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Social emotional and behavioural needs of pupils

social-emotional, and behavioural needs of pupils of all ages, many of whom endure acute personal and family challenges. A progressive practice that is currently being researched and popularized within educational establishments is that of meditation. Types of meditation offered within these establishments include, transcendental meditation, the relaxation response meditation and mindfulness meditation. These progressive practices, as cognitive-behavioural interventions that are available for use by all educational professionals as a tool to help students enhance their academic and psychosocial strengths and improve their self-regulation capacities and coping abilities both inside and outside of the learning environment. This report defines meditation and meditative practices, investigates the benefits and challenges of offering meditation to learners in an educational environment, and describes the relevance of these practices for learners. Additionally this report will compare research results from a subject school with the current research and discusses implications for school teachers and future efforts toward building the research base for the practice of meditation in schools.

Introduction

Students spend much of their time in school, engaged in school-related activities. Educational establishments, teachers, and other school professionals are recognized as important socialization role models and facilitators for children and therefore play a crucial role in helping those who often face personal learning challenges. Consequently, some schools incorporated intervention and prevention programs to meet the emotional, cognitive, psychosocial and behavioural needs of those students. Research carried out by Schoeberlein & Koffler (2005) found that some schools were developing innovative programs that included different aspects of meditation in small-scale and larger prevention and intervention activities for students. These early efforts have been the focus of many articles in the popular media, in which meditation in schools has been described as a “new and promising practice” and a “cutting edge” approach Elias, (2009). To date there is an initial research base, Barnes, Davis, Murzynowski, & Treiber (2004); Beauchemin, Hutchins, & Patterson (2008); Rosaen & Benn (2006), with a limited number of studies showing that meditation, as a cognitive–behavioural intervention for students, improves the physical, social, emotional, psychological, and cognitive activities and has the potential to improve the students psychosocial strengths and coping abilities. Beauchemin et al. (2008); Rosaen & Benn, (2006); So & Orme-Johnson (2001); Wisner (2008). all agreed that cognitive benefits of school-based meditation programs for students include the improved ability to pay attention, improve concentration, and decrease anxiety. Barnes, Bauza, & Treiber, (2003); Barnes, Davis, et al., (2004); Barnes, Treiber, & Davis, (2001); Barnes, Treiber, & Johnson, (2004); Rosaen & Benn, (2006); Wisner, (2008) also agree that meditation interventions also lead to improved emotional and behavioural self-regulation, frustration management, and an improvement in self-control. In addition, Benson et al., (1994) tells us that meditation helps students improve self-esteem and additionally Rosaen & Benn, (2006) go on to include that meditation can facilitate emotional intelligence. Furthermore, Wisner, (2008) infers that meditation integrated into the school curriculum can also have positive effects on a school climate. Although there is a large and ever growing body of literature addressing the benefits of meditation for adults, Jha, (2005), there are few studies have been conducted with student participants and that an extension of the research knowledge in this area, and further assessment of meditation as a helpful intervention for students in schools is needed. This report offers a definition and explanation of meditation and explores the relevance of these practices for children. In addition, an overview of the perspective of educational practitioners within the subject school on the use of meditation in the classroom, recommendations for school professionals are also offered, and research recommendations are considered.

Methodology

This report will draw together conclusions from three main sources. The three main sources will form a triangulation as described by Bell, J. & Opie, C. (2002) and will test the reliability and validity of the qualitative Report. Firstly, a comprehensive reading of the literature on the subject of meditation was carried out; this reading was undertaken via Journals, articles, academic subject books and online research. Based on the reading, a questionnaire of open and closed format questions was compiled (appendix ??) using structured questions due to their ease of analyse as prescribed by Youngman, M.B. (1982), Newell, R. (1993), Burns, R. (2000), to explore in more depth the salient issues of which were then presented to the participating teachers at the subject school.

