My contribution for #EdBookNZ 2016.
Listen with your heart to what your mind is telling you.
- Ko tō ngākau ki ngā taonga o ō tïpuna hei tikitiki mō tō māhunga.
- Turn your heart to the treasures of your ancestors as a crown for your head.
I have chosen to undertake understanding mindfulness because at our school our personal focus is on well being. I am also an across school teacher for the Auckland Central Community of Schools and understanding how mindfulness affects learning is one of our underlying concepts to unpack.
What is Mindfulness?
I believe mindfulness is about training of self to be more aware. It is about focussing and resting the mind so it has time to relax. The benefits of understanding mindfulness as a skill is reduced stress, effective emotional regularity and an improved working memory. Mindfulness nurtures positive mind states like kindness and compassion.
Psychology today defines ‘Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.’
However I have recently uncovered this definition from Mindful Schools where children explain what mindfulness means titled ‘Just Breathe.’
As I read about mindfulness I identified components to understand the interplay of mind and body feelings such as:
- Taking care of the soul through outdoor activities such as exercise or just being outdoors enjoying the natural environment;
- Taking care of the body through nutrition, hydration and sleep;
- Taking care of the mind by allowing it to rest, daydream and imagine;
In addition there appears to be a ripple effect of steps when experiencing mindfulness. Mindfulness stresses the importance of loving self, loving others and loving the environment. These all have an effect on mind because all are intertwined. I was recently reminded about the importance of mindfulness in indigenous cultures and how closely mindfulness is linked to our place in our environment. From my Samoan side I am reminded of the term Fa’alupega which is a part of Samoan culture and custom. Knowing Fa’alupega allows you to connect individuals to families and to land and origins of their past. I was taught, ‘O ai a’u?’ Who am I? If we, as educators, teach the whole student, then shouldn’t we be providing them with the skills to harness their mental, emotional, social, intellectual potential and make links to their place in the community via mindfulness?
The opposite of mindfulness is: self destructive behaviour; stress and burnout problems; under-achieving; lack of self-respect; substance abuse and other self harm behaviour.
Let me unpack the steps to develop mindfulness for teaching and learning further. In schools we often focus on exercise and activity for our learners. We teach about the importance of nutrition and hydration for well being. We work with families to reduce the appearance of processed food and sugary drinks at our schools. We stress if our learners appear to be tired from lack of sleep. In this day and age we have the added stress of being permanently connected to devices which brings both benefits and challenges. However when do we give our learners time to rest their minds? How do we take this non-judgmental approach to observing our thoughts and feelings during mindfulness into how we exist in the world? How different would the world be if we could observe without judgement?
Looking after self by resting the mind
There are three steps to follow that focus on mental stillness and attention to the present moment. All three can be used to rest mind or can be used individually.
- Anchoring which is when attention is anchored to a chosen object by staying close to the object despite mental activity.
- Resting allows the mind to relax by resting gently on breathing.
- Being which is just sitting and experiencing the present moment.
We can teach our ourselves and our children the importance of having digital detox. We can create comparisons with junk food and media junk and look for the effects of both on our well being. We can take care of our minds by practicing dreaming and imagining and just giving our minds a chance to rest and be still. You can explore Chade-Meng Tan’s ideas for settling the mind here. You can have a quiet chuckle here. Deep breathing has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety. Deep, slow and even breaths can be a powerful calm-down tool.
Giving service to others
Another idea of mindfulness is about kindness, compassion and about looking after others in our community. In our curriculum how can we acknowledged the importance of service to others? That is the giving of self to community so that we can develop the sense of purpose and contribution of our place in the community. Our older children do some of this via leadership activities. They choose an area where they give time such as looking after the library or looking after younger classes during wet lunchtimes. They commit to activities that benefit the school such as taking part in Travelwise or sports. But how can we foster this idea further so they can move this out into the community?
What other opportunities for our community of learners can we develop so that they can make connections with each other? We already do this with camps and productions and school wide activities. But I wonder if we can be doing even more especially now that we are part of a greater community of learners in the Auckland Central Community of Schools? How can we develop further the ideas of nurturing and sharing across our community of learners so that kindness and compassion develops?
Loving the environment
As educators we focus predominantly on environmental studies and in the case of my school we pride ourselves on our Green Gold Enviro status and our silver status for Travelwise. Yet how often do we focus on using the environment for us and our well being. We know that breathing fresh clean air and feeling the sun on our skin can be rejuvenating. However exposure to sunlight and fresh air actually offers our body health benefits that can last a lifetime. Exposure to the sun gives vitamin D benefits that fosters bone growth and improves general overall health. Exposure to sunlight at the same time each day reduces a chemical in our bodies called melatonin and this helps us sleep better. Walking through trees exposes us to phytoncides which reduces the stress hormone cortisol. You can read more about the effects of being outdoors here.
The benefits of mindfulness
How can we be of genuine service to others and create lasting connections within our communities if our mind is a busy whirlpool of fleeting and ruminating thoughts? Being aware of and practising mindfulness with our learners brings several benefits including decreased negative effects of depression and anxiety. Learners become more self regulated and compassionate. They become more focussed and stronger academically. Being aware of and practising mindfulness improves the working memory. Practicing mindfulness is a powerful antidote for stress, distraction and selfishness in the world. Most important of all mindfulness lays a powerful foundation for all other learning skills.
Mindfulness and learning
I have listed and described the steps that develop mindfulness and explained how and why mindfulness helps learning and by making my learning visible. I can teach others to explain why mindfulness helps learning. However I have finished with even more questions to explore and a greater sense of calm as I put into practice some of what I have learnt about mindfulness.
Acknowledgements and Sources:
I give a shout out to Kim Mackrell who took some time to give me some fabulous feedback and more questions for me to to think about.
Alton, L. (2014). Deep breathing skills to lower anxiety and blood pressure. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.naturalhealth365.com/anxiety-deep-breathing-1135.html/
Hess, E. (2014) Get-U-Fit. Get out and smell the roses. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from https://blogs.uww.edu/warhawkfitness/2014/04/06/get-out-and-smell-the-roses-the-benefits-of-fresh-air/
Mindful Schools. (2015). “Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
Stosny, P. B., (n.d.). Psychology Today. What is Mindfulness? Retrieved October 2, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness
Tan, C. (2016). How to Settle the Mind – Mindful. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://www.mindful.org/how-to-settle-the-mind/