Designing Mindfulness Interventions for Student Well-Being
By Raquel Loureiro, Area Leader of Sciences; Biology, Global Perspectives, and Research Teacher; and Mindfulness facilitator at CLIP – Oporto International School
Childhood and Adolescence are important formative developmental stages; they are the foundation for well-being and mental health in adulthood (Luthar, 1991). According to Shlafer et al (2014), adolescence is not merely a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood but a distinct developmental period with unique opportunities for the development of health, competence, and capacity and not merely a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood.
And, the evidence base for school-based programs that aim to promote well-being, support emotional and social learning, and prevent mental health problems in adulthood is growing (Durlak & Wells, 1999; Cuijpers et al, 2008).
Mindfulness is usually referred to as a mental state characterized by ‘full attention to internal and external experiences as they occur in the present moment’ and ‘an attitude characterized by non-judgement of, and openness to, this current experience’ (Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth & Burney, 1985).
According to Saltzman (2014), ‘Mindfulness is paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can change our behaviour’.
Being mindful requires awareness and focus on current experience, versus “automatic pilot” mode, which involves engaging in behavior that is out of awareness and attention, that is compulsive or automatic. Mindfulness interventions have been proven to enhance mental health and well-being (Holzel et al, 2011; Kuyken et al, 2013). In fact, the popularity of Mindfulness interventions and its subsequent studies has exploded over the past years. There are studies that point to fewer depressive symptoms post-Mindfulness interventions, lower stress, and greater well-being (Kuyken et al, 2013; Biegel et al, 2009; Brown et al, 2011).
Impact of Mindfulness Interventions – A Preliminary Study
Last academic year at the CLIP Oporto International School, we formally implemented Mindfulness interventions and measured their impact. Our study was presented at the International Conference on Mindfulness (ICM2018, Amsterdam). These interventions targeted Upper School students, particularly those in 11th and 12th grade, who are subjected to high forms of stress, due to examinations that they must take in order to conclude their secondary education.
In order to have a more statistically significant analysis, a bigger sample size is needed, but overall, there was a positive correlation between the interventions and higher levels of Mindfulness, and all participants provided positive feedback about the sessions.
At CLIP, Mindfulness has also been informally implemented by some of our teachers and there are extracurricular activities that focus on this matter and that target lower school students. These “clubs” are called Time In and Mindful Kids and they run on a weekly basis.
Designing the Mindfulness Intervention
The interventions followed the Still Quiet Place (SQP) curriculum (Saltzman, 2014), which offers ‘young people most of the foundational elements of the standard adult Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Saltzman, 2014).
Due to a narrow attention span of young people and limits in school schedules, there are important adaptations to the nine-session adult MBSR and the eight-week SQP curriculum:
- The guided practices usually last only 10 to 25 minutes, versus 30 to 45 minutes in adult MBSR;
- The weekly sessions are only 60 minutes long, versus 2 and a half hours for adult MBSR;
- The practices of observing thoughts and feelings are initially introduced as separate, distinct practices, whereas in adult MBSR they are typically incorporated in sitting practice;
- Some themes in adult MBSR are not covered in SQP curriculum unless prompted by a participant’s comments (Saltzman, 2014).
To better develop Mindfulness attitudes in our students, facilitators/teachers should be well-grounded in their own practice of Mindfulness. At CLIP, the teacher/facilitator had been trained and approved as ready to teach the SQP curriculum. This means that teacher/facilitator could deliver the curriculum with a high degree of understanding and fidelity. These sessions were supported by a journal that included:
- Breathing meditation
- Body scans
- Loving-kindness meditation
The mindfulness sessions also explored themes like the 7 Mindfulness Attitudes, Gratitude, Compassion, Non-Violent Communication, and Tai Chi.
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What Students Say about the Mindfulness Sessions
“Mindfulness has helped me in many ways, but most importantly is has allowed me to live and be more focused on the present moment, instead of being constantly lost in my own thoughts, about the past or the future. Overall, I am someone who overthinks about almost every aspect of my life and after having regularly practical Mindfulness, I am more aware that there are things that are beyond my control and I have to accept them and let them go. Mindfulness has also helped me control my exams related stress and anxiety, as it has taught me to trust myself and my capabilities.”
“Mindfulness helped me to see things more clearly without overthinking which helped me being less impulsive in many situations and letting go of things. Also, Mindfulness helped me a lot during the exam period as I became more focused while studying and less nervous during the final exams. Mindfulness is a great experience as the one hour that we have every week is very pleasant and relaxing and it was an experience worth having and I recommend it to everyone. I didn’t think that it would bring positive changes before I started but the outcome was extremely gratifying.”
“Mindfulness is something that helps me calm down when I am very upset, it is like “first aid” for my mind. (…) Personally, I enjoyed the sessions that made me think and redeem. (…) I believe it is my way of obtaining inner peace. Once I can convince myself to finally view problems from a different perspective, it is when meditation becomes handy. (…) in short, I really had a great time and Mindfulness helped me a lot”
“At the start, I was not sure if this would help and it felt a bit strange to meditate in a small group. Nonetheless, the strange feelings quickly left after the first lessons and it was easy to open up as a group was not that big. The fact this was a group lesson also helped me keep in check and feel I should not miss a lesson. Next year I if I have the opportunity I will continue, for sure!”
Raquel Loureiro is the Area Leader for the Sciences at CLIP – Oporto International School. She is also a Biology and a Global Perspectives and Research Teacher and a Mindfulness facilitator. She has a Masters of Teaching applied to Biology and she has been working in the field of Education and Adult Training since 2000.
She wants to encourage students to become inquisitive problem-solvers and innovators and she believes that teaching can also develop resilience, compassion, and empathy. Some years ago, she started to develop a profound interest in Mindfulness and as a practitioner, she feels and understands its benefits. So, she is inspired to take her knowledge and use her practice to benefit many.