Mindful Education

Mindful Education

There’s been growing interest in mindfulness in education in recent years, but all too often educators struggle to know where to start, how to work with the teachers first before considering the potential impacts for students or how to carry all other stakeholders with them.  I’ve also had experiences where senior educators have struggled to figure out all the implications of how mindfulness practices will change so many other facets of their school culture. For example, if a school expresses a commitment to mindfulness then it has to completely rethink its approach to discipline, behaviour policies etc.

I’m always keen to bring free and useful resources to the attention of readers of this blog. So, I wanted to get a quick message out to all to share information on the Mindful Education Summit. This is a free online conference that actually started on Wednesday. Each day they share through the website (link below) a number of video presentations of talks of varying lengths. each day’s videos are available for 48 hours. So, there is still a little time to catch up on the day 1 material, day 2 will be available for another day and day 3 is just launching now.

The videos vary between explanation of theory and research in the area of applying mindfulness in education environments and some that are very geared to providing demonstrations and simple practices of mindful practices.

The Mindful Education Summit Website
(Click on the link above and it will open a new tab or page in your bowser. You will simply be asked to share your name and email address to register, then getting full access to the videos.

Hurting the Ones You Love

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Putting others down to raise ourselves up is, in my view, one of the most invidious forms of bullying. But, we’ve got a problem that needs to be called out – young people’s environment today is full of it.  It’s doing enormous harm and hurt, but nobody’s supposed to say anything about it.

As far as I can tell a big part of it has come out of American culture alongside cultural icons like WWE wrestling. In this pseudo sport, athletes (sic) who are supposedly friends turn on each other, cause each other physical pain and injury and this is all supposed to be terribly entertaining and fun.

It’s part of a major theme of American entertainment culture sold to young people over the last 25 years or so that, I believe deliberately bends and distorts friendship, loyalty and other positive aspects of human relations. And then people wonder why, in parallel we have a generation of young people who’ve grown up more needy, more flaky and vulnerable, more lonely and lacking in human closeness than any before.

There are some particularly sickening aspects of this phenomenon. One of the very worst is “the roast”. When I was growing up i was always taught that good comedy laughs with people, and not at them – that laughing at people was not clever, kind or reflecting positively on the perpetrator. However, the roast manipulates these norms and principles horribly. They take place usually on TV. A specific person is treated as the Guest of Honour (but there’s no honour in this) and is subjected to a barrage of jokes made at them, at their expense and this is intended to entertain the event’s wider audience. We even now have a President of America who was the subject of one such MTV channel roasts (he’s also paraded as part of a stupid, purile storyline in WWE (because that’s what friends do to each other).

The idea is that somehow, personal and brutal humour is the modern equivalent of jousting and the strong person can ‘suck it up’, taking criticism and insult with a smile on their face. This is like friends putting on velvet gloves before punching each other in the face.

Another media manifestation is the Punk’d style of hidden camera shows where practical jokes are played on people by their friends. The more the trick entails a betrayal of friendship and trust, apparently the more entertaining it is. If the person being punk’d shows themselves to be human, hurt, ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated so much the better. I’ve often wondered what the conversations are like that happen just after these humiliations. In most countries it must be necessary for the person to sign something that permits the TV company to broadcast the incident. In all honesty, if I was on the receiving end I wouldn’t sign. No amount of waffle about 15 minutes of fame, popularity etc. would win me over. They would have been wasting their time and expense. But, sadly, the pressure is obviously applied so cleverly that many people are lured by their 15 minutes of fame, just as Andy Warhol predicted 50 years ago.

My belief has always been that friendship is a relationship that is especially important for children and young people growing up today – one that provides something different to relationships within the family. It’s a relationship in which it should be safe for youngsters to explore their views on the world, with someone who has their best interests at heart, where there is strong trust, caring and loyalty. It should be a relationship that children feel can be relied upon, to fall back on for advice, help and support in dealing with life’s challenges and uncertainties.

Instead, I fear that all that all too often what we’re getting is relationships that appear to be supportive and protective, but are in fact the environments within which young people’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses are most abused. Around nine years ago i was so alarmed by what I was seeing that I took the support and guidance of our school clinical psychologist and counselors to write an article to address myself to parents and particularly to students aged around 9 – 12. What we were seeing was an almost incessant needling and digging by children in to each other’s vulnerabilities. Children who claimed to be friends were engaged in almost continuous insults and innuendo about whatever were their greatest weaknesses or vulnerabilities. One child might be carrying some excess weight, another had a mother who didn’t buy him/ her the top designer label clothes, another had parents who were separating, yet another had given an unfortunately wrong and thoughtless answer to a class question in Maths. Whatever makes you most vulnerable is most likely to be known by your friends. However, when friendship starts to consist of parading each others’ vulnerabilities in public for ridicule and belittling there has to be something very wrong.

We had concluded from research and interviews with children, parents and teachers that often this was a deflection method to protect themselves from feeling vulnerable. In other words – I tear you down in order to feel good (or at least a little less bad) about myself. The best analogy might be a playground seesaw. in order to raise me up, you must be pushed down – as though there was only so much self esteem to go around.

Just like the victim in a roast, the child being ridiculed was supposed to show resilience, hide all evidence that the comments and criticisms hurt and, if really ‘playing the game’ to come back with equal vigour in the battle. This may have been the face children were showing each other. However, teachers, parents and school councilors were seeing the evidence of the harm and damage done as children were repeatedly being betrayed by those they trusted, or feeling guilt because they had betrayed their friends (or both!) This was not victimless fun, but a massive erosion of self worth and self esteem.

