Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Dear Reader, 

How do you feel about meditation? How do you end the lesson or the school day?

In addition to the particular constraints of the school I'm in, like requiring uniform checks or time to tidy up, I've always been a fan of some sort of end-of-lesson protocol that calms pupils down and gives them time to reflect.  Perhaps this is due to my preferences as an introverted person, or perhaps (as I explain to the pupils) it is also about being courteous to the next teacher or their parents, by making sure I don't send them to their next activity so full of excitement and energy that they are subsequently difficult to manage. A third reason, that it gives the pupils themselves a small window of time alone with their own thoughts, is most likely concomitant.

The Times recently ran an article on meditation in the classroom and, despite having tried this many times with my pupils, my heart sank.  I'm not against meditating - anything that induces calm and thoughtfulness speaks to my innate sensibilities - but I am most decidedly against being told to follow the next teaching fad.  Moreover, the cynic in me rejects not the act of meditation but the cloud of claptrap that tends to follow - unfortunately it's a slippery old mountain with nothing but a lake of pointless homeopathy waiting at the bottom.  Meditation is just another commercial enterprise and one which has become more popular of late as a corporate strategy to increase worker effectiveness whilst also somehow adding 'meaning' to professional lives, well discussed here by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian.

Another article by Andrew Jones examines the potential benefits, specifically in the education sector, to both pupils and teachers.  I note with a wry smile that he describes meditation as a way of making people more 'aware of how their daily experiences of school life are affecting their state of mind and, hopefully, to calm their reactions and thoughts throughout the rest of the school day'.  Perhaps meditation is the undiscovered wormhole from the extrovert to the introvert?  For certainly, frequent self-monitoring and attempting to remain calm and emotionally stable are the natural, well-worn tracks my brain treads throughout the day, sometimes without too much conscious input from me.

I have tried a very straightforward (and secular) sort of meditation with many children throughout my career, mostly consisting of a simple two minutes silence at the end of a lesson where I encourage them to self-evaluate and regulate their emotions.  Recently, I have gone on more complex journeys with my class as part of research into Buddhism.  Most of the reactions from pupils have been incredibly positive and I myself have fond memories of cosy, candlelit evenings spent inside my own mind at the excellent convent school I attended, where the nuns would routinely gather us in the chapel for a jolly night of beanbags and meditation.  I have great hopes for it, as a practice, if we can somehow remove the threat of commercialism and, even better, convince whoever wins the next election not to jump on the bandwagon and insist we all deliver a 'mindfulness plenary'.

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