It’s a new buzzword, mindfulness, but what exactly is it? Dr James Dalziel, Head of UWC South East Asia’s East Campus, explains how it can help children learn and grow.
Possibly the best way to generalise the concept is as a purposeful method of gaining increased focus on self, he says. But it’s not just about concentration; practising mindfulness reportedly helps us live in the present, and accept our current circumstances and feelings for what they are. It has found favour as a potential antidote for the various afflictions attributed to our hectic, multitasked and technology-laden lives.
What would you say are the benefits of mindfulness in education?
Any educational programme should be assessed by the gains it delivers in student learning, and while the benefits of mindfulness are clear, they’re not always obvious.
Author Daniel Goldman writes that “mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses”. Simply put, our decision-making becomes more intentional and balanced, and less impulsive and irrational.
School programmes can take advantage of this mindful approach and provide a model of structured decision-making for students. It’s a sequence of pausing, checking your emotions and feelings, and deciding if you are in the most appropriate state of mind to make the decision at hand. This can provide a powerful filter to impulsive adolescent behaviour.
What is mindful behaviour?
In the early stages of mindfulness, students are far more likely to use mindful practice in a reflective manner, and not necessarily in the heat of the moment. However, it is the “in the moment” application where mindfulness finds its greatest benefits.
People who enjoy a heightened state of awareness typically have the ability to monitor their own values, thoughts, behaviours and, ultimately, goals. They tend to have well-developed value systems that they are able to articulate clearly and within a variety of different contexts. Those with increased levels of consciousness tend to read situations early, and avoid foreseeable relational pitfalls; they are aware of themselves, aware of others, and aware of the setting they are in.
This “view from the balcony”, as it has become known, allows the viewer to see themselves within the scene, and recognise the influence of their thinking and subsequent actions on themselves and those around them.
How can mindfulness apply to education?
Firstly, mindfulness offers all members of the school community the ability to develop strategies to “switch on” – to themselves and others. Secondly, professional benefits flow from working and learning in an environment that is self-monitoring and ultimately self-transforming. A school in which all members of the community are taking a mindful approach to their daily interactions should result in a self-managing, self-directing, compassionate and empathetic environment for our students. Gains in student learning must surely follow.
The physiological and psychological benefits that accrue with this increased state of awareness and self-mastery are well documented. Compassion must begin with a sensitivity and attention to ourselves, which can evolve into empathy and an understanding of others. Ultimately, mindfulness leads to increased compassion.
UWC South East Asia has a Dover Campus at 1207 Dover Road (6775 5344) and an East Campus at 1 Tampines Street 73 (6305 5344). uwcsea.edu.sg
This story first appeared in Expat Living’s August 2015 issue.