Mindfulness in School

March 25, 2020.

Today my colleagues and I were meant to go and visit other International IB schools in our geographical area. Some colleagues were going to Copenhagen, Hellerup, Malmö and Lund. I was going to go to the International School of the Gothenburg Region. For obvious reasons we are not going. However, I connected with three member of staff at the Gothenburg school and one of them was Camilla Martinsson.

Camilla is teaching the same age-group as I, have family roots in Gällivare too, but the most interesting thing for me is, that she and School nurse Susanne Hogner have initiated a wellness program for students. Camilla is practicing mindfulness with her students, every day, for ten minutes.

I got interested in their program, as I have also initiated a wellness program, together with one of the P.E teachers at my school, where my students have physical activity every day. This means that the students have the obligatory two hours of P.E that all PYP students have each week, then they have, what I call Let’s Move, where they have 30 minutes of high intensity physical activity the three other days of the week. This is to enhance student learning and well-being. I am specifically looking at the factor: focus, just as Camilla in Gothenburg.

I asked her to describe why they started with the program and how she does it in practice with her students. Here is her story:

“I have been noticing that teaching has been becoming more and more difficult over the last few years. Students have a harder time staying focused and attentive, leading to all sorts of other disturbances; not only does it lead to me having to repeat instructions, but sometimes students also zone out when we were having discussions or during ‘teaching’ time; students distract other students since they are unfocused; students not learning new concepts or being able to practice new skills, all of which makes the job of being a teacher more difficult.  

One day during a unit on the human body we spoke about sleep. At least half of my class of 9-10 year olds told me that they had trouble either falling asleep, or that they woke up in the middle of night and couldn’t sleep. This had been a problem for me for years but I had just about 1 year before this conversation, been able to manage my sleep better by practicing mindfulness with an app for about 10 min/day.

I was a little shocked that so many of these little kids, who should be sleeping soundly all night, had the same issues that I had had. They told me their brains wouldn’t turn off.  

I then became more and more interested in trying to help them by introducing mindfulness to them in a structured and simple way. Our school nurse and counsellor had similar ideas and invited me to come on a one day course in Stockholm to learn more. We were all amazed!

Camilla Martinsson and Susanne Hogner, from Mindmatters.

When we returned to Gothenburg we immediately looked up courses we could take and signed up to become instructors, paying for the course ourselves, since we really believed in this. After that we applied for money from Skolverket and got granted some, that we then used to educate the staff who were interested and try to bring mindfulness to more teachers and classes.  

We started by giving lessons about the brain, empathy, compassion, and how our feelings, physical sensations and our thoughts are connected. At the same time we started holding mindfulness sessions, 10 min/day, every day, with all of our grade 4 classes. 

After about 2-3 months we realized that this was really helping. Many students said that they slept better, classes were calmer, students were more focused, I didn’t need to repeat instructions or explanations, and another perk we noticed was that we hardly spent any time solving conflicts between students.  

We have since continued, and have also taken more courses to learn specifically how to work with mindfulness in the classroom. This year I have since August, practiced mindfulness with my class every single day for 10 minutes. Sometimes we listen to an audio file, and sometimes I lead a session myself.

The sessions are focused on different things: the breath, physical sensations (body scans), sounds, music, food, their face, their hand, a natural object, thoughts/feelings, and sometimes, the sessions are visualisations where the focus is compassion and empathy, and the feelings in the body that the  visualisation give rise to.  We usually turn the lights off, and the students either stay in their seats, or moves to a place where it is easier for them to focus inward, and then we listen to the chime to start us off.

After the session is over, we always have  a little time to reflect, sometimes just a few minutes, but sometimes longer. I guide them and ask questions about what they noticed, how it felt, were they distracted, what did they to then and so on. This was really hard for them in the beginning, but they have gotten better and better at expressing themselves and talking about feelings, thoughts and focus.   

Camilla MartinssonPYP Grade 4 Classroom Teacher
International School of the Gothenburg Region”

Find out more about the program here, where Camilla works together with school nurse Susanne Hogner:

https://www.mindmatters.se/en/focus-balance-well-being/

Watch an interview with Camilla here: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/vast/med-mindfulness-pa-schemat

Read about the project here, in Gothenburg’s biggest newspaper: https://www.gp.se/nyheter/g%C3%B6teborg/skolelever-f%C3%A5r-mindfulness-p%C3%A5-schemat-1.22378459

For me, as an IB teacher I find it amazing to have an extended group of teachers world-wide, to connect with and be inspired by and perhaps form future collaborations with!

/Yvette Larsson, PYP 5 teacher at the International School of Helsingborg.

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