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Creating a Calm and Positive Environment in Our Schools Through Mindfulness Training

shutterstock_151905905By Benjamin Kligler, MD
One of the most encouraging developments in recent years in creating a world that helps our children grow in a safe and healthy environment is the rapidly expanding presence of mindfulness training in schools around the world. For students, studies have shown that mindfulness can lead to significant improvements in cognitive skills—like attention and focus—as well as in social and emotional skills and capacity for resilience.[1] Students who learn mindfulness are less anxious and depressed, more empathetic and better behaved overall than their counterparts .[2] And since it has been shown that social skills in kindergarten are predictive of outcomes in adulthood like substance use risk, education levels, and overall mental health status,[3] an intervention in nearly childhood that improves social skills could have a huge impact on many of the biggest challenges facing our society.

There is still debate as to what type of mindfulness intervention might work best, but even some very brief interventions have shown an impressive effect. One randomized controlled study done in 2012  tested the Mindful Schools curriculum in 937 children and 47 teachers in three Oakland public elementary schools. The mindfulness curriculum, in which teachers were trained to deliver four hours of mindfulness instruction for students, led to statistically significant improvements in paying attention and participation in class activities versus the control group.[4] So even a very small “dose” of mindfulness can lead to important changes in students’ experience.[5]

Although the benefits of mindfulness training for students are tremendous, just as important are the potential benefits of teaching these skills to their teachers. When teachers learn mindfulness, the documented outcomes include reduced stress and burnout, greater effectiveness in doing their jobs, and more emotionally supportive classrooms. And because the average teacher will connect with roughly 3000 students during their career, providing teachers with mindfulness training can potentially have a huge impact—because imagine the difference for the average child between spending 35 hours a week in a tumultuous high-stress classroom as opposed to one infused with calm. What if time in the elementary school classroom could be an antidote for all the difficult and painful things happening in other parts of many children’s lives?

The most impressive and widespread commitment so far to incorporating mindfulness into schools has been in the United Kingdom. In 2015, the Wellcome Trust funded the MYRIAD (My Resilience in Adolescence) project, which compares several different mindfulness strategies to support well-being in a five-year randomized trial—looking to determine which approaches are most effective for even wider spreads throughout the system.[6] Then in early 2019, the British government announced that in a new and even larger study, children in up to 370 schools across Britain would be taught relaxation skills and breathing and mindfulness techniques to promote well-being.[7] This type of national government level commitment creates real hope that teaching our children how to be centered, present, and clam will become a standard part of education. Imagine the type of decisions the next generation of children might be ready to make when they reach adulthood about climate change, or environmental pollution, or even world peace for that matter, if they have been practicing a calm, centered and loving approach like mindfulness since early childhood. One can only hope this catches on across the entire world!

Dr._KliglerDr. Kligler is the Medical Advisor for The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center®. He is also the National Director of the Integrative Health Coordinating Center for the Veterans Health Administration and Research Director for the Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. He was the founding  Director  of the Beth Israel Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine, and teaches in the Beth Israel Residency Program in Urban Family Practice. Dr. Kligler is the author of Curriculum in Complementary Therapies: A Guide for the Medical Educator, and co-editor of Integrative Medicine: Principles for Practice, a textbook published by McGraw-Hill. He is also Co-Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.



[1]Zenner C, Hernnleben-Kurz Z, Walach H. Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis Front.Psychol.,2014 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00603

[2]Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66

[3] Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-­Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283–2290.

[4]https://www.mindfulschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Mindful-Schools-Study-Highlights.pdf

[5]Semple RJ, Droutman V, Reid BA. MINDFULNESS GOES TO SCHOOL: THINGS LEARNED (SO FAR) FROM RESEARCH AND REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCES. Psychol Sch. 2017;54(1):29–52. doi:10.1002/pits.21981

[6]http://myriadproject.org

[7]https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/world/europe/uk-mindfulness-children-school.html

 

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