Review by Hannah Smith

22 Oct 2017, 5:00

Mindful Teacher, Mindful School: Improving wellbeing in teaching and learning

Mindfulness in schools splits the audience and invites naysayers to critique certain “fluffy” approaches.

However, what Kevin Hawkins does well is integrate the theory with the practice, underpinning the practical actions with the concepts. I am not sure the title or front cover does this book the justice it deserves.

I caught myself nodding throughout and smiled to read the language that we use at our school. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” is one of the straplines in my prospectus. “Holistically educating the whole child” is a phrase I have used repeatedly over the last few weeks in our endless round of open evenings and mornings as I share our vision and values with prospective parents.

However, for me the focus needed to be inverted – one mindful teacher with one mindful classroom in a school causes a ripple, but a mindful school, full of mindful teachers, creating mindful classrooms causes a wave. This is the wave of change that our school system desperately needs.

The intertexuality of seminal theories and texts from Coleman to Covey are threaded seamlessly throughout

The intertexuality of seminal theories and texts from Coleman to Covey are threaded seamlessly throughout this accessible book. I dipped in and out, chapter by chapter, but picked up threads and looped back to revisit concepts which anchored different sections.

The exploration of Bloom’s taxonomy of affective (emotional) skills supports my belief that we need to educate the whole child and that we are failing our children if we fail to do so. We have lost the balance, hence the societal epidemic of mental health issues symptomatic of our focus on cognitive versus emotional development.

The chapter propagating self-care is emphatic and should be read by all school leaders. We should not be presenting our learners with teachers who are struggling with their own wellbeing. Our school culture has become obsessed with doing rather than being, at the expense of the humans in the system, primarily the adults in our schools.

This book is a journey we need to go on in order to grow, learn and flourish as educators and learners. Moreover, the advice and tips on managing our inner critics is reminiscent of many tweets, blogs and talks I have witnessed through #WomenEd activity. This book could be speaking directly to our community.

This book is a call to arms for us to change our school system

Hawkins explains that as we understand our mind, body and emotions more through mindful practice, we recognise our negativity biases and behaviour patterns.

Through the use of the cognitive behaviour model we can help children understand their inner bias more explicitly. How many conversations have I had in the last few years about this in relation to representation in our schools?

The section on presence really made me think. I have led sessions for new and struggling staff on how to develop a presence, but this technique is encouraging us to “be present”, reminding us how to show up in our classrooms and in our teaching.

In the world of white noise from emails, bells and radios it is hard sometimes to be truly present. And we wonder why our staff and our students are frazzled and stressed?

It seems we are behind the times, as the international research cites multiple case studies of how the States, Canada, Sweden and Australia have embedded mindful practice and positive psychology into their education system. Our schools need to be more mindful – we need to bring the heart back in to the core of mainstream education.

This book is a call to arms for us to change our school system, to counterbalance our investment in professional development with a commitment to personal growth.

The final words, “we aren’t teachers, we are people, people who teach” remind me of Mary Myatt’s Hopeful Schools. She says “we are humans first, teachers second”. Hawkins has filled my empty tank back up with hope and optimism for the future of our schools.

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