfulness, but also to encourage mindfulness practice, as part of their education (Bush, 2011); and
- Mindfulness may benefit students from all backgrounds and educational subjects, and integrating formal and informal mindfulness practices in students’ learning outcomes has the potential to benefit not only the wellbeing of students, but also their academic performance, regardless of what degree they are enrolled on (Hassed et al., 2009).
A few days ago, I came across this topic again in the form of some online articles about the use of mindfulness in schools, with some authors praising its application, stating that mindfulness practice can have a “a profound effect on the students’ anxiety levels, their confidence and their concentration”, while others worried that mindfulness practice is being applied to discipline children, rather than to provide them with stress relief. There is even some concern that, much like in corporate environments, mindfulness practice is being applied in schools to increase productivity and to gain a competitive edge. So what does the research tell us?
University students (and younger students) tend to show high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (de Bruin et al., 2015), and this is likely to affect both their educational outcomes and personal wellbeing. In recent years, studies have shown that yoga, Tai Chi, and other mindful activities are beneficial for students, in terms of reducing depression and anxiety, and improving quality of sleep (Webster et al., 2016). Mindfulness has been defined as awareness resulting from purposefully paying attention to experiences of the present moment without reacting to or judging them. In terms of education, mindfulness may promote several traits and skills that can be beneficial for students, such as managing emotions and feelings, paying attention in class, staying focused, and not reacting to negative events. Elementary and high school students have already benefitted through regular mindfulness training, in terms of enhanced working memory, attention, academic skills, social skills, emotion regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety, stress, and fatigue (Meiklejohn et al., 2012).
On the other hand, promoting mindfulness for teachers may be of equal importance for reducing stress and improving performance and classroom learning environments. Additionally, it is vital to have skilled and qualified teachers and practitioners lead mindfulness courses, to ensure that mindfulness is taught correctly, effectively, and is well-integrated within the current school curriculum. In this sense, an integrative approach to mindfulness training in higher education is required, which is three-fold: 1) students, 2) teachers, and 3) mindfulness teachers, although some financial benefit would result from school teachers gaining qualifications to teach mindfulness themselves.
It appears that once again, the issues outlined above raise a need for standardised qualifications and institutions that can ensure that teachers are qualified to teach mindfulness, and can incorporate it in the school curriculum in a correct and beneficial way. It is worthwhile to remember that children’s (and adults’) wellbeing should always be the primary goal of mindfulness practice, with goals regarding academic performance coming in last, if at all. While more research is needed to investigate the effects of mindfulness practice in education, I would argue that at present, there appears to be support for incorporating mindfulness in the school curriculum, if only to expose children to mindfulness and meditation at an early stage and in a safe and controlled environment.
What are your thoughts about teaching mindfulness in schools?