In the most extreme of cases, I’ve had a group of 16 year old boys admit to me that amongs their friend group they had instituted ‘safe words’ – words that individuals could speak with an unwritten rule that when spoken, then this meant enough was enough. These young people were hurting each other so much and with such disregard for each other’s health and wellbeing – all while convincing themselves and others that they were friends. The safe words came in to play when an individual couldn’t take the emotional battering any more, when they were likely to act violently towards their friend or themselves or take some other drastic action.

This is tragic in the extreme and a gross distortion of anything that can be called friendship. This wasn’t a little harmless leg pulling amongst people who cared for each other. This was risk taking on a gross scale, mirroring the worst of TV and media habits where people appear to bate each other, probe the festering wounds of each others weaknesses, vulnerabilities and shortcomings in ways that make them look big, clever, witty and popular. The one who is ready to risk their friendships most is the coolest?!

What an awful state to have reached, and what terrible prices are being paid in the alienation, loneliness and low self esteem of our young people today. What can be done about it? Well, for starters, those who believe in a healthier, more wholesome and uplifting/ empowering model for friendship need to model this for young people.

More needs to be done to counteract the negative messages of the media and entertainment. We need to put more emphasis on social and emotional learning, the development of emotional intelligence, empathy and caring. Above all, we need to convey the messages to children about how they have choices about whether to build another up or pull them down, the implications of both and the understanding that self esteem is not a zero sum game. If my friend’s self esteem is emboldened today, then he or she is more likely and available to boost mine tomorrow when i need it, going in to a difficult conversation with an adult, a sports event or an exam.

Less emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns and more focus on building strong, resilient emotionally intelligent children who place as much importance on holding up their friends and peers as on boosting themselves up. It’s not always an easy world in which to grow up and our children need all the help they can get. In the words of the theme tune of long running and ever popular comedy, ‘Friends’;
“I’ll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you
Like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you
‘Cause you’re there for me too”

 

 

What Did You Learn in School Today?

This is a bad question to ask a child after a day at school, for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, a day in school is a pretty emotional and draining experience for many children. As a result, by the time the school day gets over the child is mentally frazzled and needs time, space and ideally sleep, to enable them to mentally process al the knowledge and information they’ve taken in.

It’s commonly a frustration to parents that their child seems to remember more about the social aspects of what happened in school, than the academic learning. it may even cause some parents to fear that academically their child isn’t learning very much. He or she can tell you lots about who did what to whom, who said what to a teacher and got away with it, who got punished for what etc. The plain reality is that the social elements and aspects of school are incredibly important to our children. We shouldn’t underestimate how many important skills are being developed through these social interactions – skills that will be vital in adulthood.

Another problem with the question is that the learning experiences of the day are so broad and various that the child is hard pressed to figure out which bits, which elements we the adults might consider most important or want us to share with them. Plainly, the child knows that they’re not expected to give a verbatim report of everything they saw, heard, felt or experienced (and all their judgements and reflections) during the day.

It’s known that a lot of learning isn’t really ‘mine’ until I’ve slept to process it and take full ownership of the memories. This is another reason why such a question can prove challenging.

For many parents, so far, this will all be very unsatisfying. As attentive, keen and diligent parents they want to know that they can show an interest in their child’s learning, ensure their child is maintaining focus and effort and check that their educators are doing their job.

The question becomes – “Well, if that’s not the right question, then what is?”

The following article may contain the germ of an answer.

The British Psychological Society Digest – Could the Way we Talk to Children Help Them Remember Their Science Lessons?

This makes a lot of sense to me. Intuitively, it’s what I often tended to do with my own son when he was younger. It also, as a generalisation, is a line of questioning taken more often by mothers than fathers. I wonder whether the nature of the questions asked, the child’s vocalisation of the answers all serve to provide extra focus for when the child sleeps, enabling better absorption of the learning and greater access for recall later.

Whatever the explanation, I believe this merits more research and in the meantime is a habit worth adopting by parents.

Free Online Conferences

November is traditionally one of the busier times of the year for conferences. However, it’s also a very busy time in schools so few people can justify taking the time away to attend, let alone the cost.

So, I’m really happy to share that for the ‘learnivores’ everywhere there are online conference opportunities which are free to attend (but don’t compromise on quality content for being free)

Here are two:

The first is one that I’ve been following for about seven years. It’s the k-12 Online Conference and has a particular slant towards the harnessing of technology in the classroom and school to personalise and expand pupils’ learning experiences. It’s not only worth putting a note in the diary to catch up on some of the best live sessions, but also there’s an archive of all the presentations from past years – masses to get in to and explore:

K-12 Online Conference

The second is a new one for me, but looks really interesting. It has a fascinating lineup of speakers. It’s the Education Next Generation Conference running from 3rd to 7th November. This one focuses more on progressive education approaches, mindfulness, social emotional learning, homeschooling and so many aspects that focus on the child. This one will have great content for parents as well as educators:

Education Next Generation Conference

I’ve registered and will be looking to get in on some great learning sessions.

Incidentally, all live sessions will run on US time, which can be a problem. However, there are generally archive links available pretty soon after for each session to watch at a more convenient time. Not as immersive as being part of live sessions, but a worthwhile second best.

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