Balancing human doing with human being

Mrs Anne Ingram, Deputy Principal (Students)

In today’s rush, we all think too much – seek too much – want too much – and forget about the joy of just being.  Eckhart Tolle

The pursuit of balance in our daily lives is indeed a worthy quest, particularly in the rich learning environment that Brisbane Girls Grammar School offers. Life balance is about successfully managing and living our lives, seeking balance between the extremes – between order and chaos, between moving and being still, between work and leisure. When we are able to develop a sense of control over knowing when to shift from one to the other, and being able to do so with a spirit of full engagement, a healthy equilibrium is established that can lead to an improvement in our work practices, our relationships and promote within a positive state of wellbeing.

Wellbeing can simply be defined as the combination of feeling good and functioning well (Waters, 2017). Research into student wellbeing has been prolific in the last two decades, and clearly informs us of its importance during adolescence. Students with high levels of wellbeing are likely to enjoy enhanced physical health, richer social relationships, more optimism for the future and higher academic performance. Having high wellbeing at school also has a positive impact on a student’s life after graduation and well into adult life. Longitudinal research demonstrates the positive impact that adolescent wellbeing has on employment, earning capacity, relationship satisfaction and the likelihood of engaging in volunteer work in the community (Waters, 2017).

There is no denying that contemporary society is one of incredible busyness. Society impresses upon us the need to do more and to be more. From a young age, our students, in the earnest quest to be their best selves, struggle at times with over commitment. Life is transformed into a frantic dash from one scheduled event to the next, with parents juggling the roles of worker, carer, chauffeur and cheerleader.  This ‘executive childhood’ results in our youth replacing time for stillness, reflection, creativity and play with a demanding schedule of co-curricular activities. Technology has contributed to this frenetic pace with the pressure to be hyper-connected. Girls traverse the school grounds armed, at the very least, with an electronic notebook and a mobile phone. These technological tools of the modern age bring a new platform of learning to the classroom, along with the challenges and pitfalls that present themselves around the topic of digital etiquette. Living in today’s tech-saturated environment, along with the demand to be responsive to inevitable technological change, creates tension.

For all of us, but especially for our girls who are still developing their cognitive capacities, a torrent of stimulation is just one click away. The lure of perpetual connection is tempting, but we must be mindful of the need for ‘technology downtime’ to cultivate the art of attention, provide opportunities for face-to-face conversation, and time for deep and purposeful thought and reflection. To function effectively and happily in an ever-increasing virtual space, we must commit a significant amount of time to living without it. In the educational sphere, it has become essential to teach our students the importance of balancing human doing with human being.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School’s commitment to a mindful approach to learning has slowly but surely become a positive force and goes some way to providing an antidote to the busyness of the contemporary lifestyle in which we find ourselves. Mindfulness at Girls Grammar is seen as a form of mental training. It is a natural and cultivable cognitive skill, characterised by awareness of present moment thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and it can be deliberately developed. Often, we pay little attention to our experiences in the present moment. We become distracted by thoughts, feelings, by external events, by our interactions with others, or by our memories about the past and our hopes and fears for the future. In contrast, it is possible to realign ourselves to stay consciously aware of our experiences, allowing us to experience things as they really are and have choice over how we respond. ‘Ultimately, mindfulness means “to remember” – to remember our core values, our motivations, our key aspirations – in order to approach situations with a heightened sense of awareness. It brings us out of automatic pilot and sets us up to approach life in a spirit of inquiry, equanimity and compassion’ (Fort-Catanese, 2014).

Mindfulness has the potential to promote adolescents’ social and emotional functioning and as a consequence, improve their academic outcomes (Hennelly, 2011). The .b Mindfulness in Schools programme – considered the gold standard in mindfulness practice and since 2016 has been an integral part of our Year 8 Ethics programme – was designed through a collaboration between Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter Universities. The programme is supported by strong empirical research linking it with significant positive effects on adolescent resilience, relationships and wellbeing. Studies of the .b programme demonstrate its association with immediate improvements in adolescent functioning and wellbeing, and ongoing positive outcomes, which suggest that further gains can be made as students integrate mindful attitudes and practices into their daily lives.

In addition to the course in Year 8, all students have access to mindfulness training through House Group sessions and the School House and Year Level Assembly programmes, led by staff certified in the facilitation of the .b Mindfulness in Schools programme. Sound files are also available to all students through Moodle, the School’s Learning Management System. Just as physical exercise is vital to a desk-bound workforce, mindfulness is being seen as a tool for dealing with the complexity of our information-rich lives.

It is wonderful to see students from all areas of the School adopting the practice and feeling confident to share their experiences with their teachers:

Before the Year 8 Seconds race at regattas, we all sit in the boat and do a .b. This is a really good method to get in the zone and concentrate. Poppy Prance (9R)

I did a .b before my Science exam and it really helped me to stop shaking, as my hands often shake when I am nervous. Thank you so much for teaching me this technique. Sophia Rothwell (8G)

At Met North High Jump, I was really stressed as there were really good jumpers and I was doubting myself. However, before my run up, for every single jump, I stop and do a .b. I take a few breaths and calm myself down. I completely relax and don’t jump until I am ready and in a good mindset. I ended up placing in the competition. Josie Burke (9H)

I practised .b before my exam today and it really helped me to focus instead of thinking of other issues I had to sort today. I was really pleased because I often don’t finish the whole test in time but this time round, I had five minutes to spare. Thanks for spending the time with us today to help us with mindfulness. Luella Blackwood (8B)

If diligently practised, mindfulness can assist young people to achieve greater focus, think in more innovative ways, improve working memory and enhance planning, problem-solving and reasoning skills. Research also attests that adolescents who are mindful, either through their individual character or through training, tend to experience greater wellbeing. At Brisbane Girls Grammar School, we see our role as developing teenage girls who will be confident, courageous, creative, ethical, empathic and respectful of themselves. We aim to nurture their potential and nourish their minds and character. Mindfulness is one tool that can help us to do that.

References

Bunting, M. (2014) Why we will come to see mindfulness as mandatory. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Guardian-Why-we-will-come-760027.S.5869374926267392004?_mSplash=1

Fort-Catanese, K. (2014) For the Flourishing of Young Minds: Developing a Mindful School Culture. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/krysten-fortcatanese/developing-a-mindful-school-culture_b_5763266.html

Hennelly, S. (2011) The Immediate and sustained effects of the .b mindfulness programme on adolescents’ social and emotional well-being and academic functioning. Retrieved from http://mindfulnessinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Immediate-and-sustained-effects-of-dot-b.pdf

Waters, L. (2017) Visible Wellbeing in schools: The powerful role of instructional leadership. Journal of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. Vol. 39 No.1.b

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