Mindfulness in Schools
WHAT’S THE ISSUE: While Mindfulness is being taught in more and more schools in countries like the UK, the USA and Australia in all sorts of schools, state schools and private schools have yet to begin building mindfulness into the school curriculum. In this interview, Nicholas Colasanto and Danai Papadopoulou share their vision and solutions for how IB World schools and state schools in Greece can become happier places for everyone in the school community.
A VISION FOR SCHOOL COMMUNITIES
ELENI VARDAKI: Today I’m talking with Danai Papadopoulou and Nicholas Colasanto, from the Institute of Mindful Mentoring, about mindfulness in school communities.
Let’s dive in.
I would love for you to share with our audience your vision for school communities.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: Our vision has to do with spreading mindfulness around Greece, and focusing on younger ages. Prepubescent children, teenagers and young adults, and as well as their supporting environment. Their educators and their parents.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: Yes. We think that this would be best done if it became a part of the National Curriculum, as it’s been proposed in countries like the United States or England, where they have Pilot Schemes. Mindfulness has proven to have really beneficial results upon school communities.
ELENI VARDAKI: It sounds like, for IB schools which are more independent, and they don’t depend on the government to create their curriculum as a National Curriculum, they can create Pilot Schemes in their younger years. In the pre-IB Diploma years, before the final school year where, you know, everything starts to get really intense.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: Yes, you have to start early. If you start early working with Mindfulness in a school environment, you end up creating a mindful culture within the school, which is an environment. A mindful environment. And the children grow in it. And their teachers grow in it, with them. And it actually becomes their everyday life. And it helps them with everything. So by the time they’re old enough to face exams and that whole anxiety, they have already developed the tools to work with it.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: At the start, teachers will be able to employ mindful tools to help keep their students on track. To help them be calm, and to help them concentrate and be more confident. Developing a mindful culture within schools is our vision.
ELENI VARDAKI: It sounds like it’s got multiple layers. One of these is that you need staff to practice mindful tools or be familiar with them, and parents also need to be on board, in order to create an environment where mindful learning takes place for students.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: Yes. And it’s not only about learning and about knowledge. It has to do with the well-being, actually, and with coping.
Coping with life!
Thank God we have very good schools here. Children they learn well, they do well in exams. There are excellent teachers.
But we don’t have enough time devoted to helping children with life skills, basically.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: Time and time again, we’re hearing about increased stress levels of students who are just not feeling that they’re performing at their best, because they’re under too much anxiety.
They’re burden and overwhelmed. And if that’s happening at school, what’s going to happen later, after school, in real life problems?
And we believe that through mindful tools, we will have helped raise a mindful culture of confident and clear-minded people.
CULTIVATING MINDFUL SCHOOL COMMUNITIES
ELENI VARDAKI: I love it. What about benefits for the school community, in the present moment. What would you say would be benefits that schools would gain from bringing mindfulness into their community?
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: First of all, it would be really important to develop an Emotional Alphabet within schools, so that people can really be in touch with how they are feeling.
Instead of just reacting (which generally is the cause of a lot of relationship problems, whether it’s professional or personal).
Mindfulness will give people the chance to choose how they are going to respond in specific situations.
Introducing an Emotional Alphabet will help communication improve.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: Yes, and help hings function and run, in general.
But it would also help tremendously to reduce stress levels within the children.
And it can help them focus and increase their concentration, because the more you do the mindfulness practice – the exercises, let’s say – the more your actual brain develops. There are studies that prove this, now.
Children can focus more and they have more confidence.
They have more motivation. They are generally more positive, as well as the adults that practice it with them and support them.
Even physical, even your physical well-being, improves when you practice it.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: I think that, also, an underlying element of mindfulness is the non-judgmental aspect of where you are kind to yourself. You’re compassionate with yourself.
Once you’re compassionate with yourself, you’re compassionate and understanding with others.
So within a school environment, tasks, relationships, targets will run smoothly, efficiently, and happily.
In an ambiance of compassion and understanding.
ELENI VARDAKI: Yes, and that is so important, especially when students are feeling a lot of pressure with grades and exams, and feeling that the only thing that matters is grades, because of this increasing – almost global anxiety that seems to be spreading.
Getting good grades in order to get into a good university, and all of the pressure that comes with that.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: It’s not only grades.
It’s also where they spend most of their days.
When we’re children, we spend most of our day in school.
And we finish school and then it’s just life.
All we have learned there (in school) is information, really. We also learned through our relationships there, but we don’t really learn mindfully, as part of our learning experience in school.
How to be with one another how?
How to be with ourselves, in a healthy way, and to be supported in it?
The other aspect of our work is the mentoring part, which has to do with mentoring within a community, to infuse this environment with the Community Values.
We help children realize themselves as community members. As equal members of the community, with equal responsibilities, and equal benefits. Equal worth.
Doing this through mindfulness and mentoring is the way we worked out to for how to help.
MENTORING PROGRAMS FOR SCHOOLS
ELENI VARDAKI: So what would it look like if a school hired you guys to work with their school community?
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: We offer programs that vary in length and depth. From introductory workshops to continuing, weekly in-depth sessions. It depends on ages. We do two groups of ages, older children and younger teenagers, and then older teenagers and young adults.
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: And then we also work with teachers or parents, to help them employ tools of mindfulness at home or in the classroom.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: To help them have a more mindful, ongoing dialogue, where everybody is speaking the same language.
ELENI VARDAKI: Which is crucial. So important.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add, before we wrap up?
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: We want to share that our lives have changed since we discovered mindfulness and started working, and researching and practicing.
NICHOLAS COLASANTO: Yes. Studying and practicing. It’s been a few years, now. What we were left with one day when we realized that we were creating this harmonious environment, between us and within us, and in our professional environment, is that we were wondering: Why we haven’t come across it sooner. I mean, why should somebody wait…
DANAI PAPADOPOULOU: …until they hit the wall and you’re like 30 or 40 or 50! Why should somebody wait to bring positivity into your life, you know?
ELENI VARDAKI: Exactly. I totally, 100% agree.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Is there anything in this interview that resonates with you?
Anything you’d like to add?
Let us know in the comments below.
Eleni Vardaki graduated from the Anglo-American School of Moscow with the IB Diploma, and is also an experience IBDP teacher. She’s taught over 3000 secondary school students and over 300 IB Diploma students in the last 10 years. She’s on a mission to help bridge the gap between mainstream education systems and 21st century well-being skills. For youth mentoring, school bookings and free well-being training resources, go to: www.elenivardaki.com or subscribe to her YouTube channel.