Over the past century our understanding of how children learn has developed considerably, and whilst research continues and experts debate the mechanisms there is one unifying factor: the interactions that children have with others (‘relationships’) are key. From Sigmund Freud’s focus on childhood experiences, to John Bowlby’s attachment theory, to Albert Bandura’s proposition that learning occurs by observing and imitating others, theorists agree that children’s development and learning depends on their experiences with other people.
Relationships are at the heart of children’s learning.
And we know that adults in schools, whether classroom teachers, senior leaders, lunchtime supervisors or office staff, all have an impact on the children they teach, speak to or are observed by. There is both formal and informal teaching and learning happening in schools. You yourself might remember a particularly kindly dinner lady, or a stressed receptionist, or an angry headteacher or a patient teacher from our own school experiences, and their impact on your school experience and, longer term, your own development. It’s therefore not just what children and young people are explicitly taught in lessons that makes a difference; it’s the atmosphere and broader ‘weather’ of the school more generally, and how the adults around them interact with them and each other, that create mental ‘maps’ of how human relationships can and should be.
Children learn from everyone they encounter in your school.
That is why the school ethos and culture matters and it is important for schools to have a whole school approach to learning. This doesn’t mean that individual styles and characteristics can’t be celebrated and valued, but that there is a clear, consistent and constructive framework to support the whole community. This can build trust, respect and create a supportive educational environment where everyone is working towards the same goals.
All adults in schools are role models for the children in their care.
By introducing mindfulness as a whole school approach, both adults and children can access tools to help them cope with difficulty, improve their concentration, sleep, relationships, reactivity to difficulty, and be able to notice the good things in life. This can support everybody’s wellbeing and mental health. Perhaps even more importantly, where all adults and children in school understand mindfulness, they have: a shared understanding around how to step back and notice any situation they might be in; shared tools with which to regulate their response; and a shared vocabulary with which to talk about their experience. This can support better communications and build stronger relationships, both for adults and children in schools with their peers, and for adults and children in school with each other.
Bring mindfulness as a whole-school approach to your school
Embedding mindfulness within your school is not a quick-fix. Many of the schools in our community started with a single trained teacher, delivering mindfulness to a single class. And then there was a ripple effect: they taught more classes; other teachers saw, and wanted to join in, so developed their own mindfulness practice. Some then went on to train to teach mindfulness to the young people in their school.
And, in our experience, once school leaders can see and feel the benefits of mindfulness, they frequently opt to grow the programme so that more staff can learn mindfulness and more teachers train to teach our curricula.
We provide support throughout, so that mindfulness can fully embed within a school’s culture.