By Emily Slater, CEO of the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP)
Just as we were about to press send on our latest newsletter, the sad news of the death of Ruth Perry, headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading (UK), hit the media. Our thoughts are clearly first and foremost with Ruth’s family, friends, colleagues and pupils at this distressing time.
It has also brought to the fore questions that have been mulling through my mind ever since taking on the role of CEO at MiSP.
Mindfulness and our work clearly do not exist in a vacuum. Whilst it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of this particular case, I know from much of your feedback, as well as from former teaching colleagues, friends and family members working in classrooms up and down the country (and overseas), these are challenging times for educators.
As a mum to a 14-year-old, I also know these can be tough times also for parents as we do our best – like teachers – to support and guide our young people. As the educationalist, Ken Robinson, used to say, “Our last great natural human resource”.
When pressures on teachers and young people appear to be ever increasing – amplified by the cumulative implications of Covid restrictions and the aftermath – is it a coincidence that our own and those of our young people’s mental health are also under pressure?
What is the role of mindfulness in amongst the multitude of challenges children and young people, and those supporting and caring for them face right now? Whether it is the pressure to reach targets, the cost of living squeeze, navigating social media and a loss of real-life interactions, knife crime and violence (including on the global stage), eco-anxiety in the face of frightening predictions about climate breakdown, the loss of ecosystems and habitats that have been part of linking humanity also to the beauty and solace of nature and ‘something bigger’, not to mention increasing inequalities and real discrimination many face due to their (ethnic, gender, sexual etc) identities. It’s a lot.
Of course challenges (and joys) have existed throughout millennia. Right now, could it be that we hear about and feel them more acutely given the information on tap and surrounding us via our smartphones and across globalised media? Yes, we can probably add that to the list of challenges too.
I realise that part of my commitment to attempting to live more mindfully is to try not to add to the noise and to not share opinions for the sake of it. Also, as the comedian Paul Merton pragmatically said, “If each of us shares our thoughts all the time, won’t the impact be that we simply cancel one another out?” But every now and then, events take over. Another voice inside reminds me that being silent can also unintentionally signal being complicit. With leadership comes responsibility and also power (to speak out).
My work in the charitable sector over the last 25 years has had one primary motivation: to be part of a movement to contribute to healthy societal change. Joining MiSP just over 18 months ago was an acknowledgement that change is not only about the big issues looming above us but also about how we care for and manage our own responses and those of others around us. The tragic circumstances around the death of Ruth Perry are a reminder to me that it also personally continues to be about being part of a movement to contribute to healthy societal change, to raise the alarm when things appear to be out of balance and take me back to the questions I have been mulling over since arriving at MiSP:
- What conditions need to be in place in our lives and the lives of the children and educationalists we serve for mindfulness and optimum wellbeing to be nurtured?
- What is MiSP’s role and the collective role of our community when these conditions may come under threat?
- How can mindfulness help us navigate these times and allow us to show up and speak the courage of our convictions?
- How can the attitudes of mindfulness – generosity, patience, trust, gratitude, to name a few – support us all, even when times are toughest?
I don’t have all the answers and I’m learning that that is also OK. The times we live in don’t necessarily have simple answers.
What I do have, and offer this precious community of ours, is a commitment to our children and to you doing the sterling work on their behalf, and the potential role of mindfulness to support. I also have a voice on behalf of our organisation and those we work with. At times, I’m beginning to realise perhaps the most mindful/compassionate response is to speak out.
It is my sincere hope that the support we offer to sustain your mindfulness practice and your teaching will help you and the children you work with navigate these times, and if it is right in your context, have the courage of your convictions to speak your truth. With your help, we can also involve others (please see the ‘Ways of supporting MiSP online’ piece in this newsletter) and if you have thoughts on any of the questions above, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Whatever the details and nuances surrounding Ruth Perry’s death, there is one thing I’m sure we are all in agreement on: the wellbeing of children and young people and those working with them is precious, fragile and worth investing in.
This opinion piece was shared in MiSP’s recent newsletters (one to our trained teacher community; another to our supporters who may not yet have had the chance to train fully with us). To sign up to the general mailing list and receive future newsletters, please click here. For any MiSP trained teachers who haven’t received the latest newsletter, please get in touch to be added to the trained teacher mailing list.