Being ‘Present’: Being ‘mindful’

Posted on January 21, 2014

As a business-owning educational psychologist I am often tasked with a number of different types of activity within my working day. On one rainy Wednesday afternoon I found myself using a similar strategy within a consultation with a young man at a college and in thinking about the way I may approach my own business tasks: It was all about paying attention and noticing what you are doing in the moment, while things are going right.

Although the word ‘mindfulness’ has become increasingly popular within educational psychology circles I have to admit that I have always maintained a healthy dose of scepticism around the frequency with which it is used in everyday conversation. Quite frankly its overuse is really beginning to annoy me when included in the rhetoric of people trying to sound slightly more informed than they really are. For example:

“Marcus flinging chairs around the classroom? Perhaps mindfulness work will help him!”

“ADHD diagnosis? Maybe if we give him a six week course of mindfulness training then we can cure it!”

Yes, I am being exceptionally facetious in making these comments but my underlying feeling is that like many other approaches and intervention trends that have come before such as the emotional literacy, the Every Child Matters agenda, and measurements of happiness, mindfulness theory has been massively bastardised in educational institutions up and down the country. The theoretical underpinning has been lost and it has often become yet another way to promote the thinking of barriers to learning being ‘within child’ rather than a feature of a particular system or set of reinforcing circumstances.

Dan Jones comments in the BPS publication The Psychologist that:

“Mindfulness is a ‘mode of being’ that is rooted in paying attention, non-judgementally, to the present moment, to our current conscious experience of the world. Mindfulness exercises increase awareness of the contents of our minds, and provide ways to respond to our thoughts and feelings ‘skilfully’, such that they are less likely to lead to emotional distress or harmful behaviours.” (Jones, 2011, p.736)

With this definition in mind it is an approach that should feature as part and parcel of any consultation that an educational psychologist has and I’m glad to say that myself and my associates have this somewhat ‘locked down’ as part of our everyday practice. With mindfulness we can be present, in the moment and attentive to what is being said and although we may experience distracting thoughts we are able to notice them, accept them and move on pretty swiftly. We even have one associate on board who is currently undertaking doctoral research in mindfulness in London schools! (If you’re interested in knowing more about this then please do get in touch).

I found myself attempting to inject some mindfulness practice into empowering a young man at the college who had been displaying challenging behaviour in the classroom. As part of my assessment I observed a meeting this young man had with his tutor and noticed how attuned they were in conversation. I noticed the way the student sat, the movement of his head, his ability to question appropriately, his perfect demonstration of active listening and realised this young man had the skills he needed: he was able to listen attentively, and be ‘in the moment’ without becoming distracted for over 45 minutes. Interestingly, when I asked him he hadn’t even noticed he was doing it (he wasn’t ‘mindful’) – probably one of the main reasons that he wouldn’t notice when he stopped doing it in class and his behaviour then became inappropriate. I asked that he, with the support of a teaching assistant begin to take notice in class when he was doing the right thing, rather than waiting for things to ‘go wrong’. My hypothesis was in the vein of positive psychology: noticing behaviours when things are ‘going right’ – becoming more mindful at this time – creates an opportunity for those positive behaviours to spread.

Back at the office I later decided to apply the same intervention to myself. It was about time that I paid more attention to those days and meetings where things flowed really well and noticed how I contributed to that positive outcome. I guess in the busy-ness of working in education we can all do with a reminder of mindfulness from time to time. Maybe you can use this formula for yourself?

Got anything to share on the topic of mindfulness in education? Are you an advocate of a particular programme? Want to know more about mindfulness in schools? Please join in the conversation below…

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Stacy Moore is a community-focused educational psychologist and founder of Inner Circles Educational Psychology. She works with a dynamic and creative team of associate educational psychologists to deliver high quality consultation, assessment and training for education settings in and around London. She is a professional doctoral research student at University College London and contributes to the equality and diversity module of the doctoral programme at the Institute of Education.

You can follow Stacy on Twitter @StacymooreEP and go to www.innercircles.org.uk for more information about Inner Circles and regular updates from the world of community-based educational psychology.