Pause, Breathe, Smile – Teaching Mindfulness in schools

Baverstock Oaks students practicing mindfulness techniques in the classroom. Photo supplied.

Three little words – pause, breathe, smile – are making a big difference in east Auckland’s primary schools.

Pause, Breathe, Smile is the mindfulness programme that is helping school kids cope with stress, anxiety, and anger both in and out of the classroom.

Pointview School principal Robin Kirkham says the programme, which is developed by the Mindfulness Education Group, teaches students how to understand and cope with their emotions and also improves concentration in the classroom.

Pause, Breathe, Smile is supported by the Mental Health Foundation, Pause, Breathe, Smile is aligned with the New Zealand Education Curriculum.

The initial programme is only eight weeks long, but Kirkham says teachers and students are practicing mindful techniques all year long.

“You watch the students on the playground and you see them stop, take a deep breathe, smile and then carry on.”

It teaches children how to let their emotions settle before they react to a situation.

Now he and several other local principals have banded together to help the Mindfulness Education Group  petition for funding from the Ministry of Education to help more teachers train in mindfulness.

Two weeks ago they met the committee that advises the government on mental health to discuss sponsoring the teacher training programme.

Kirkham says the eight week long mindfulness education programme is helping to address the youth mental health crisis in New Zealand.

He says it is all about building a positive culture within an organisation rather than trying to fix a negative culture.

So rather than only trying to address depression in teenagers,  he says mindfulness helps students practice positive behaviours, build positive self esteem and develop self awareness and efficacy early on.

Baverstock Oaks School is getting ready to roll out the mindfulness teacher training programme for its teachers next year.

“We currently have only our senior leadership team trained, but the eight week programme has had such a huge impact that we want all of our teachers trained,” says principal Genée Crowley.

She says it has been challenging to implement the programme with only a handful of trained facilitators.

“We have seen this programme have a huge impact on our students. It covers kindness, it covers gratefulness, it covers being a good citizen but also having the ability and knowledge to look after yourself as well,” she says.

She says the programme has also shown an improvement in academic results.

“One class was about to do a basic facts test, and before they started the teacher ran through mindful breathing and mindful movements with them and 75 per cent of the students received their best score ever that day.”

Crowley and Kirkham say more and more schools are jumping on board.

“I think if this programme and these techniques were seamless across all primary, intermediate and colleges, we would start to see huge improvements in New Zealand’s mental health statistics,” Kirkham says.

Baverstock Oaks and Pointview School are joined by Mission Height Junior College, Willowbank Primary and Ormiston Junior College in teaching mindfulness in schools.