Why we need plants in every classroom


In this week’s WimTeach, Miss Judith Parker, Head of Spanish, explores the positive impact of biophilic classrooms on students’ learning outcomes and wellbeing, and advocates for plants in every classroom.

A couple of years ago I decided to brighten up my classroom and office by bringing in some plants from home. Aside from the accidental watering of the inside of someone’s locker, the effects were remarkably positive. The introduction of plants not only enlivened previously drab spaces but also invigorated students and colleagues. Research studies, including a project led by one of our GDST schools, are revealing the hidden benefits of classroom plants.

Mindfulness and wellbeing

When I first brought plants into my classroom, students and colleagues expressed reverently how calm they felt upon entering the space. There are plenty of opportunities for mindful moments of appreciation with plants. We delight in the gradual unfurling of a new leaf or the surprise appearance of a new shoot. Research studies on the psychological impact of indoor plants have demonstrated that they improve mental wellbeing through suppressing the sympathetic nervous system and reducing blood pressure.[1] A study[2] on hospital patients noted the therapeutic benefit of indoor plants and recommended them as a low-cost, straightforward intervention to improve post-surgical recovery.

The benefits of biophilic classrooms

Specific studies into the impact of plants in classrooms have shown that they enhance students’ learning. ‘Biophilic’ classrooms, which are designed to connect students and teachers to nature, have a positive impact on focus and creativity. Putney High School has paved the way here with their 9-month study on the impact of biophilic classrooms.  This led to a report[3] and exhibition of their designs and findings at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Their project is based on ‘The Flourish Model’ which aims to facilitate creativity through a tranquil environment. We are, of course, more likely to explore and innovate when we are feeling calm and safe, rather than anxious and stressed. Plants help us to get into that comfortable state. The report also demonstrates how better air quality from plants improves students’ concentration and engagement in lessons, as well as their emotional wellbeing.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments” – Janet Kilburn Phillips

Plant care offers a new learning experience. It provides the opportunity to contribute towards a shared space through teamwork. There is a collective effort and pride in managing to keep plants at the very least alive, and ideally thriving.

I brought in several plants for my new tutor group in September. In typical WHS spirit, my wonderful Year 10s immediately embraced them with enthusiasm and affection. I returned for afternoon registration that same day to find that they had already added name labels to the pots. A consultation had taken place as to their ideal placement in the form room. Plant care brings out the nurturing instinct of our students, who earnestly confer about the optimum moisture level of the soil and in what parts of the room each species might be happiest. Our form’s ‘Head Gardeners’ take on their responsibility with the utmost diligence.

When faced with imminent school closure in the first lockdown, I entrusted my leafy collection to my students. Some had enthusiastically volunteered; others simply happened to pass through the MFL corridor and found themselves unexpectedly becoming surrogate plant parents. Email updates on my beloved plants, now scattered around students’ homes across London, punctuated the long months of lockdown and school closures. One student gently broke the news to me that a particular plant, despite her efforts, alas, had not survived the challenging times.

The plants of 10JIP have recently spent the half-term break in the homes of different form members, and several students are excited to bring in their own plants from home. Some students were hesitant about looking after plants as they had no experience in doing so, which is an even better reason to put them in charge. After all, at WHS we encourage students out of their comfort zone and towards experimentation, even in the face of potential failure.

Incorporating nature into our daily lives

For those of us living and working in congested and polluted urban areas, the sad reality is that we are spending very little time interacting with nature. We all want to be eco-friendly and care for our natural environment. However, we can easily spend consecutive days exclusively indoors and without any direct contact with the natural world. We need plants in our classrooms to maintain our connection with nature.

Plants make us happier, calmer and more creative. They should be an integral part of a classroom environment. At Wimbledon High, we are fortunate already to have a committed Eco Team, Blog and Gardening Club. Let’s bring plants within reach of all teachers and learners.

Top tips for introducing plants to the classroom:

  • Start with the most resilient species, such as sansevieria (snake plant), spathiphyllum (peace lily) and chlorophytum comosum (spider plant).
  • Make sure that there is a suitable spot for your chosen species, taking into account temperature, levels of light and humidity.
  • Appoint one or two students to take the lead in plant care and establish a weekly routine of watering.
  • Invite students to bring in their own plants.

