There’s something quite special about Nawton School, a decile two primary school in Hamilton.
Principal Rubina Wheeler, who has been at Nawton for 12 years, oversees 22 classrooms – 10 classrooms are taught in English, five classes are bilingual (reo-rua) and seven classes are taught entirely in Te Reo Maori (rumaki).
The school aims to provide a holistic and inclusive learning environment to empower all students to succeed. “Our children face some unique challenges,” says Ms Wheeler, “they are likely to face more frequent and higher intensity conflict situations in different settings of their lives, and we work hard to equip them with the skills they will need to make better choices when they’re in those situations.”
The right moment for mindfulness
The Pause, Breathe, Smile (PBS) programme came to Ms Wheeler’s attention at the right moment.
“We have five school values,” Ms Wheeler explains. “Perseverance, respect, integrity, detachment and excellence (PRIDE). We try to teach our children these values, but detachment (or self-control) can be tricky.
“When I heard about PBS, and thought about the needs that we have in our school community, I thought the programme could help us to teach children detachment – to control their own behaviour and make good choices in conflict situations. I also thought the programme had benefits in achieving the key competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum, such as self-managing behaviour.”
Early in 2015, Nawton enrolled two classes (a junior and a middle class) in the PBS programme. The trial was such a success that they enrolled a further three classes the next term, and by the end of 2015 eight Nawton classes will have received this unique mindfulness in schools programme.
Benefits for students and teachers
Learning mindfulness has been a positive experience for Nawton on a number of different levels.
“We’ve seen it positively impact children in our junior, middle and senior schools, and in all of our classes, whether they’re taught in English, Maori or a mixture of both,” Ms Wheeler says.
“The teachers who have enrolled in the programme have all seen improvements in their classroom culture. They’ve noticed the children are more settled, and the teachers themselves have personally benefitted from some of the strategies mindfulness has taught them.”
Teachers have also noted that teaching mindfulness to children has been a useful tool in helping children to self-manage their behaviour and focus on their learning.
“Pause, Breathe, Smile fits nicely into the strategies we use to help empower students to succeed,” Ms Wheeler says. “We’re seeing real benefits to the children – it teaches them to focus their attention on their school work, during instructional reading, instructional writing and instructional mathematics.
“We’re also noticing that the children are persevering when they meet challenges, not just when they encounter challenging behaviour from others but also when they’re finding learning difficult. When it’s hard, mindfulness gives them the skills to keep trying.”
The benefits of the programme have outlasted the eight weeks that each classroom receives PBS training. All of the teachers whose classes have received PBS have continued practising mindfulness with their students because they’ve seen real benefits.
Enduring effects and strengthening leadership
Mindfulness hasn’t just been helpful in Nawton’s classrooms. Staff members are finding that mindfulness has helped them develop their own skills.
“I’ve found mindfulness has strengthened my leadership skills,” Ms Wheeler says. “On any given day, I have to focus on a variety of very different things, quickly shifting my attention from student achievement to finance to property management. Practising mindfulness helps to bring focus and clarity to the tasks at hand, and allows me to switch easily between tasks.
“I also come to school in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to start a new day!”
After nearly a year of watching the real benefits mindfulness has given to Nawton School students and staff, the school has committed more resources to it in 2016.
“Our goal for next year is to have every class and teacher at Nawton School taught mindfulness,” Ms Wheeler says.