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The Benefits Of Bringing Mindfulness In To The Classroom

Children and teachers, too, can benefit.

24/10/2016 1:21 PM AEDT | Updated 24/10/2016 6:11 PM AEDT
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In our fast-paced world, children might just need it the most.

When you were going through your Year 12 exams, how did you manage your stress?

Perhaps you felt snowed under with overwhelming anxiety over the state of your post-school future, or maybe the pressure of an intense exam period was enough to make your head spin.

A recent Australian study has shown introducing mindfulness meditation into the classroom improves the mental health and well being of students and teachers. And it just may have helped you.

"We've learnt that mindfulness meditation can help a lot in that kind of setting, and students are unfortunately not accessing it at the moment," Dr Addie Wootten, CEO of web and app-based meditation program Smiling Mind, told The Huffington Post Australia.

Our vision is to see mindfulness meditation on the national Australian school curriculum by 2020.

"If students are taught these skills throughout their schooling, hopefully by the time they reach Year 12, they will have developed a regular practice and a different approach to managing stress."

The trial, involving 104 teachers and 1852 students across Victoria, was conducted by Smiling Mind in collaboration with the Victorian Department of Education and as part of the Victorian government's Public Sector Innovation Fund.

"We spoke with the government about using our technology-based platform to deliver mindfulness practice into schools," Dr Wootten said.

And it aimed to address a void in evidence-based research.

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"There is a large bank of research that has shown the benefits for adults, but there is very little that has explored the benefits for children -- particularly in a school setting."

"This is the largest study that we are aware of, worldwide, to evaluate the use of technology and explore whether teaching children early in their lives could lead to improved mental health outcomes."

The trial implemented Smiling Mind's Education Program that comprises a series of lesson plans, each tailored to a particular age group across primary and secondary school levels.

"We know that teachers are very busy and overloaded as is. Our model is focused on providing teachers and students with accessible resources that they can use in their own way in the classroom," Dr Wootten explained.

It was positive to see that the teachers who were teaching the mindfulness practice were also receiving the benefits.

"We provide teaches with lesson plans that cover the big concepts, as well as guided meditations on our app that are developed for each age group. We then ask the teachers to facilitate a debriefing discussion with the kids to understand how they can use this new information in their everyday life."

Implemented across 12 Victorian schools, the first stage involved training teachers.

"We ran 12 professional development and training workshops over five weeks to introduce them to the concepts of mindfulness. We measured their well being, mental health and stress before they started and when they finished," Dr Wootten said.

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'Our job is to find a way to train teacher around these skills,' Dr Wootten said.

The next stage introduced the program into the classroom, asking teachers to use it in their school day at least three times a week for eight weeks.

"Each school developed a slightly different model depending on their focus. Some schools brought it into their well being classes while others introduced the practice at the start of an English class."

This stage was broken down into two sittings to monitor the well being of children when they were participating in the program and when they weren't.

Students and teachers were also asked to practice mindfulness practice at home using the Smiling Mind app -- one that has reached more than 1.3 million people worldwide and more than approximately 13,000 education providers.

"It can be a bit conceptual, so we know that it is not until you practice it yourself that you can fully understand how it works," Dr Wootten said.

The results

The project revealed positive benefits for both students and teachers.

"Across all of the students, the biggest impact was on their quality of sleep," Dr Wootten said.

We saw a big change in their awareness of the emotional state, but also an improvement in their capacity to deal with their emotions.

"We also found for all students an improvement in student misbehaviour." This category included an improvement in students' engagement with their school work, a decrease in the level of classroom distraction and a reduction in bullying.

Awareness of students' emotional state also improved.

"This was particularly relevant for those students who had a lower well being at the start of the program. We saw a big change in their awareness of their emotional state, but also an improvement in their capacity to deal with those emotions," Dr Wootten said.

The findings were similar for teachers.

"All of the teachers reported less distress, stress and tension as well as an increase in their emotional well being. It was positive to see that the teachers who were teaching the mindfulness practice were also receiving the benefits."

What's next?

Smiling Mind's vision is to see mindfulness meditation on the national Australian school curriculum by 2020.

"We think that the platform we have developed using technology allows us to support every single student across the country in a cost-effective, scaleable way," Dr Wootten said.

"We are talking with different departments about how we can train teachers around these skills and support schools to see this happen."

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