[1]Lee, M. et al. (2015) Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4419447/

[2] Park, S. and Mattson, H. (2009) Ornamental indoor plants in hospital rooms enhanced health outcomes of patients recovering from surgery. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19715461/

[3] Bowman, C. et al. (2019) The Biophilic Classroom Study. https://317307-971812-raikfcquaxqncofqfm.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Biophilic-report-for-website-1.pdf

The power of your breath as a form of Mindfulness in schools

Alexa Cutteridge, Head of Curriculum PE and Assistant Head of Year 7 looks at the power of your breath as a key mindfulness and well-being tool in schools.

As described by Jon-Kabat-Ziin, Mindfulness means ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’ (Mindful Staff, 2017). Breath work or Pranayama if frequently used as a mindfulness tool and as described by the Yoga Journal Online here ‘is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force.’

Breath work has been used for thousands of years as a form of meditation in addition to being a key part of yoga and mindfulness practices. Importantly, when we connect to our breath, we connect to the present moment which help to stop ourselves moving back into the past or jumping ahead into the future.

In Summer 2020 during the Guided Home Learning modules, the Y12 and Y13 explored the power of their breath and similarly this academic year Year 7 have looked at the ways in which to let your ‘breath be your anchor’ to calm their nervous system and sooth them in times of worry or challenge. I have also used breath work on the sports field, with my netball and tennis teams, to focus the mind and calm the nerves before high-stake matches – it has been so rewarding to see the positive results from such a simple tool.

Below are the key benefits:

  • Conscious breathing can increase attention and focus the mind which can help concentration in the classroom (Holcombe, 2012).  
  • Deep breathing can lower blood pressure and creates a sense of calm – by breathing fully, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and as a result slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
  • Deep breathing can reverse the ‘fight or flight’ response and reduced the release of stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Studies have shown) that breath work can help treat mental health disorders including depression and PTSD. (Seppälä, Nitschke, Tudorascu, et. al., 2014)
  • Deep breathing can enhance the quality of sleep (Newsom, 2020).
  • As stated by the The Editors at Chopra (2020) ‘breathwork can also be spiritual’. When you practice deep breathing you connect with your true Self and you can let go of your ego and any other attachments you have. It is therefore quite common that people who practice breathwork can experience spiritual awakenings or similar experiences.

Further benefits and evidence to support mindfulness which include breathing tools, can be found here:

Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world

Mindfulness in Schools Project


4 breathing tools for schools and beyond:

Finger breathing

A finger breathing practice is where you trace the outline of your hand with the index finger of the other. On the movement up the side of the finger you breathe in and on the way out you breathe out. It is a super simple tool but can be used subtly in the classroom and allow pupils to focus on their breath and away from any worries or troubles they may have.

Box breathing

Famously used by the Navy SEALS, box breathing allows you to reset your breath, in particular times of high stress and when in fight or flight mode.

  1. Breathe in for the count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for the count of 4.
  3. Breath out for the count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for the count of 4.
  5. Repeat for as long as necessary.

Read more here

7/11 Breathing

This practice is regularly used in counselling and psychotherapy and is particularly helping in dealing with panic attacks and moments where we are caught in rumination and worry. The practice involves breathing in for 7 counts and breathe out for 11. You continue to breathe normally however, if you have to fit the numbers to the breath rather than the other way round then that is fine. The concept is that the out breath is longer than the in breath which creates an automatic effect of calming your down, slowing your heart rate and taking you into a state of balance (Mindfulness in Schools Project, Teacher Notes, 2016).

Ujjayi Pranayama oceanic breathing

“Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” —Krishnamacharya

This breath is very often used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga but can also be use in a seated position as part of a breathing practice off the yoga mat. It allows us to anchor the fragmented mind and also allows us to be energised, as well as calm.

Watch how to here with Adriene:

In addition to these four breathing tools, it is also important to notice moments in the curriculum where breath work plays a key role such as Sport, Drama and Music, and is perhaps already creating hidden opportunities to support well-being.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to well-being tools, but it is certainly worth carving out time in schools to exploring breathing tools and empowering pupils to be curious about what benefits they can gain from them for both their school career and beyond. The best bit about using your breath as a well-being tool is that it is always available to you and is completely free – no excuse not to at least try it!


