Saturday 8 October 2022

Teaching "mindfulness" in school

is apparently one of those "things" we are supposed to not merely accept but embrace.  It is also a term I had never heard of when I was at school - either as a student or a teacher. There is a piece about this in the paper this morning - and the results might not be what some people expect. Research is even suggesting it might be harmful for some.

I am wondering though whether, in a sense, I tried this with one class once. There was one of those issues in the playground. It had aroused hot passions and my class was restless and angry when they came inside. I was not going to intervene. It was a playground issue. They were capable of sorting it out for themselves. 

What I did do was say something like, "Okay gang I know you're upset. You can sort it out at lunchtime if you really think you must but please try and remember the no fighting rule. In the mean time just sit quietly and try and think about something you like instead. I'll time you for a minute and then we'll get on with the next lesson."

They were quiet. At the end of the minute one of the boys said, "A minute is an awfully long time." Nobody else said anything.

That was the end of the issue. If anything happened at lunchtime I did not hear about it. I can only assume my approach worked - and worked because I didn't fuel their anger by discussing the issue. I also gave them a short period of time in which they were asked to be quiet. They knew when it would be over.

I doubt the same thing would have occurred if I had told them, "Let's try some "mindfulness" to get over this." I may be wrong but I don't think ten and eleven year old students work that way. They have no desire to "meditate" and no idea how to do it. Why should they?

Meditation might be good for some adults but I suspect it takes years of training and discipline to do it effectively.  I know meditating is not, as some people think, about "blanking out your mind" or "thinking about nothing at all" but it is still very difficult to do something like concentrate on a single calm issue. I also suspect meditation takes many forms - prayer perhaps for some, music for others, spinning or turning a potter's wheel. There must be endless ways to meditate that are not normally recognised as such. Meditation must surely be about something we enjoy if we are to find it a relaxation. 

Someone I once knew was told to by his doctor to "try and relax a bit - go out for a walk perhaps". This man took the "walk" bit seriously. He set off for a "brisk walk" every day - rain or shine. It did nothing for his anxiety. He was still as anxious as ever. He was moving house and writing a text book as well as lecturing. On the day he managed to spill his coffee everywhere in the law school canteen someone said, "T.... slow down. Did you go for a walk this morning? Yes? But how did you walk?"

I remember him just looking at the other person who then said, "Did you do it in a hurry? Did you just about run it? Yes? Then slow right down and look at the gardens as you pass. Plan your own garden as you are doing it."

Two years later he brought the person who suggested it some of his first tomatoes. The suggestion had worked for him. That seems to me a good application of "mindfulness". 

It seems to me that this mindfulness thing is not something that can be simply taught to a group of restless teenagers who show no interest in it. Most of the teens I know would simply resent it.  They are not interested in such things when they are labelled with terms like mindfulness. If we don't dictate then asking them what they can do now in order to get something or somewhere they want to be in the future seems more likely to succeed. Mindfulness and motivation seem more likely to come together that way.

I might be wrong about all this...but it interests me.


No comments: