Earlier this month I had a great honour to present at the MENA Special Education conference at Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dubai. While I always welcome opportunities to talk about mindfulness and my mindfulness-themed books, I’m especially excited about speaking to professionals directly involved with children. There were many teachers, special education professionals and therapists that attended and it was wonderful to see their interest in mindfulness as a way of supporting their students.
It is difficult to argue with the fact that mindfulness has become a fashionable word. Depending on where you’re from, you might even say that mindfulness has gone mainstream as many schools and businesses have embraced it. The reason for the rise in popularity of mindfulness is the fairly recent scientific evidence that convinced those who needed proof. Research demonstrating beneficial impact of mindfulness on children’s mental health and functioning in general has helped to make the conversation more specific – increasingly more about facts than opinions.
Despite the buzz however, it seems that many schools in the UAE still have a long way to go when it comes to teaching mindfulness and promoting mindful living. My experience shows that many administrators see their school as embracing mindfulness, however, when it comes to the implementation and actual teaching, nowhere near enough is being done. This is partly due to the shortage of resources, like insufficient number of trained teachers, amongst others. Like with any idea, not everyone will get on board, too. And even amongst those who have bought in, not everyone has sufficiently established personal practice and enough training to teach mindfulness to youth. It seems to me therefore that a more organised, active approach to promoting mindfulness is needed, especially amongst classroom teachers.
This population is in a unique position when it comes to promoting good habits amongst the new generation. They spend much time with our children and a school day is largely routine-based. Mindfulness practice, while uncomplicated, needs to be done daily for greatest benefits to be reaped. For this reason, teachers should be the target of mindfulness promoting campaigns if mindfulness is to be widely used. Mindfulness trained teachers would benefit and contribute from these efforts in at least 3 ways: by supporting their own well-being (for example mindfulness practice is associated with improved coping with stress), by improving their students’ classroom experience (reduced stress means more effective dealing with children’s behavioural issues for instance) and by direct teaching mindfulness tools to the students they would be empowering them to self-regulate their internal processes and behaviour.
So what can actually be done? Talking to administrators and teachers, introducing our children to mindfulness tools so that they can teach their educators and peers – what else?