Deepak, Chopra, M.D (2019) A Great Addition to Meditation: Conscious Breathing. Available at: https://chopra.com/articles/a-great-addition-to-meditation-conscious-breathing

Holecmobe, Kate (2012) Breathe Easy: Relax with Pranayama. Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/healing-breath/

Mindful Staff (2017) Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. Available at: https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/

Newsom, Rob (2020) Relaxation Exercises to Help Fall Asleep. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/relaxation-exercises-to-help-fall-asleep

Seppälä, E.M, Nitschke, J.B, Tudorascu, D.L, Hayes, A, Goldstein, M.R, Nguyen, D.T.H, Perlman, D and Davidson, R.J (2014). Breathing-based meditation decreases posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in U.S. military veterans: a randomized controlled longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, [online] (4):397-405. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25158633/

The Editors of Chopra, (2020). How Breathwork Benefits the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Available at: https://chopra.com/articles/how-breathwork-benefits-the-mind-body-and-spirit

The Power of Listening

Suzanne East, Head of Year 12 at WHS, looks at how listening can empower us as teachers and learners.

I am a talker, and I suspect that is true of many teachers.  We get a buzz from sharing our passions for our subject, from explaining and answering questions and from solving problems.  But increasingly my attention has been drawn to the importance of listening as a vital way to genuinely shift our focus away from ourselves, our opinions and assumptions; forcing us to notice what is really happening for our students, what they are learning and the journey they are making as they engage with the information we are presenting.

During this time of lock down this has been brought into sharper focus as we realise what we miss by not being able to see and hear our pupils in person.  I think many of us have experienced that unsettling feeling of talking into the void, calling out for any pupil to respond!  This has added to my intention to ensure that I bring good quality listening to my school life once we return.

Concerns about the quality of listening may be a reaction to the Twitter generation which seems to demand that we constantly project our thoughts and ideas out into the world – this demand to be seen and heard where perhaps nobody is doing the listening.  But we have long been aware that it is easier to notice and respond to the louder and more obvious messages that can be presented by students.  Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” reminded us of what we may miss if we don’t stop to make sure that all voices are heard, and of our obligation as teachers to ensure that no one is overlooked.

Above: Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Attending mindfulness sessions with MiSP and again in courses with the Positive Group, I started to realise the difference between my usual listening style and what really thoughtful and attentive listening can be. The requirement to stop and to observe your surroundings is closely linked to the need to listen as well. To stop sending messages out and to take time to notice what is actually being said. Practising this stillness and trying to observe the moment was both a relief and a revelation.  Accepting that I don’t have to respond to everything straight away, fighting the urge to jump in when listening even to a simple story, and noticing my instinct to mould what I hear to fit my own experience and expectation was a real eye opener.

One listening activity many of you may have tried is that of working in pairs to sit silently for between 1 to 3 minutes whilst the partner describes a situation, perhaps a simple event like a holiday or a more emotional experience such as a recent frustration or disappointment.  In either case it is revealing to notice the desire as a listener to interrupt, join in and comment, rather than allowing the story to be and remain that of the storyteller.  Feeling that listening to each other is a skill our girls will also need to develop, and we have tried this with Y12.

We asked them to sit back to back in pairs to listen for one minute to their partner and then to repeat back what they had heard. Giving time to listen to the end of the story and then telling the account back allows a sense of mutual understanding to grow and holds a mirror to the mistakes we often make in our everyday interactions. By actually doing this exercise the girls were able to start to experience this for themselves and to acknowledge their own behaviours. We know that many friendship issues arise from not listening honestly to each other and the damage done by quick reactions to a message on social media which can then take months of unpicking to repair the hurt caused.

Encouraging girls to listen fully to the whole story, to think before they act, and to go back and check with each other to see if they have understood correctly, are all useful tools in diffusing potentially viral misunderstandings. Despite all our efforts to be more inclusive and to accept diversity, we also live in a social media age which encourages swift reactions with a quick “like” or “dislike”. It is our responsibility as educators to highlight the potentially damaging impact of this and to explore the advantage of allowing space to consider the nuanced motivations that contribute to individual actions and decisions. We explored this further with our Sixth Form using the three chairs activity, in which the same situation was described from the perspective of the protagonist, victim and a fly on the wall.  In my group the fairly trivial example of Horrid Henry and Perfect Peter led to a surprisingly rich discussion on the different motivations for bullying.

