“We’re in crisis right now. We need to show that we can put humanity back into human.”
Goldie Hawn started MindUpTM over 15 years ago. Deeply concerned by the downward spiral in children’s mental health, she began devising a mindfulness programme that would bring “joy, laughter, optimism, an ‘I can’ spirit” into the classroom.
Speaking in Westminster at the APPG on Education on 5th June 2018, Goldie presented the extraordinary results of MindUpTM . Over 200,000 teachers and 6 million children in the USA and UK have benefitted so far. Goldie was speaking on a panel with Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Southampton, Secondary School Teacher of the Year Luisa Martin-Thomas of Tonypandy Community College, pupils and Head Teacher Naomi Leaver from Robinsfield School, and Co-Chairs of the APPG Chris Ruane MP and Tim Loughton MP.
Over 40 MPs and Members of House of Lords RSVP’d and our patron, Ruby Wax was in the audience for the lively panel and discussion.
The issues facing schools and pupils are all too familiar. The pressure of assessment, inability to concentrate, failing mental health, absenteeism in both pupils and staff were just some of the issues highlighted. Goldie is convinced that the pressures are far greater than they were when she started MindUpTM. Mindfulness is now more necessary in our schools than ever before:
“Our children, our citizens of tomorrow are stressed, have this kind of anxiety, this kind of uncertainty, this hopelessness, this lack of knowing that tomorrow can be a better day…. Children should be able to go to a school that has optimism, that has tools, that has a way for them to get grit and a way to understand and get over problems.”
Two children benefiting from MindupTM at Robinsfield Infant School, London were the stars of the morning. They explained how learning how their brains worked and using simple mindfulness tools like the glitter bottle helped them understand and work with their emotions.
[photo: "Hippocampus" - helping children learn how their brains work]
Goldie explained how children on the programme learn how their brains work, practise mindful awareness and develop positive psychology. Pupils take regular brain breaks, the mindfulness practices improve focused attention, and they are taking perspective on their place in the world. The emphasis on gratitude and performing acts of kindness such as talking to a pupil who looks lonely or holding a door open for someone changes how the children view themselves and others:
“We do acts of kindness in the classroom, we give gratitude, we do perspective taking, we don’t talk about empathy; we create it.”
Children are empowered by their new understanding of why they feel as they do. They feel less anxious and have better empathy and compassion for others and are better able to self-regulate their behaviour. It is this ability to self-regulate that seems to be translating into fewer pupil exclusions and reduced bullying. The value of increased self-regulation cannot be underestimated, with research suggesting that the ability to self-regulate is the biggest determinant of life outcome.
Presenting on the value of Mindfulness programmes for Secondary school pupils was Secondary School Teacher of the Year Luisa Martin-Thomas. When TonyPandy Community College, Wales, was placed in Special Measures in 2014, deputy head Luisa was determined to help pupils reach their full potential.
Luisa started by working on herself, attending an 8-week Mindfulness course:
“The course provided me with a set of skills to live in the moment and learn to stop, breathe and be.”
Seeing the potential for pupils and staff alike, Luisa gained the support of her Headteacher and introduced the .b programme. Four years on and now staff and students start the day with mindful reflection. The effects have been staggering, impacting the whole ethos of the school, with an increased emphasis on kindness and an openness toward mental health.
“Bringing out the best in all the students has been the driving force in everything I’ve implemented.”
The results are concrete and measurable. Staff absences have dropped and pupil attendance has improved. And the school has been taken out of special measures.
So what is the evidence base for the impact of Mindfulness programmes in our schools, Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor, University of Southampton, presented on the findings of academic trials to date. Her presentation summarised the findings of 3 systematic reviews and 5 meta-analyses, covering 43 individual studies in peer-reviewed journals and publications.
There is evidence for cautiously positive outcomes with the trials reporting a small to medium impact on psychological outcomes such as social and emotional skills and mental health. An improved ability to pay attention and a small impact on academic learning was also found. Physiological health such as heart rate and blood pressure was also found to improve. Importantly, none of the studies reported any adverse effects on school children practising mindfulness regularly.
Professor Weare called for more research, in particular, larger trials with longer follow-up periods.
Questions to the panel from the audience of teachers and service providers ended this packed and engaging meeting.