Unlocking Potential: MYRIAD and Mindfulness

Zettie Taylor, Teacher, PRS

Guest blog by Zettie Taylor, Teacher of English & Mindfulness at Princes Risborough School 

One of our Year 7 students told me: “Me and a friend went to our lockers to get our laptops out for our next lesson and the locker doors would not open. We were trying as hard as we could but the doors were not opening so we went to the office but no one was there – we were freaking out! So we did petal practice and finger breathing and it worked! Turns out that the key was the wrong way. Our minds were clear which meant that we could look at the key a different way.”

I love this anecdote. By unlocking new perspectives, mindfulness offers us different ways of approaching life. I have reams of feedback from students in my school, reporting on the many ways that mindfulness ‘works’ for them. Nine out of ten of our Year 7s have said that it helps, so it came as a shock to hear the results of the MYRIAD study. As I have reflected on the gap between the data at our school and the MYRIAD project, I wonder whether perhaps something about the study itself was somehow ‘turning the key the wrong way’.


Where did it all start?

I feel fortunate to have stumbled across the MYRIAD project at the start of my mindfulness journey. With their funding, we were able to offer fifteen staff members an MBCT for life, and train four of us to teach the .b (pronounced “Dot Be”) 11-18 year olds course to our students.

Learning to teach mindfulness was the hardest thing I’d done since training as a teacher ten years previously. It requires a shift in perspective and expectation, and a delicate balance to maintain between classroom management and personal freedom. I was so keen, so passionate about sharing these fantastic techniques to help our students to self regulate, yet so inexperienced – the mistakes I made on our MYRIAD study students were, well, myriad. I tried so hard to get it right! The training, which was designed to protect the integrity of the study by ensuring that individual teachers didn’t deviate too far from the MiSP script, was definitely gold standard – yet in some ways it held me back. The limitations imposed by the study overrode my professional instinct to respond to different students’ needs, and it’s taken the last seven years of teaching Dot Be and Paws Be at PRS for me to develop my authentic ‘voice’.

I’ve learned from my mistakes over time, letting go of the need to control the outcome and relaxing into a more invitational style of teaching. I learned early on that appearances can be deceptive: quiet students who seem to be engaged can be thinking all sorts of mutinous thoughts, while the disruptive ones often (secretly) report the most gains. One lively student succinctly summed up their experience of mindfulness as “boring as f**k but I still want to do it”! The traditional teacher in me might jump on the swearing; the newer one embraces the honesty in this, and the courage. We can learn to ‘turn the key’ in different ways for different students, with acceptance, humour and respect for each student’s perspective

Developing mindfulness to suit our students

Over the years I have adjusted the delivery of mindfulness in the PRS curriculum to better suit our students. We have moved from teaching the .b course to Year 8s through Wednesday afternoon Enrichment, to teaching the Paws b 7-11 year olds course to our Year 7s within the PSHE curriculum. I’ve shared the .b course with parents, and taught it to Year 11s keen enough to attend after school on a Friday. Some decisions are practical, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts regarding what approach will best meet the needs of our young people.

While I remain true to the intentions and outcomes of the MiSP courses, I now deliver them in my own ‘voice’. As my personal practice develops and changes over the years, I find myself offering more choices. “If you don’t find the breath a helpful place to rest your attention, you can always tune in to your hands or feet instead.” After the death of my father in 2020, I better understand how trauma can affect someone practising mindfulness. For a year afterwards, turning inwards felt like peering into an abyss; it was frightening – and I finally understood why some children might prefer to disturb others rather than sit quietly. I learned to be gentle with myself, and bring that outlook to the classroom too. A belief that teaching mindfulness to young people is a process of planting seeds helps. If presented with a light touch, a student may rediscover mindfulness in later years when challenges arise.

Mindfulness has benefitted me too

Teaching mindfulness has benefitted me, too. Working with young people keeps it fresh. A daily practice helped me to balance my roles as a mother and a teacher by understanding my own stress signature. I discovered that the more busy I was, the less in touch I became with my own body. I learned to spot the signs of overwhelm much earlier. Mindfulness was the process by which I came to know myself better – and then it gave me the strength to hold steady when everything changed.

For over two years now I have lived with Long Covid, and I have come to embrace both the limitations and the possibilities of this chronic condition. I regularly tune in to my body and accept what I find, responding to fatigue and pain with compassion rather than denial. In the darkest days, when I was unable to teach, I knew I had a toolkit of practices and experience – I could ‘turn the key a different way’ and unlock a new perspective. Now I am grateful for the freedom Long Covid has given me to create breathing space in a life that had become increasingly overloaded. I know myself better, check in regularly, and make wiser choices about where I direct my energy.

So, where next?

I am keen to expand the breadth of mindfulness practice across our academy trust. I have successfully embedded an introduction to mindfulness within our Year 7 curriculum at PRS with the Paws b course. We sometimes start department meetings with a brief practice to help us change gear, which is always well received – but currently I am the only mindfulness teacher in the school. My recent absence from work has reminded me that there is strength in numbers.

I have delivered a taster session at a recent wellbeing conference run by Insignis Academy Trust, and I am trained and ready to offer an 8 week adult mindfulness course (.b Foundations) to other staff within our cluster of five schools. Offering mindfulness to adult stakeholders could start to weave a mindful way of teaching and being into the wider fabric of the school communities, perhaps leading to more teachers training to teach our students. More practitioners would enable us to offer interested students a chance to revisit mindfulness with the .b course in Key Stage 4 and 5 as the exam pressures build.

I am learning to embrace the fact that I can’t do it all myself, and that change takes time. I regularly remind school leaders of the positive impact of mindfulness on our students, using my growing bank of feedback gathered via Google forms through optional mindfulness homeworks and an end of course assessment. I need to be flexible and creative in finding ways around the restrictions of school budgets, and time. With more trained staff, we can bring mindfulness training to parents and other stakeholders, too. I dream of a team of mindfulness teachers modelling a slower, more considered way of living and working – and reaping personal rewards through the process.

I’m grateful to the MYRIAD project for giving me the start I needed on this journey. So many of the young people in our school tell me that mindfulness techniques have helped them to overcome their daily challenges in a world of increasing uncertainty. Our current education system seems to be hard to access for so many students.

What if mindfulness is part of the answer? It certainly helps us to ‘look at the key a different way’.

About Zettie Taylor

Zettie Taylor is a secondary school teacher who was trained by MiSP as part of the MYRIAD project. She has been teaching the .b and Paws b courses at Princes Risborough School for 8 years and gathering feedback from her Year 7 students – 9 out of 10 have said it is helpful, and two thirds have used the practices taught.