20 Tips #14: How to get mindfulness onto your school timetable

Welcome to MiSP’s series of 20 Top Tips for 2020. We have gathered together the 20 questions we are asked most often and, using a decade’s worth of experience in delivering mindfulness in schools, plus the experiences of our mindfulness community of more than 5,000 trained teachers, we provide the answers!

Effective implementation of mindfulness in schools needs planning and thought. One of the most important strategic decisions however is very simple: get mindfulness on the school timetable. Once it’s there, it can be routinely taught, week in, week out, term after term, and hundreds of children and young people can benefit. But (of course) it’s not as simple as it sounds: how do you fit mindfulness into an already full timetable? Here are our top tips…

1. Find an advocate in the school, preferably the Headteacher and / or someone (ideally everyone!) on the MT.

Securing a decision to include mindfulness in the timetable is necessary. This decision will have implications across the school: for staff training, budgets, school development priorities, and all the other timetabling requirements.

2. Book an appointment and prepare your material in advance.

Make sure you have the latest research evidence to hand to persuade your MT of the importance of mindfulness – we have lots of resources on our website. You need to be really prepared to discuss the rationale behind bringing mindfulness in the school. Make sure you understand your school development plan and can explain how mindfulness activities will support and help deliver that. Remember to include testimonies and case studies, or examples from your own experience with pupils and staff, to share.

3. Be prepared with suggestions of where mindfulness could fit on the timetable.

Which subject does mindfulness fit best in? If it is going to be part of the school’s curriculum, the lessons needs regular time allocation on the main school timetable, so you will need to collaborate with the Head or MT to identify what will work best in your school. Often, mindfulness lessons are included in the “wellbeing” sections of PSHE or life skills. But many schools are now including “mental wellbeing education” as part of physical education, and it also sits well here. There is also growing enthusiasm for using science slots for these lessons, as they draw upon aspects of applied neuroscience and physiology. Some schools even ‘borrow’ a lesson from each academic subject, on the grounds that mindfulness skills are relevant across all of school life. We agree! Essentially, mindfulness can fit anywhere if there is enough MT support for it. Remember our curricula can fit into whatever timeframe you have available. Read more about that here.

4. Make friends with your school’s ‘timetabler’. Timetablers hold power!

Arrange to meet with them. Take them chocolate or make them a cuppa and sit with them and explain the whole process you have been through so far. Document your meeting and copy in the relevant MT member who has authorised mindfulness on the timetable. Working out the timetable is a complex job with conflicting priorities and you will need to follow the progress on this carefully. Make sure the timetabler understands that only trained teachers will be able to deliver the lessons – as this will create a further (often very complicated) challenge for them. At the eleventh hour we have seen subjects and teachers moved around and often those who shout the loudest can be prioritised, so you need to hold your nerve!

5. Work together with the head of Department.

If the decision has been made to include it, for example, in PSHE, then work together with the Head of PSHE to plan where to put the lessons in the school year. There is nothing more annoying for a head of department than to have something ‘imposed’, even if they are in agreement. By taking a collaborative approach, and working together, you are more likely to get ‘buy-in’ from colleagues. You can also ensure they understand why this is important and take the opportunity to explain how mindfulness will support other aspects of this subject too.

6. Don’t give up. All pupils should have access to this programme.

Having a slot on the timetable means that all pupils have access to the learning from the mindfulness curriculum. When timetable space is scarce it can be tempting to only offer mindfulness classes to specific groups of pupils who may be experiencing difficulties, such as behaviour, anxiety, attendance. This has the potential to create a stigma and encourages the misconception that mindfulness is only used when pupils have “problems”, rather than encouraging all children towards flourishing, wherever they start from. Our aim is to bring the benefits of mindfulness to all children, so don’t give up! You are advocating for the right of every child to learn skills to help them flourish.

7. Seek a commitment for a ‘pilot’ on the timetable, if a permanent slot is unlikely.

If your school is brand new to mindfulness it is understandable that your Head or MT may be skeptical or may seek evidence that mindfulness is right for your school. In some cases, rather than lobbying for full scale timetabling of mindfulness, it may be suitable to first ask for a ‘pilot’ slot, so that you can deliver the curriculum to one group of children and then gather feedback to use as evidence to present back to the Head and MT. Getting a pilot on the timetable is a useful proof of concept, both in terms of gathering feedback from the class but also demonstrating that timetabling mindfulness can be done.

As a last resort, you can offer mindfulness as an extra-curricula / after-school club. But this will only benefit a small group of children, and may feel more like a box-ticking exercise. In our experience, mindfulness programmes need to be more integral, on the main school timetable, if they are to flourish.

8. Get support from the wider MiSP community

It is challenging to be the ‘lone voice’ in a school. The MiSP community is here to support you and there are many teachers experiencing the same frustrations as you! Join us at our regular Hub Sits and at our Inclusion and Support Groups and other events to hear from others, share practice and gain inspiration. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are lots of others on this journey with you who can provide support and community!

For further guidance, read this recently published article in TES which looked at how the MYRIAD research project at the University of Oxford helped schools implement mindfulness for their trial.

<< Read Top Tips #13: How do I fit Paws b or .b in?   Read Top Tips #15: Five tips for guiding practices >>