#8: Teaching Mindfulness Online? Reflections on Safeguarding during School Closures
As we ride the waves of uncertainty and daily changes to government guidance, our daily meetings at MiSP have been dominated by how we can best support students and teachers in the midst of school closures and restricted movement.
We are also more than aware of how these changes will have affected many of those teaching MiSP curricula in school and other youth-focused contexts.
We know that, for many of you, these changes are having a significant logistical and/or financial impact. Some classes have had their .b/Paws b classes interrupted along with their other subjects, and external teachers’ planning to deliver mindfulness training in schools now face several months of uncertainty.
We have therefore put together a series of suggestions that we hope will help as we continue to have to think on our feet.
What you can do …
While schools have been asked to close, there are groups of children who will still be attending school. They will be of mixed age range, but would almost certainly benefit from some mindfulness training. Luckily, MiSP’s curricula cater for broad age ranges, loosely designed for specific key stages, namely:
- Paws b – Key Stage 2 – Ages 7-11 – Years 3, 4, 5 and 6
- .b – Key Stage 3 & 4 – Ages 11-16 – Years 7, 8 and 9
- .breathe – bridging both Key Stage 2 and 3 – Years 5- 9
Offering to teach these courses to those students who remain at school either in person at the school, or online while the class is together in school with their teacher may be a very welcome offering as schools try to find useful and age-appropriate content for these mixed age groups.
Although still early days, it looks like there may be government grants to help support these new initiatives. Watch this space!
If your best option is to teach classes at school online, we will be offering online training on how to use Zoom when teaching groups in this way.
Schools are going to have to get very creative in terms of how they continue to support their students’ learning while they remain at home, and there’s no reason why their mindfulness education should be any different. While we do not in any way condone teaching individual students online while they learn from home, it is possible to get creative in how you can continue to support their learning remotely.
- Students who have been learning .b can continue to access their home practice animations and guided practices via dotbe.org. Providing them with a learning plan on how and when to use these practices could be very helpful.
- If teaching Paws b, you could record the guided practices and make these available through the school intranet so that students can continue to practice should they want to. MiSP will be creating their own recordings of the Paws b practices
- In the case of both .b and Paws b, there is no reason why you shouldn’t send them regular suggested activities via email (through the school comms system only – NEVER through your own personal email address). You can even email them the worksheets that accompany these practices or themes from .b/Paws b lessons.
Keeping the Young Person Safe
As you know, Paws b, .b and .breathe are classroom-based introductions to mindfulness techniques at a very light level. They present an opportunity to establish a set of skills upon which students can draw when things get tricky, but also in order to support them in noticing the ‘good stuff’.
However, even in the shortest of practices, with a well-trained teacher, ‘stuff can come up’ – a complex emotion, a difficult memory etc. – and the teacher will need to hold that student’s response skilfully. For example, it is important to be able to respond quickly and compassionately to a student saying ‘I feel sad when I do this practice’ or ‘it brings up sad memories for me.’ Worst case scenario, they may disclose very personal information or something that gives you concerns about their wellbeing.
Should this happen in a classroom situation, there are safeguarding policies and procedures in place that will support both the child and the person they disclosed to. When they are a face on a screen, it’s a very different matter, and one that should be avoided, for the sake of the wellbeing and safety of the young person and teacher in question.
Not Knowing the Context
When teaching young people online, it is difficult if not impossible, to know the context from which they are calling in.
Supporting groups of young people when teaching these courses is tricky enough when they are in the same room as you but, when at a distance, this becomes even harder. When staring at them from a screen, it is almost impossible to get a sense of the context from which they’re joining the session, where they are, who is with them, and any distractions there may be.
Even if a parent or other adult is present with the student when they were being taught in an online context, there may be further issues, depending on whether or not the adult in question understands what is happening, or is supportive of the child.
Indeed, we have found that the presence of parents or carer during Paws b, .b or .breathe classes shifts the dynamic of the sessions for them considerably. They can feel vulnerable through being observed by their parent/carer while taking part in practices. Furthermore, the ‘special’ time that these sessions represent may be sacrificed through it being shared with parents. We always steer teachers away from running sessions where both young people and their parents are taking part.
Lack of Research
Our curricula have been well-researched as classroom-based mindfulness programmes, but there is no robust research evidence available around its safety of efficacy when delivered online, and until there is, we would not advocate running it in this format.
As you can see, running these sessions outside of a more traditional educational context can be complex.
Please don’t leave yourself or the young person in question vulnerable through teaching them online in any other context than as part of a group supported by a teacher in attendance.
Please do be creative in how you manage any alternatives, and please do share your ideas with us so that we can all learn together through these unprecedented times.