Schools should, unquestionably, be sanctuaries of empathy where heart-felt, non-judgmental,present moment awareness is witnessed in the interactions between adults and children.Working with an attitude of mindfulness for best practice in schools should be at the forefront of all education policy, planning and curriculum delivery.
Children should inhabit learning spaces which are peaceful, happy places that inspire and motivate them and their teachers to explore and develop to their fullest capacity; places where individual temperament,learning style, strengths and weaknesses are respected.
Too often today, young people are exposed to impatience and aggression, scrutiny through excessive testing, childhood is accelerated and living in the ‘now’ is high-jacked by over-stimulation, crammed schedules or a lack of curious and permissive adult care. Over-exposure to social media and virtual realities prohibits our children from being truly attuned to their needs and emotions.
Teachers at St Anthony’s School for Girls bring a mindful, calm and caring approach to their bright, airy classrooms. Through repeated encounters with curious and encouraging teachers, the children learn to trust the value of their insights and opinions. They grow in confidence and courage, able to verbalise complex thoughts and feelings when they are met with an attitude of respect and authentic interest.
The teachers have created safe and non-judgmental listening spaces using ‘Talk Points’, ‘Talking Assemblies’, ‘Talk Partners, ‘Big Questions’ and ‘Critical Thinking Challenges‘to ensure that the children come to believe that what they say truly matters.
Teachers and parents practice being their ‘best selves’ at the school. This model of behaviour and communication is used to guide the children as they learn how to develop relationships, work in harmony with others and form fruitful long-term friendships. Conflict is acknowledged and resolved using this model. Shining the light of objectivity on tensions and arguments gives our children a balanced, calm view of their problem. The children are helped to negotiate their way towards the best result for both parties in their exchanges. Over time, they learn to do this independently and with great respect for each other.
Our aim is to establish tranquil, calm and compassionate learning environments, enabling our children to develop into balanced,confident and empathic young adults who will effect positive change in our society.
Calm learning spaces support the children’s ability to listen attentively, with curiosity. As the children’s attention span grows,they are able to maintain focus and remain ‘in the moment’ for longer, engaging with their teacher and classmates with ease as learning takes place and ‘light bulb’ moments happen.
Breathing and other mindfulness techniques which help relax the body, take children to an inner space where they can experience peace and serenity. This can be an antidote to stressful situations as well as the demands of a busy school day.
Helping children to observe and recognise their emotions helps them to be self-aware, to address feelings as they emerge and also see their fleeting, transient nature. The children gradually learn how best to respond appropriately to jubilation,frustration, disappointment, jealousy, envy and anger. Feelings flow through them naturally without becoming obstacles that impede their learning and development.
Guiding children to recognise their patterns of behaviour supports them to gradually modify and change habitual, repetitive behaviours that do not bring satisfaction to their relationships.Growing children’s awareness of their own thoughts, emotions and senses supports their understanding of what other people are experiencing and helps develop a strong sense of empathy.
An education embedded within the principles of mindfulness will ensure that the children of today, who will be the adults of tomorrow are better prepared to cope with the unexpected. They will adapt to new circumstances by minimising impulsive, reactionary responses, instead developing creative and emotionally intelligent solutions to the problems of everyday life as well as the increasingly complex global challenges they face.
A generation of young people who will have learned to be kind to themselves, respectful to others and committed to social justice for all will build a mindful society benefitting everyone.
To find out more visit www.stanthonysgirls.co.uk
School tours by appointment on Wednesdays during term time at 10am
This article submitted by Donal Brennan, headteacher of St Anthony’s Girl’s School