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Mindful Education – Mainstream Practice?

Mindful Education – Mainstream Practice?

We hear it constantly: mindfulness, balance, breathe. To fight stress, to have better lives. And happiness. And recently we hear how important it is to learn these things in school,
earlier and earlier. Sure – but how do we really do that and does it really work? Two recent books lay out the rationale, principles, methods and a bit about the research in a manner that is digestible and, even better, offers immediate opportunities for implementing some ideas immediately.

I like that. My critiques of other books and programs has focused largely on the packaging and marketing that requires people to enter into a training program that costs a bunch of money and creates both a financial and, in my mind, a psychological barrier to getting involved. I understand that people can and should be paid for their work. But the marketing of mindfulness is, I think, generally better accomplished by being great at connecting, teaching, supporting and demonstrating outcomes rather than repeated brand citations.

These books do it right.

The Mindful Way of Education by Daniel Rechtschaffen (Forward by Jon Kabat-Zin) 2014, leads off with a brilliant forward by Jon Kabat-Zin that sets the tone for a clear, present, and engaging exploration of the application of mindfulness in education. You are already still, already wanting to use these ideas as you begin the actual book. And then book does not disappoint. The basic principles are laid out along with a developmental framework that makes sense and allows for anyone working with children to recognize and capitalize on opportunities to build mindfulness into daily life. One excellent point central to this effort is the idea that mindfulness is optional – you do not force people to participate. This is emblematic of reflective practice approaches that offer support, invite and even challenge people to both care for themselves and explore and strengthen their abilities but in a manner that is pitched to build on the strengths of each individual and through that help people develop their own sense of agency and competence.

Mindfulness for Teachers – Patricia Jennings; Forward by Dan Siegel – 2015 – is a Norton book, part of Siegel’s outstanding series of books that includes many of my favorites such as Ed Tronick’s 2007 tome describing normal wonderful messy interactions that are central to the development of a sense of self and resilience. While that book was at times challenging for even an educated lay reader, excellent as it was, this volume is eminently straightforward and readable. It covers many of the same ideas as Rechtshaffen’s, however Jennings partitions her look at mindfulness into understanding and management of emotions, classroom management, with specific mapping of skills to tasks. She uses a framework developed by Dan Siegel to break down each area of interest, his 8 part wheel of awareness that includes 5 usual senses, internal body perceptions, ideas and concepts, and what he calls relational sense or relationship capacity. She also reviews a dozen or so programs, including Mind-UP, CARE, and others, that have been studied to ascertain their efficacy in helping children to become more able to be mindful and manage stress.

While the research may not necessarily apply directly to new populations, such as children exposed to conflict, and while is does not include other research efforts implementing self-regulation programs in typical and stressed populations, her review nevertheless represents an excellent start for anyone trying to come to terms with this fast moving phenomenon.

The move toward incorporating mindfulness into educational programming seems more than a passing fashion, largely because there is a growing body of research that demonstrates the presence of biological and psychological impacts of stress that impact learning, and growing but less developed work on developmental and mental health as well as academic outcomes in children who receive these approaches. Certainly, if the spirit of evidence based practice prevails, then all the relevant research, good judgment, and the recognition by families that there is a need for such approaches will result in more children choosing to participate and utilize mindfulness skills pending more definitive research.

For anyone working in the fields of child development, child and family mental health, and education, these books are very useful as introductory resources and starter kits for thinking and practicing mindfulness in our everyday work.

Joshua Feder, M.D. Dr. Feder's Blog

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