Could mindfulness help teachers manage stress?
At the final Conference: Potential of Mindfulness in Schools 3 April 2014, University of Leeds a very informative paper was presented by Silke Rupprecht from Germany on the "Potential of a mindfulness training for teachers’ wellbeing and professional competence."
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Amanda Bailey explains how she teaches mindfulness skills in school to help staff and students manage stress and improve concentration.
Over the last few years I have undergone a gentle transformation through the development of a personal mindfulness practice. I didn't notice the impact at first; but now I can see the positive effects of mindfulness in my life every day.
Mindfulness has helped me train my 'monkey-mind', which is how I describe a mind that buzzes all over the place without focusing on what really needs attention. Mindfulness is when we are aware of and focused on what we are doing. I can now watch my thoughts, well most of the time anyway, and find they are much less likely to take over and consume me. I now teach mindfulness skills in my school to both students and staff to support everyone in managing the daily stress of school life in a more productive way.
I find this skill really helpful; spending less time going over and over the same problem. I can now step back, change my mental gear to a more settled state and, as if by magic, creativity and the ability to find solutions to problems returns. I am less reactive to daily stresses and anxiety; this means I think about the outcome rather than just launching in and regretting something I say or do later. This is particularly useful in the educational environment.
I sleep better and find I live less on autopilot feeling more awake, calmer and worrying less about what happened yesterday and what could go wrong tomorrow. All this for 20 to 40 minutes set aside to take time out simply to stop and pause my day.
About three years ago I came across the Mindfulness in Schools Project. This not-for-profit venture, has developed an eight-week mindfulness curriculum for secondary schools called '.b' which stands for "stop, breathe and be". I persuaded my headteacher to let me attend a how to teach .b course.
Last year I was lucky enough to teach the curriculum to sixth form students and to run taster sessions in other year groups. I also ran staff training and from this, due to popular demand, staff mindfulness courses across our multi-academy trust.
Due to amazing feedback from our students and staff and some initial positive research results there are now nine staff trained to teach mindfulness and the course is part of the school curriculums. Across theBright Futures Educational Trust, mindfulness courses are part of our offer to all staff to promote wellbeing. We have excellent take up and interest from a number of schools and colleges in the north west. I have piloted mindfulness across a number of schools where children may not normally gain access to these opportunities.
The adult course is focused on a number of mindfulness skills; some that take two minutes and others up to 30 minutes. It is not therapy but provides skills to give staff a taste of mindfulness which they can use immediately. By week three everyone wonders why they did not discover these simple and life transforming techniques years before.
One of the first skills learnt is to anchor the attention in the present moment through the body or the breath. The purpose of this is just to give ourselves a bit of space to come out of autopilot and the constant shuttling of the mind from past to future thoughts and give ourselves a few moments during a busy day to be in the now.
Stop, breathe and be is when you stop what you are doing, place the attention in the feet – really feeling all the sensations there just as they are – then gathering the attention and placing it on the breathing simply observing and following the breath for a few moments allowing yourself to be before continuing with your day. This could just support us in making a mental shift allowing us to respond rather than react in any given situation.
Mindful activity can form part of your everyday life and is about paying close attention to whatever you are doing, otherwise we rush through one activity to the next and live much of life in an unconscious way. For example, I try to brush my teeth and focus on the actual brushing rather than being on my usual autopilot. This simply allows me to recognise the moment I am in rather than obsessing about what is going to happen during my day. You can apply this to taking a shower, walking the dog, driving or any other activity that you tend to do without focus.
Eating is another daily activity we may do in an automatic way but if we slow this down and really focus on all the physical sensations of eating then we can enjoy what we eat and wake up from our automatic mode and really taste and appreciate our food.
We may ask ourselves what is the cost of all this inattention; after all we only have moments to live so we may as well be present for some of them.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the positive benefits that a mindfulness practice can bring.
In fact, the NHS now recommends mindfulness to a growing number of patients suffering from anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness is a skill that has to be practiced regularly and over the long term to realise the most benefit. The more we bring our mind into the present in a formal or informal way then the more we can train the mind to pay attention to all aspects of our life. We can then say we are really making the most of life rather than drifting through it. This can support us in savouring all our good experience and dealing more skillfully with the not so good times.
Amanda Bailey is associate principal with the Bright Futures Educational Trust (BFET); a multi-academy Trust of six schools in the north west. In line with the vision and values of BFET she has a number of years ofteaching experience and one of her key roles is broadening opportunity for all young people regardless of background.