We want our students to be able to open up to us and we want to help them to live happier and more fulfilled lives. From our greater age, we can look back at the challenges of teenage life and see where we could have done it better, but that is not what any student wants to hear; we have to be careful to make sure the conversation remains focussed on the student and not on us or our ability to problem solve quickly.

Neuroscientist Sarah Jayne-Blackmore has spoken and written many times on the nature of the adolescent brain and reasons why it leads to greater risk-taking behaviour, and how this behaviour is significantly influenced by peer group approval. We want to influence our students and encourage them to make what we consider the best decisions, but the evidence suggests that they are not going to hear us unless we really take time to listen and understand what is important to them.  We allocate time to one to one conversations with form tutors in the sixth form, but successfully managing these is not easy and tutors need to be skilful in creating a situation of trust in which a student can really open up.  Mark Wilmore, one of our tutors with many years of experience as a Samaritan, training as a Counsellor and also as a sixth form tutor, shared his top tips for these conversations:

  • Check in & boundaries
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Listen ‘actively’
  • Have an agenda
  • Try to avoid closed questions
  • Use challenge where appropriate
  • Feedback
  • Set targets
  • Keep a written record
  • Follow up

Making it obvious to the student that these conversations are important – that they deserve proper time and attention and that we are genuinely listening to their experience and their story – are vital in building a successful relationship.  Body language and preparation will tell the student far more than words, so making sure you have time to genuinely be there for them is vital, as they will be quick to assume that we are not really interested and then any words of wisdom we have will fall on stony ground.

It is also an important part of a student’s development to struggle and to find their own solutions to problems. We need to empower them with the confidence to know that they can make the change for themselves and that they have the skills that they will need.  Rachel Simmonds says in Enough As She Is that “suffering is key to our children’s learning” and “that the price of some of our most important life lessons-the ones that make us wiser, tougher, and more capable-is pain, even heart-break” (Simmonds p200).  This isn’t to leave them on their own, but to be with them and give them space to sound out their own solutions so that next time they know they will manage better.

In PSHE earlier this year we invited the Samaritans in to talk with Y12.  Hearing the accounts of these masters of listening without judgement, the ones that those who are feeling most isolated and rejected turn to were truly inspiring.  But they emphasised that the skills of listening were something that we should all practise in our relationships to help avoid people becoming isolated in the first place.  Their campaign Shush “wants to encourage people to listen to the really important things their friends, family and colleagues need to tell them, and to devote some time and attention to being better listeners” (Samaritans).  This was a powerful session, which left us all awed by the potential impact each one of us can make by just taking the time to stop and listen and allowing others to be heard.


Blackmore, Sarah-Jayne https://www.edge.org/conversation/sarah_jayne_blakemore-sarah-jayne-blakemore-the-teenagers-sense-of-social-self

Cain, Susan (2012) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that Can’t Stop Talking, Crown Publishing Group/Random House, Inc.

Mindfulness for schools https://mindfulnessinschools.org/mindfulness-in-education/

Positive group https://www.positivegroup.org/positive-for-schools/

Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/support-and-information/worried-about-someone-else/difficult-conversations/

Simmons, Rachel (2018) “We Can’t Give Our Children What We Don’t Have” in Enough As She Is Harper Collins, New York.

Does gymnastics have the same mental health benefits as yoga or meditation?

Alba, Y9, looks at how gymnastics may help relieve academic stress and help you excel in other subjects.

When we think of calming meditation, most of us will probably jump to mindfulness. In our stressful and busy lives, meditation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly popular. However, is there a right or wrong way to meditate, and can some sports such as gymnastics be classified as a sort of meditation? In fact, gymnastics is a form of focused movement meditation, and that ultimately it is beneficial to your mental health and as such has a potential positive impact on academic results.

What is focused meditation?

Focused meditation is when you concentrate on your five senses. Many people start by focusing on their breath. It sounds easy, but it is surprisingly difficult to think about just one thing, without your mind wondering and getting distracted.

