How Mindfulness came to the UK - part 6 - Getting schools involved

In 2008 I [Jini Lavelle] wrote a Manual of Mindfulness for Teachers and Teenagers published by Goodwill Arts. For some time I knew that mindfulness was a ‘cure’ in the clinical context of treating mental health problems such as stress and depression, but for some time I had been realising its potential for preventative application and the possible benefits of mindfulness for children in the non-clinical context of schools.

Mindfulness is a skill or technique which should be available to all of us including children. I realised we needed this in schools so that rather than coming to learn mindfulness as adults, to deal with stress and depression, we could teach these skills as part of healthy child development. Mindfulness increases self-awareness, concentration, and attention plus it develops the capacity to regulate emotional automatic reactions, improving behavioural problems.

A participant of one of my mindfulness programmes approached me. A former Fleet Street editor, she had a publishing company producing excellent art and pictorial manuals for schools, Goodwill Arts. “Had I considered writing a manual on mindfulness for schools?”, I knew how difficult it would be to discipline myself to write without this offer. Carol was ruthless in her editing as she had an established printing format with a page layout with so many columns and boxes to fit the script, with only so many pages for the spiral bound end product. If the text didn’t fit she cut it regardless of meaning. Or re- wrote my contribution so that it didn’t make sense. I used Microsoft Word, she worked on Apple. I sent her lessons and teaching notes which she often lost or couldn’t find. I would eventually find them posted on her notice board. It was gruelling and demanding.

We had a turbulent relationship mitigated with respect on both sides and she always made a delicious lunch and we would have good wine at the end of our writing day, exhausted. I think I practiced more mindfulness and biting my tongue in those sessions than at any other time in my life! On completion the manual contained a CD of meditation exercises and terrific illustrations by Bryan Gandar and a non-sequiter concluding chapter written by Carol which I did not contribute to, and which I would not have included. When it was printed the authorship was attributed to Carol first and me second - alphabetical listing by surname or ego? I was devastated but impotent as she had paid me the £2000 pounds for my 18 months’ work, I had no contract and she kept the royalties. This is obviously how you become a successful business woman. I really must learn.

With the manual I began a research programme in Oxfordshire secondary schools, bringing my work to OMC. It was a slow and difficult process finding schools willing to participate, as mindfulness was in its infancy and a hard subject to sell. Schools had very little spare time in their curricula and I am very grateful to those schools which participated in this pioneering project. Professor Felicia Huppert invited me to a meeting of those interested in the development of mindfulness in schools, at the Wellbeing Institute at Cambridge University which she founded. I and my research assistant gave a presentation on what we had been doing in Oxford. There I met Richard Burnett from Tonbridge School, Chris Cullen from Hampton School and later with Chris O’Neill from Charterhouse we founded Mindfulness in Schools.

It’s very encouraging to today see mindfulness training being given to young children in our local schools and across the UK.

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