New education minister pushes back against 'Mindfulness' movement

Ask a parent what does the word 'mindfulness' bring to mind and many will say "meditation". Once they have that picture in mind many reject the notion of their children sitting seemingly doing nothing when they "should be learning Maths or Literacy".

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Two Australian states and one territory have already added the teaching of Mindfulness to their curriculum. And the new Gonski report seems to endorse its inclusion in the Australian classrooms of the future. But new federal education minister, Dan Tehan, says 'not on my watch'.

A new Mindfulness program has been developed for Australian teachers to use in primary classrooms.

Some teachers are already using it and swearing by it.

But minister Tehan won't be having any of it. ('Minister vows mindfulness will not hijack school curriculum', The Australian, 22.9.2018)

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As a classroom teacher of twenty-four years I have always preferred to teach Metacognition over Mindfulness. Why? Because it's quicker - and because I've observed repeatedly the short-term and longer-term benefits that it can bring to students' learning and achievements.

What is this 'metacogntion'? To quote from the Australian Curriculum:

"This element involves students reflecting on, adjusting and explaining their thinking and identifying the thinking behind choices, strategies and actions taken. Students think about thinking, reflect on actions and processes, and transfer knowledge into new contexts. "

My personal definition for 'reflection' is "the act of looking back and thinking forward" - and 'metacognition' as one's ability to do just that.

I have always found that something remarkable happens when I direct my students to pause and

- reflect on what they've just done,

- recall the thinking and actions they've used,

- assess whether or not their thinking and actions helped them to achieve their goal, and

- consider how they could improve their thinking and application for next time.

When students articulate this kind of thinking it's as if they are suddenly older... more aware... more mindful of their brain at work.

There is evidence that self-reflection has a big impact on students' progress. John Hattie's and Rob Marzano's synthesis of research found that activities that require students to think about their thinking and learning have a large effect. For example:

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Meta-cognitive strategies (d = .69)

Self-reported grades (d = 1.33)

(Conditions with an effect size greater than .40 are considered to have a significant positive effect on students’ learning.)

Patricia Chen, a Stanford postdoctoral research fellow believes that if students are made more self-reflective about how they approach their studies they can do better. “Actively self-reflecting on the approaches that you are taking fosters a strategic stance that is really important in life,” she said.

Reflection is a tool/strategy that a student can apply in almost any scenario at any time - whether that be when getting an 'A' in a school assignment or sitting in 'time out' for inappropriate playground behaviour.

At present there is no directive in the Australian curriculum for teachers to teach Mindfulness. Which one would you teach? Mindfulness or Metacognition?

If you have chosen Metacognition here are some classroom reflection tools I have designed which I've found to be effective for developing metacognitive ability in primary students.

* Metacognition is one element of Critical and Creative Thinking capability.

James Phelps


Australia's first mindfulness curriculum launched

As students across the nation return for Term Two, schools will be now able to access Australia’s first dedicated mindfulness curriculum thanks to a collaboration between leading educators, psychologists and mindfulness experts.

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Led by the team behind Australian wellbeing and mindfulness meditation app Smiling Mind, the Mindfulness Curriculum has been designed to provide a framework and practical resource for the way teachers embed mindfulness in schools.

With up to 20% of Australian students currently disengaged at school, research shows that mindfulness can help young people develop the emotional, behavioural and attention regulation skills that set the crucial foundation for learning and train students to be better equipped for the pressures of adult life.

Smiling Mind CEO and one of the developers of the Curriculum, Dr Addie Wootten, said it was created in response to changing societal pressures on students and the subsequent impact on their wellbeing and learning.

“Research shows that one in five students are disengaged at school, and disengaged students are on average one to two years behind their peers,” Dr Wootten said.

“What’s more, our students are facing serious mental health issues, with one in seven primary aged students reporting mental health problems.”

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to strengthen areas of the brain that control executive function and can lead to strong improvements in attention, reduced stress, anxiety and depression, and better academic skills, social skills and self-esteem.

A recent meta-analysis over 70 studies comparing more than 6,000 school-aged young people shows those who practiced mindfulness showed greater performance in the following areas:

  • Better emotion and behaviour regulation than 62% of non-practicing students;

  • Better academic performance than 66% of non-practicing students

  • Lower depression and anxiety scores than 66% of non-practicing students

  • Better social skills than 64% of non-practicing students

This meta-analysis also revealed mindfulness practice is associated with a 16 per cent increase in academic performance and mental health for practicing students relative to peers.

“We can’t underestimate how fundamental the skills that mindfulness can develop are in the learning process,” Dr Wootten said.

Wooten added that mindfulness helps students develop the same skills that promote better mental health and school engagement, as well as foundational skills of attention and concentration.

“Not only are these skills essential for learning but they prepare our children to better manage with work-life challenges in the future,” she said.



Mindfulness a must-have mantra at Qld school

A quiet calm has descended on the Year 5/6 classroom at Agnes Water State School in Gladstone – and it’s not because the kids are all sitting in front of a screen.

These students have just completed a mindful meditation, and they feel focused, calm and ready to learn.

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lead to reduced stress, anxiety and depression, and improved self-esteem.


And while it’s well established outside of the classroom, schools are now increasingly jumping on the bandwagon.

Agnes Water is at the front of a push to introduce mindfulness and meditation practice into the Australian curriculum, supported by the recommendations in the latest Gonski review.

The students follow the Mindfulness Curriculum, a program developed by not-for-profit Smiling Mind.

Adapted to the Australian curriculum framework, the program supports students from Years 1 to Year 6 to develop self-awareness, self management, social awareness and social management skills, using mediation and discussion exercises.

According to head of curriculum at Agnes Water, Leigh Tankey, it’s having some real effects.

“[The students] are noticeably more settled [after mindful meditation] – calmer, more respectful, and more inclined to persevere when things get hard,” Tankey says.

And while it’s just one element in what is a school-wide focus on mental health and wellbeing, Tankey says the program has made a real difference in her classes.

“[It’s] really beneficial for students in so many ways.”

“Smiling Mind has given me a tool to help teach children lifelong strategies that build [skills around] resiliency, staying in the moment, being focussed on their learning, [and] understanding that emotions come and go...

“I will never be without this program in any class I teach from now on.”