However, being able to focus is a key attribute for success in life, and it’s a skill that we ideally need. Having considered on one of the senses like your breathing, a wider number of senses can be thought about.

But how does gymnastics compare to this?

Before moving, a gymnast must get into the right frame of mind to execute the move with skill. They must be focussed on themselves, and what they are about to do, and not be distracted. In a routine, you always think about the skill you are currently doing, and not what’s coming next. You are therefore being mindful and focussed on yourself in the present time. This can benefit your academic studies, because, just like mindfulness, it clears your brain so you can learn the next day with an open and more relaxed and focussed mind.

What is movement meditation?

Movement meditation helps connect your mind to your body through actions. The most common practice of this is yoga. Again, your focus is the mind. People who do not like sitting still may prefer this method, and it’s ideal when you are feeling energetic.

How does this happen in Gymnastics?

Tumbling in gymnastics is generating power and executing a sequence of flips and moves. This requires you to be aware of what your body’s doing and think about using muscles you may not otherwise use. As such, the movement becomes the focus, allowing all other thoughts to be shut out, focusing on the present and immediate.

Why should you try gymnastics, and why should it be considered a form of meditation?

Some studies[1] show that mindfulness is great, but if you struggle to do it, it can make you potentially more anxious. They also show that movement meditation like yoga can be more effective for people in stressful situations, or for people who are used to more active lifestyles. It explains why one of the reasons scientists like mindfulness – it is a cognitive method.

Personally, I prefer gymnastics to mindfulness, because I find it hard to keep still when sitting and just thinking about your breath. I enjoy the element of fear/excitement of trying a new skill. After doing gymnastics I feel a lot calmer and ready to study and learn.

I would argue that, although not a standard form of meditation, gymnastics offers benefits for stress relief and utilises skills and techniques such as focus which can help you excel in other subjects. We should have a wider view on what is meditation, and what can help us through the stresses of life.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201604/incredible-alternative-mindfulness-you-never-heard

Why using your five senses is the key to practising mindfulness at school – 19/10/18

Lucy (Year 8) looks at how our senses can be used to help us to practise mindfulness within the school day and the potential benefits this can have on our overall mental health and wellbeing.

The word mindfulness can conjure up an image of a class doing yoga or meditating.  But its key essence is about deliberately bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It is about turning ourselves off autopilot, and noticing our present being. In the life of a busy Wimbledon High girl, this can be a challenging and daunting prospect. Focusing on our five senses will bring us into the ‘here and now’, and might be the crucial tool for dealing with stressful and anxiety inducing situations.

The senses are how we understand the world, and to obtain the most positive experience from the present moment we need to employ them in everything we do. Studies by Dr. Patrizia Collard (Sensory Awareness Mindfulness Training in Coaching: Accepting Life’s Challenges, Collard & Walsh, 2008) demonstrate that focussing on our senses, and non-judgementally on our current situation, results in a significant improvement in a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress disorders.

A simple mindfulness exercise that could be practiced during the day at school, and without the use of a yoga mat, is the 5-4-3-2-1 tool. This exercise is an effective method of regaining control of your mind when anxiety or stress threaten to take over and reminds us to interact with the world using our five senses. It requires you to think of five things that you can see (e.g. a picture on a classroom wall).  Then you think of 4 things that you hear (e.g. the orchestra rehearsing in the Senior Hall), three things you can touch (e.g. your earrings), two things you smell (e.g. tea or coffee) and one thing you can taste (e.g. breaktime snacks).  This exercise can help you become more aware of your present situation and reduce potential stress.

Good mental health is something we should all aim for, and psychologists around the world are investigating ways to maintain a consistent level of positive mental health. Using our five senses and practicing mindfulness can help us be resilient when going through a time of stress and help keep us grounded in reality. Learning to focus on the external factors present around us helps avoid excessive focus on internal issues and can moderate extremes of feeling or emotion. Consistency and balance are crucial when aspiring to have good mental health.

However, mindfulness should not be a tool reserved only for stressful situations. Just like training for a sport, mindfulness needs to be practiced and developed to make it the most effective it can be.  Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique and your five senses are a simple way of practicing mindfulness because you do not need equipment, a long time, or any external help. Our body has the tools we need to master mindfulness, we just need to trust them and exercise them.

