“There’s never been a better time to plant this seed and grow this . . .”
- Setting: Service-wide. Local authority schools and workforce
- Location: Powys
- MiSP Curricula: .b Foundations, Paws b and .b
- Age group/s: Adults and young people 7-16
- Author: Linda Gutierrez
- Role: Emotional Health and Wellbeing Lead, Pupil Referral Service South and Mid Powys
About Powys Local Authority
Powys is the largest county in Wales, covering an area of some 2000 square miles, with a small population of around 132,000. Small schools and a workforce covering a wide geographical area makes it a challenge to develop and embed new initiatives. We train staff in a range of evidence-based interventions and, as a local authority, take an inclusive approach to ensure that opportunities for training and support are shared amongst our multi-agency workforce.
- Teach .b
- School Mindfulness Lead
I began my training as a cognitive behavioural therapist, which included a three-day masterclass in depression with Dr Melanie Fennell from Oxford. I was aware of mindfulness, but despite the evidence-base, could not really see me delivering or practising it. From the moment I observed Melanie, so skilfully and profoundly guiding those first practices, I realised that this was something that could become part of me and my work, not just as a therapist but also in my inclusion work in schools.
I was on the hunt for evidence-based practice to address inclusion, attendance and behaviour issues for a Welsh Government pilot. I knew that I wanted to get mindfulness in there, so I turned to MiSP. I trained to teach .b in 2011 and we introduced it into schools.
We were keen to build our toolkit of evidence and ran a small randomised control trial that showed children who took part in .b reported improved wellbeing during a particularly turbulent time in the school compared to their counterparts who did not take part in .b.
I felt at that time we had all we needed to develop a pathway for Powys, a team of trained people, an evidence-base but, like all initiatives, it needed a driver and a sustainable plan. Without this in place in a school, a catchment or service, the work fragments into pockets of good practice if you’re lucky, but often the impetus is lost which means children and young people eventually lose out. Introducing and sustaining mindfulness can be a slow burn it takes like-minded people, perseverance, patience and it takes time.
The direction of our work in Powys now links national policy and practice requirements of the new curriculum for Wales which has emotional health and wellbeing at its core. This impacts the way organisations approach emotional health by making it a mandatory part of the curriculum. Practitioners are tasked with working in a more holistic way and external organisations are encouraged to develop policies that demonstrate transferable best practise models. The new curriculum for Wales has opened the door for making best use of what we who use mindfulness know works.
As a local authority we have an established and widely supported emotional health and wellbeing forum bringing statutory and non-statutory services together to share good practice. As the pandemic hit, I was attending a MiSP wellbeing course, literally in those weeks just before the first lockdown. I was inspired once again and armed with new evidence suggesting an investment in mindfulness approaches for emotional health and wellbeing of staff could positively impact employee stress. It simply makes sense to introduce mindfulness for a multi-agency audience who are really going to be up against it.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work, how we teach and how we train. It has also given opportunities for staff to have a conversation about fear, stress, trauma and uncertainty. In our pupil referral unit, the development of policy and practice includes implementing appropriate intervention and support for pupils, not just for pupils, for parents too and, of course, we cannot forget the needs of staff who work in these very challenging environments.
Our initiative takes account of how to develop strategies to support a complete wrap around approach, fully inclusive of all of those connected to our schools, our children, our young people and their families.
By using an initial training session to kick start this project we were able to demonstrate the potential of the initiative to encourage and enable staff to try out and appreciate what a mindfulness approach has to offer teaching and learning and wellbeing, with a pathway for staff to identify what happens next.
I trained as a School Mindfulness Lead to drive this project, training to deliver .b Foundations, which is a fantastic eight-week mindfulness programme for adults. We used all my outreach time in school to deliver these voluntary training sessions.
Our audience has encompassed extended school community: teachers, support assistants, plus youth workers, youth intervention service workers, social workers, key workers, careers advisors, counsellors, CAMHS, youth justice and educational psychologists. Basically, we’ve worked with everybody.
So far nine out of twelve members of the PRU staff in Brecon have trained with MiSP to deliver .b and Paws b, and dots in-house and externally. Our staff are delivering in special schools, high schools, primary schools. My weekly timetable includes time for staff support and to teach .b Foundations to all staff in the local authority who choose to do it. This year we worked with SE Wales mental health in-reach and we recently had enquiries from Dyfed Powys police who are planning for their schools liaison and community officers to attend our next .b Foundations training.
Have we achieved sustainability?
We are developing a countywide, inclusive culture of mindfulness in our schools and beyond, embedding it as part of our practice, making it an integral part of the curriculum. We are using mindfulness to support our pupils, their parents, our staff and all those connected with the school community. The enthusiasm of the PRU staff to be part of this journey with me is encouraging and I have every confidence that there will be another school mindfulness lead to maintain our progress in time.
There’s never been a better time to plant this seed and to grow this, starting with your own practice, or perhaps even to ‘go large’ in your school community. MiSP has an accessible, staged programme and everything that you could possibly need to help you to meet your goals.
Our (PRU) Approach
- Step 1 Explore mindfulness – gain understanding, trial basic approaches and test out how to integrate them into settings. Introductory three-hour experiential taster session in Mindfulness Approaches for Multi-agency workers, delivered face to face/by webinar to our extended school support team, develops a clear understanding of how secular Mindfulness can be used with in their setting
- Step 2 Core Pupil Referral Service staff begin their journey towards delivering mindfulness to young people in their settings by attending an eight-week adult mindfulness course themselves. With .b Foundations, MiSP offer a fresh take on the traditional eight-week MBSR/CT curriculum and approach, and aim to make mindfulness as accessible and effective as possible for adults in school settings. This is the programme I deliver to staff.
- Step 3 Individual staff train in age-appropriate MiSP programmes (dots, Paws b or .b)
- Step 4 Trained staff teach the dots, Paws b or .b Curriculum to children and young people as part of the Emotional Health and Wellbeing programme in schools.
- Step 5 Staff maintain CPD and develop sustainable systems of support for pupils and adults.
Thank you so much to Linda for the inspiring work she is doing. Her talk at the conference is available for Hub members here.