On receipt of the completed questionnaires, a review following the methodology of Munn, P. & Drever, E. (1999) of the collected data was carried out and that data used to create structured interviews (appendix ???, p??) , taking into account the issue of Ethics as per a signed ethics sheet (appendix ??p.??) , as directed by Cohen et al (2000), with a sample of teaching staff at the subject School was carried out. Each interview predicted to last between 10 and 15 minutes. Data from the questionnaires and interviews was collated and evaluated with the research material in preparation for the writing of this final project report.

Discussion & Data analysis

There are many different ideas of the concept of meditation and meditational practice, so it is imperative that this research and literature discussing meditation make clear what is meant by the use of the term. D. H. Shapiro, (1984), p.6 states that meditation, in a broad sense, may be considered “a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non analytical way and an attempt not to ponder on digressive thought”. Meditation is also commonly said, for example, Fontana & Slack. (1997). p5., ‘to be just sitting quietly doing nothing, in which the mind is held clear and still, alert and watchful, and free from losing itself in thinking’. Meditation is often used in spiritual and religious practices, and meditative techniques are used within branches of each of the world’s major religions.

However, meditation, as used in the research literature, typically involves the use of secular techniques that are not used within a spiritual or religious context. Research by Miller & Nozawa. (2002) p180. And leoni. (2006) p126. has shown that there are philosophical, practical and instructive reasons to support the practice of meditation. Philosophers have long argued that humans are by nature meditative beings. For them meditation was about serious and sustained reflection on matters of importance.

Two common types of meditation most used in research studies are that of, concentration meditation, which involves repeatedly focusing on a particular word, phrase or object in an attempt to quiet the mind. Concentration or mantra meditation techniques include transcendental Meditation and Herbert Benson’s relaxation response method as described by Benson & Klipper (2000). Transcendental Meditation, developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s, involves meditation instruction provided by a qualified teacher and use of a personal mantra. The relaxation response method is also a secular mantra-based practice in which the participant chooses a personal mantra, which may be a word, sound, or even a short prayer. Use of the relaxation response method however does not require a trained teacher, and it can be learned through personal guidance or the use of printed materials Benson, (1975). Mindfulness meditation does not involve use of a mantra; rather, it involves an awareness and acceptance of the present moment (NCCAM, 2007). Therefore, mindfulness meditation “can be defined as the effort to intentionally pay attention, non-judgmentally, to a moment in time experience and sustain this attention over time. The aim is to create a stable and nonreactive present moment awareness” as stated by Miller, Fletcher, & Kabat-Zinn, (1995), p.193, and additionally Brown, (1984) and Kabat-Zinn, (2005) to resist concentrating on thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness meditation is not strict control of thinking or the absence of thought, and although relaxation may at times be part of meditation, relaxation training is not the same thing as meditation. Much of the reason for research regarding mindfulness meditation as an intervention originated with Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990) and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. The Stress Reduction Clinic at the medical centre offered a comprehensive program of mindfulness meditation based stress reduction in a medical setting that uses meditation and yoga as a treatment for patients with a wide range of medical and psychiatric issues. Kabat-Zinn, (1990) also remind us that mindfulness meditation is frequently taught without reference to the spiritual or religious underpinnings of the meditation techniques and Schoeberlein & Koffler, (2005) go on to also remind that many mindfulness meditation practices are loose adaptations of mindfulness based stress reduction techniques, and those practices have been adapted for use with children as confirmed by O’Brien, Larson, & Murrell, (2008); Thompson & Gauntlett-Gilbert, (2008).

Honda & Jacobson, (2004); Russinova, Wewiorski, & Cash, (2002); Upchurch & Chyu,(2005) all go on to remind that meditation and other mind–body practices are increasingly being accepted by professionals. Meditation, as an intervention for adults, has strong established support that has been explored in a number of literature reviews for example Baer, (2003); Ospina et al., (2007); S. L. Shapiro & Walsh, (2003). Perhaps due to the scarcity of research with students that little attention has been given to including studies conducted with students in those reviews. Although there is strong evidence that meditation is an efficient and effective intervention for many, some cautions should be noted. Baer, (2003); Ospina et al., (2007); S. L. Shapiro & Walsh, (2003) all agree that meditation practitioners should be aware that some children require very brief meditation sessions due to extreme sensitivity to meditation and that those experiencing losses or grief may feel overwhelmed with these emotions during meditation. In addition, meditation should be used cautiously with children with severe anxiety.