For further reading, see the book “How to be yourself” by Clinical Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen (buy it here for a paper by Harvard Medical School about the benefits mindfulness has on stress and anxiety levels.

The importance of reading and the library – 12/10/18

Isabelle, Year 8, argues how critical reading is as a pastime whilst also discussing how libraries provide a great space to read and a wonderful source of information.

“Reading is a window to the world.”

Whilst the word ‘power’ has for a long time been associated with muscular strength, the word ‘knowledge’ has always been connected with the mind. The two words do not seem to have any connection whatsoever. However, today the world power has undergone a tremendous transformation. Today it is commonly recognised that the pen is mightier than the sword.

We are now living in a time where there are many information sources, such as the Internet leading to some older information sources now becoming increasingly extinct. However, books will always be alive; nothing can beat how you are able to immerse yourself into the story, nothing can replace the comfortable feeling of books. As J.K Rowling said: “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book”.

Reading is a useful pastime because people can learn a lot. We can learn many important and useful facts and improve our understanding of English language too. We can cultivate the habit by reading small books at first and after that we can read bigger and more advanced books. In addition to books we can also read newspapers. Books are a way that we can easily communicate our ideas and keep them safe. If people read, they will also get new ideas and then they can use these to develop the world.

I remember receiving my first library card: the power granted – the exhilaration as the red light of the checkout scanner christened the book – my book. It is great that we have a student library as I, like many others, think libraries are essential. One reason is because they offer educational resources to everyone. Anyone can use libraries to succeed and have the answers to curious minds. Secondly, they preserve history and truth and the preservation of truth is important, now more than ever. Libraries, which house centuries of learning, information and history are important while we fight against fake news.

Imagine a place where all of us feel welcome and encouraged to grow and learn. That space is the school library. School libraries provide more than just books, computers and other technology, databases of accurate information, e-books, plus fun and educational activities. School libraries provide a safe haven for all of us to think, create, share, and grow. School libraries can be the hub of learning and the favourite spot for many students.

Strong Silences

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Suzanne East, mindfulness lead at Wimbledon High considers the benefits and the challenges of delivering strong silences to students.

At the start of the Autumn term this year we introduced Strong Silences across the school as a positive and calming way to start the school day.  There was, and continues to be, a mixed reaction from both staff and students as to the benefits of this exercise. I suspect that at the start of a busy day it is one activity that often gets forgotten or postponed.  However, I would like to take this opportunity to speak out in favour of trying a little harder, both for ourselves and for our students and give strong silences another go.

Lack of time is the most frequent reason I hear given as to why people get out the habit of practising any mindful meditations. In such busy times we have to prioritise our to-do lists and time spent seemingly doing nothing can be hard to justify.  So what exactly is the intention of a strong silence and what benefits can it offer?

During a short mindfulness practice, such as a strong silence, we exercise a level of self-discipline in stopping our usual busyness and directing our attention elsewhere.  Rather than emptying the mind the aim is to focus on our actual lived reality, perhaps on the movement of the breath, the noises of our surroundings or the physical sensations of the floor and the chair beneath us.  This is difficult to achieve, but we know that we can train the brain in such behaviours and, like any exercise, focussing the mind becomes easier with practice.  As teachers we know that being able to maintain focus on the task in hand is a vital skill that all children need to learn if they are to work and perform to their maximum.  We are frequently warned that modern technologies provide constant interruptions and the brain is always attracted to novelty.  Any practice that can help our students to maintain focus in this sparkly and noisy world must be a vital life skill.

Being able to step back from difficult and demanding tasks can also improve over-all performance on these tasks.  It is often when we allow our mind to focus on a totally different task that creative solutions seem to appear to us.  What we are actually doing here is allowing our brain to look at the bigger picture and see what may elude us when we are too deeply engrossed in a task.  It is often in the shower, or when we are happily drifting off to sleep that our best ideas arise. There are many studies that suggest successful individuals build in renewal phases to their working strategies and that this can build cognitive abilities1.  Encouraging and reminding our students that they need to stop regularly when revising or writing essays can help them to avoid the frustration and burn out that can occur when they try to force themselves to work too long.

