Author and mindfulness educator Kevin Hawkins visited the International School of Beijing (ISB) during the week of September 4, to provide workshops examining well-being, mindful awareness, and emotion-regulation skills for students, faculty, and parents. There is considerable and compelling evidence that mindfulness in education alleviates stress, and benefits psychological well-being, social skills, academic performance, and more. One of ISB’s overarching objectives is to provide all ISB students with the skills and experiences to take ownership of their unique talents to build a life of purpose and satisfaction. To nurture the whole child, ISB promotes positive mental health by including mindful awareness in our social and emotional learning (SEL).
Mr. Hawkins, the author of Mindful Teacher, Mindful School, has worked with students around the world for over 30 years. For the past 10 years he was Middle School Principal at the International School of Prague in the Czech Republic. We spoke to Mr. Hawkins and ISB parent, Bei Mao, who attended the Parent Education Session on Mindfulness about the importance of focusing on well-being in schools.
What does mindfulness mean to you?
Ms. Mao: Mindfulness is a practice of staying fully and clearly aware of your mind in the present moment. We live in a fast-paced, high-pressure world, where fame and fortune are presented as substitutes for happiness. Mindfulness helps put things in perspective and allows us to prioritize what is really important in life and in our families.
How does SEL impact schools?
Mr. Hawkins: At ISB the teachers are always looking out for the kids social and emotional needs. With mindfulness, in particular, we’re training attention, self-awareness and emotional regulation skills. Part of the way we do that is through grounding and calming techniques that have been proven in scientific research to actually work on the human physiology. We also teach students about brain science, illustrating theoretical scenarios using cartoons and animation. It’s very much a science based program, but it’s also interested in our inner experience. Those emotional intelligence skills, emotional regulation, self-awareness, being able to pay attention when I want to, those are key things, not just for school but for life.
How do you feel about SEL at ISB?
Ms. Mao: I fully support ISB's work to integrate mindfulness into the school curriculum. I totally buy into ISB's philosophy to nurture a child who is well-rounded in academic, social, emotional, and physical development, and this approach is supported by numerous studies. We have a responsibility to teach our children how to develop friendships with classmates, how to deal with frustrations, and how to communicate with others. Mindfulness can help children to focus, a very critical skill for young children. It also helps children to gain self-esteem and self-confidence and become more positive.
Why do you emphasize the need for teachers to practice what they teach?
Mr. Hawkins: A lot of our work is focused on teacher self-care and we promote a framework of “Be mindful, teach mindfully, teach mindfulness.” It’s not effective to have teachers explaining mindfulness to students unless they’ve really got it in their own lives. They can do it, but it doesn’t work in the same way. Teachers with strong social and emotional facilities connect better with their students and create better learning environments. Teachers and students really come into the present moment and share a calm space.