I (Cathy) sometimes wonder if children just need go outside and be part of nature. Life isn’t just about about being entertained. In our society of things, gadgets and high tech, this is sometimes overlooked. An experience can be about being contemplation or just learning to listen or observe. My high school visual arts teacher, Robert Bateman was gifted at encouraging us (his students) to practice this. He would tell us to just go sit in a field an look at one thing and listen. Pay attention. I think now this practice would be called “mindfulness”. As teachers, as parents, do we do encourage this? Just a thought.
We recently had postings from Shelley on fostering student “well-being” through “mindfulness” and Yiola on “mental health” education. Both these topics are increasingly prominent today. In Ontario character education has been stressed for several years, and currently mental health education is an MOE emphasis.
I (Clive) did my PhD in moral philosophy and researched, wrote, and taught in values or “way of life” education for a couple of decades. I even developed grades 1-12 learning materials in the area. But finding that teachers had very little time for separate values instruction, I broadened my work to teaching and teacher education in general – and haven’t regretted the shift.
However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that teaching well requires a sound set of values and approach to life, society, and the world. Educational issues are ultimately life issues, and we can’t resolve one without the other.
Fortunately, the scope for addressing life issues in subject teaching is enormous. In literacy/literature, for example, a large proportion of the discussion and project work could be on values related matters. What is needed is for teachers and teacher educators to take up this area in a systematic way in the context of promoting subject learning, which is our main occupational mandate.
This in turn requires a much deeper understanding of the nature and importance of values, and the need to have an articulated approach to life. We’ve been used to leaving values up to philosophy and religion, or to saying (especially since the 60s) that it’s just a personal thing. But the task is extensive, fundamental, and something we must all engage in – together. Each person will have their own way of life but there are important general elements, and teachers and students should work together on both.
Supporting Student Well-Being through Mindfulness Practices
Last week I (Shelley Murphy) had the opportunity to hear Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg speak about the quality of Finland’s education system. One of the many things that stood out to me as particularly memorable was Finland’s teachers’ primary focus on supporting student well-being. It got me thinking about the newly published Ontario Ministry of Education document Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/about/excellent.html. Its focus is on the skills, knowledge, and characteristics learners need for success and well-being and a plan of action for promoting these. I am excited to know that the ministry has recognized the fundamental importance of student well-being and has included it as one of its four core priorities here in Ontario.
One way to promote student well-being and resilience is through mindfulness awareness practices. Mindfulness practice, which has most recently been taught and practiced within the context of medicine, has been increasingly attracting attention in the field of education. When I was an elementary teacher, I used mindfulness practices to help students learn to be more self-aware, less reactive, and to meet each moment with greater attention and presence. As a teacher educator, I now introduce my preservice students to mindfulness awareness practices within my Special-Education courses. There is increasingly convincing data showing that regular mindfulness practices strengthen the areas of the brain that control attention, executive functioning, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. A myriad of groups and organizations are surfacing to promote mindfulness in our schools for these very reasons (e.g. Discover Mindfulness in Ontario http://discovermindfulness.ca/ ; Mindful Schools in California http://www.mindfulschools.org/ ). Considering the importance of supporting the mental health, resilience, and overall well-being of both school aged students and our preservice teachers, I think mindfulness awareness practices and their applications within educational settings are worth taking a closer look at!