There is also a lot to be said for the simple power of silence itself.  In our lives we are constantly under pressure to perform, our opinions are sought and questions are asked; we feel ourselves as being judged by friends, families and those who have authority over us.  With age, most of us are able to build an inner confidence and ability to trust our own values and instincts, but this is a difficult skill for teenagers whose prefrontally cortex-challenged brains and hyper-sensitive amagdala’s are all too quick to tell them that they are social failures.  A strong silence is a time to sit quietly with yourself, time-in as author Daniel Siegel2 put it in his book Brainstorm, the power and purpose of the teenage brain. To stop telling, showing, explaining, reacting and to just be.

So strong silences have a lot to offer and teach our students about how they can take control of their lives and responses to the challenges that they may encounter.  They do not need to take long, they do not need cushions, blankets and uncomfortable postures and could be slotted into our daily routines as an example of how we balance the activities of our day and cater for all of our needs, physical, spiritual and mental. However, one real concern that I do still have is that strong silences delivered without real engagement from teachers could leave students dwelling on negative thoughts, worrying and feeling isolated.  We cannot teach these techniques without developing our own practice and understanding the different experiences that can result.  Ideally students need to follow a course such as the MiSP’s .b or paws b3 that gives the students the context and framework of mindfulness from which they can then develop their own practice.  A strong silence is a powerful tool to add to a day’s routine, but it needs to be nurtured and cared for if it is to really offer these benefits.

1) Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities?  A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical psychology review, 31 (3), 449-464.

2) Siegel , D.J (2011) Mindsight Practice A: Time-In.  In: Brainstorm, the power and purpose of the teenage brain p282-3. Scribe Publications.

3) Mindfulness in Schools Project various articles on the benefits of their mindful curricula https://mindfulnessinschools.org/research/

Twitter: @DH_Pastoral

Mindful revision: how to make the best of the revision period

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As mock exams start, Suzanne East, our Mindfulness Lead, looks at how we can manage the pressures of examination revision to achieve our best and stay healthy.

As the Christmas holidays approached and the festivities were beginning to get into full swing, I wished my Y11 tutor group Merry Christmas and asked how they were planning on spending the holiday period; “revision”, they groaned in reply. In their eyes was written the despair at the prospect of sitting alone in garret-like bedrooms struggling with never-ending lists of dates whilst the sounds of forbidden parties drifted up to torment them.

Faced with this, I sought ways to encourage them, and found that mindful practise offered some practical suggestions. So here are my top five tips on how to survive revision, especially revision during the holiday period, in a most mindful way!

  1. Acceptance

At the end of the day, it is what it is and you will not feel any happier by constantly thinking of other things you could be doing. Being constantly updated on the fun that others are having will not help, so put the device away and get on with it!

  1. Focus

Mindful practice encourages you to bring the focus of your attention back to a chosen point, perhaps the breath. We all get distracted but we can improve our attention with regular practice – a vital skill in completing any task! Remember to be kind (you will not be able to focus all the time) but notice the drifting away of attention and gently bring it back to the job in hand.

  1. Self-awareness

Away from the routines of school this is a time when students may be alone for long periods and need to take responsibility for their own care. Mindful practice encourages paying attention to yourself, how are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. By getting to know yourself you can make sure you stop and eat when hungry, get some exercise when sluggish and meet up with friends when feeling lonely.

  1. Savouring the good

It is easy to let revision seep into all aspects of the day. Even when not actually doing revision it can hijack your thoughts; regretting not doing more or dreading going back.  Mindfulness practice teaches how to be fully in the moment, so if you are doing some revision, pay attention and do it, but equally when you are having a break really have a break. Immerse yourself in a long soak in the bath, enjoy chatting with your friends when you meet up for coffee, savour that chocolate and get out and be in the world that is buzzing away with life all around you.

  1. Kindness

Remember mocks are a practice run. Things will not always go to plan, and this is almost certainly true of revision plans. Mindful practice encourages students to explore areas of difficulty and to accept that life can make you feel sad, angry and frustrated. No one likes to feel like this, but these are feelings we cannot escape from. Get to know them and learn how you can move forward, being as kind and supportive to yourself as you would to a good friend.

Of course, none of the above come easily.  Regular practice is essential in building mindful habits, but the rewards can be quite life changing, especially when the going gets tough.

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