Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) welcomes high-quality research into mindfulness in education settings, and we are grateful to the team at Oxford University that carried out the MYRIAD (MY Resilience In Adolescence) research and to the Wellcome Trust for generously funding it.
Background to MiSP’s curriculum used in the research
MiSP’s curriculum for 11-18 year olds, .b, was selected to be used in the MYRIAD project in 2015 as the UK based mindfulness curriculum with the strongest published evidence base for this age group. Alongside its curricula for younger children, .b has been developed by MiSP as a classroom introduction to mindfulness, designed to be taught by teachers who understand and practise it.
The same curriculum was previously the subject of a controlled trial (with 522 pupils, taught by 9 teachers in 9 different schools) and showed a positive impact on pupils’ mental health, namely stress, depression and wellbeing[i]. All of these teachers were experienced in classroom mindfulness teaching, having taught .b many times, and were supported by their own routine mindfulness practice.
The MYRIAD project was the first large scale randomised trial (with more than 28,000 pupils, taught by 650 teachers in 100 different schools) to see whether the above successful trial could be easily and cost-effectively scaled up – this time by training teachers who were new to mindfulness and the curriculum. MYRIAD also explored the impact of mindfulness training on teachers’ mental health and wellbeing, and on school climate.
The full results of the project can be found at the MYRIAD website here.
MiSP is encouraged to note the following findings from the study:
- Teachers who underwent an initial 8-week mindfulness training saw improvements in their own mental health, especially relating to burnout. This is in line with research findings from our own trainings designed for teachers and parents[i], from feedback from our courses and from wider research on the impact of mindfulness on teachers’ wellbeing and effectiveness[ii].
- School based mindfulness training (SBMT) improved the school climate, according to teachers’ perceptions. School climate has been shown in previous research to underpin positive outcomes for teacher and pupil wellbeing[iii].
- The higher the quality of mindfulness teaching in the classroom, the more credible it is to children and young people and the more effective it may be in supporting their mental health. Such findings are supported by previous research[iv].
- Whilst not that many young people in this study routinely carried out mindfulness practice at home, those who did enjoyed better mental health. This is in line with previous findings, including from research on our programmes[v] [vi] and we continue to seek ways of encouraging mindfulness skills and approaches in and beyond the classroom.
- The study showed that SBMT was more helpful for children from poorer backgrounds. Reaching increased numbers of children and young people from economically disadvantaged areas – through fundraising for subsidised training places – remains key to our charitable objectives.
Findings that we look forward to exploring further include:
- The relatively low acceptability (popularity) score for this curriculum in this trial differs markedly from previous research and our own feedback collated over 12 years. For instance, of the more than 5,000 pupils who have completed .b class impact surveys: over 80% said they found the course enjoyable; over 70% said they found the course useful, and almost 70% said it helped them cope with difficulty. Why was there such a difference in the MYRIAD study? We look forward to unpicking this and make some suggestions below.
- MYRIAD’s finding that mindfulness in this study did not have the expected effect on mental health is perhaps less surprising, given that in the previous trial, the curriculum was taught by experienced mindfulness teachers with an established practice[vii], and they were assessed when they had taught it many times. In the MYRIAD trial, teachers need not have had any interest in mindfulness, were excluded if they had previously recently trained in it and had usually only taught it once at the point of being assessed.
- Achieving teacher competency in mindfulness is complex, takes time and may not be suited to all. Whilst some of the classroom teachers in the MYRIAD study will have been proficient, we also know that, in the time available, teachers on average only achieved a level of competence of ‘advanced beginner’ (as defined by an adapted version of the MBI-TAC (Mindfulness-based Intervention – Teaching Assessment Criteria)[viii].
- MYRIAD’s research, coupled with MiSP’s own class impact data and case studies, appears to suggest the importance of training teachers who self-select out of an interest in mindfulness rather than attempting to work with teachers universally. If so, and with others in the mindfulness field, MiSP looks forward to exploring innovative ways of reaching more teachers with a natural interest, as well as raising awareness about mindfulness more generally amongst a greater number of educators.
- We are increasingly aware that mindfulness practice in a meditation-type format may not be suitable for children who are particularly vulnerable to mental health difficulties. MYRIAD’s finding that the curriculum was less helpful to those directly experiencing mental health problems in this trial appears to add weight to this. Since MYRIAD began in 2015, MiSP has become increasingly aware of the principles of trauma-sensitive mindfulness.[ix] MYRIAD’s research is a useful and timely reminder as to why this is so important.
These findings will continue to help us in our constant innovation, particularly of the .b curriculum and approach. They are also likely to add renewed impetus to MiSP’s ongoing teacher development, co-creation of resources with teachers and young people, and our work on broader school climate.
We look forward to further reflection and consideration of all the findings in the fullness of time, alongside our own experience, case studies, class impact surveys and other high-quality research.