Mindfulness

Watch an H+H presentation, Mindful Schools which shows one organization integrates mindfulness into education. Mindful Schools is a non-profit organization that offers professional training, in-class instruction, and other resources to support mindfulness in education. Mindful Schools’ Adult Courses have taught thousands of educators, social workers, psychologists, parents, and other adults how to use mindfulness effectively with children, impacting many tens of thousands of children each year.

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness” refers to the intentional cultivation of moment-by-moment non-judgmental attention and awareness (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Formal mindfulness practices provide a form of mental training in which a person directs his or her attention and awareness to an object or anchor, like the breath, bodily sensations, external sounds, or arising thoughts and emotions. The training involves noticing whatever arises with an open, kind, and curious attitude so as to cultivate a clearer awareness of moment-to-moment experience (Meiklejohn et. al., 2012). Cultivating a mindful quality of attention is believed to increase a person’s ability to respond skillfully to present experience, reducing stress-related physical, mental, and emotional reactions (Weare, 2013).

Mindfulness and Learning

Pre-K-12 educators are increasingly interested in the potential of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to promote more effective teaching and learning (Meiklejohn et al., 2012). A growing body of research from the fields of neuroscience, developmental psychology, public health, medicine, and education points to the promising effects of mindfulness practices on cognitive, behavioral, health-related, and socio-emotional capacities essential to pro-social behavior and academic success (e.g., Davidson et al., 2011; Greenberg & Harris, 2012; Sibinga & Kemper, 2010; Meiklejohn et al., 2012). Mindfulness offers a promising means for cultivating both students’ and teachers’ attentional capacities, reducing stress, and promoting empathy and social relationships – all important aspects of learning systems. A growing body of evidence in adults shows that mindfulness practices can rewire brain circuitry and heighten activation in brain regions responsible for regulating attention, empathy, and other pro-social emotions (Davidson et al, 2012). Although there are not yet have extensive data on the effects of these practices on children’s brain functioning, preliminary evidence suggests that mindfulness practices strengthen students’ capacity to self-regulate attention (Meiklejohn et al, 2012).

Studies of school-based mindfulness instruction for students do suggest the potential for benefit. To date, only a few randomized controlled trials of school-based mindfulness instruction for students have been published, but they show promising results related to improvements in the important domains of executive function (Flook et al, 2010), as well as improvements in psychological symptoms and coping (Mendelson et al, 2010; Sibinga et al, 2013). These positive findings and the expansion of school-based mindfulness programs emphasize the crucial role of thoughtful, multi-disciplinary research and evaluation.

Recent evidence indicates that teaching mindfulness practices to teachers can help promote more optimal learning environments. Several randomized control trials of various mindfulness-based teacher professional development programs have found promising impacts on teachers’ psychological symptoms, burnout, and well-being, as well as improvements in classroom organization, affective attentional bias, and self-compassion (Flook et al., 2013; Jennings et. al., 2013). These results suggest that mindfulness-based programs show promise for promoting teacher well-being and capacities to create and sustain both supportive relationships with students and classroom climates conducive to student engagement and learning (Roeser et. al., 2012).

The evidence base in this innovative area is still in early stages of development. The Johns Hopkins University is presenting a Symposium on Mindfulness and Learning which will will synthesize current knowledge and pave the way for future research and practice.

Watch an H+H presentation, which shows one organization integrates mindfulness into education. Mindful Schools is a non-profit organization that offers professional training, in-class instruction, and other resources to support mindfulness in education. Mindful Schools’ Adult Courses have taught thousands of educators, social workers, psychologists, parents, and other adults how to use mindfulness effectively with children, impacting many tens of thousands of children each year.

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