Meditation practices including the relaxation response method, transcendental meditation and mantra meditation have been used as sole interventions and as components of successful programs to treat a variety of concerns across the younger population. Barnes et al., (2003); Barnes, Treiber, & Johnson, (2004); Beauchemin et al., (2008); Benson et al., (1994); Bootzin & Stevens, (2005); Derezotes, (2000); Rosaen & Benn, (2006); So & Orme-Johnson, (2001); Wisner, (2008) studies have shown that the benefits of meditation interventions for the younger population include improved cognitive functioning; increased self-esteem; improvements in emotional self-regulation, self-control, and emotional intelligence; increased feelings of well-being; reductions in behavioural problems; decreased anxiety; improvements in sleep behaviour and an improved climate of behaviour and study within their subject schools.

Benson’s (1975) relaxation response method of meditation was used as an intervention for 15-16 year old students (Benson et al., 1994).

The students were taught the elements of the relaxation response, including instructions for focusing attention, pacing the breath, relaxing, and maintaining a passive attitude. Students within the group incorporating the relaxation response showed significant increases in self-esteem and calmness within the classroom. In comparison, research for this report was carried out at a subject primary school within a pool of 15 teaching staff. Of the 15 teaching staff that completed the questionnaire of open and closed format questions that was compiled using structured questions due to their ease of analyse as prescribed by Youngman, M.B. (1982), Newell, R. (1993), Burns, R. (2000), 13 confirmed use of meditation in the classroom and 2 reported none use. See fig. ???? . of the 2 none users reasons cited were: not heard of meditation in the classroom & meditation was not practical for use in that particular teaching environment. However, of the 13 staff that used meditation in the classroom, 12 confirmed that they regularly used mediation a minimum of weekly and that similar to Benson et al., (1994) carried out the task within the classroom to achieve the following objectives; settling the class before a lesson (70%), to increase focus on a set task (15%) and as part of a behaviour management strategy (15%). These results demonstrated a trend towards the use of meditation for stress reduction and behavioural management students as prescribed by Barnes et al. (2003). Barnes, Treiber, and Johnson (2004) also used meditation as a stress-reduction intervention with concurrent behavioural concerns. In a series of three experiments, So & Orme-Johnson (2001) studied the effects of practicing meditation for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily on a number of cognitive factors in school students and found that meditation increased levels of creativity and practical intelligence, increased field independence, and decreased levels of anxiety. Similar reports (appendix ? P??) were made during the interviews with the subject school teaching staff where 78% of interviewed staff all agreed that meditation had a positive effect within there classroom in excess of 51% of the students with their behaviour, focus and content of the subject matter being covered at that time. However 22% of interviewed staff felt that the impact of meditation was perceived to be less that 50% of the class. This displayed that meditation was perhaps a beneficial tool for a majority of students but not for all, perhaps due to lack of experience of delivery or immaturity of the age group. Rosaen and Benn (2006) used qualitative methods to identify themes that emerged from interviews with students who practiced meditation for two 10-minute periods each school day for a one-year period. The qualitative data analysis revealed three trends: restful alertness, increased emotional intelligence, and improved academic performance. Students reported that meditation helped them to attain greater levels of concentration, relaxation, and energy and, at the same time, helped them to increase self-control, especially with regard to anger. The students also reported an improved sense of adaptability across situations and more patience and tolerance. Rosaen and Benn (2006) concluded that the enhanced state of restful alertness (awareness of the feelings of self and others along with a sense of internal calmness) reported by the students may contribute to improved social–emotional functioning, both self-control through emotional regulation and increased adaptability and improved flexibility in responsiveness. Similar to these results the subject school staff all agreed that meditation had a strong positive result within the field of behaviour management both as a class and for individual students and also as a behaviour management strategy for students diagnosed with learning and behavioural difficulties. This perception within the teaching staff of the subject school is backed up by a pilot study that was conducted by Beauchemin et al. (2008) where they assessed the benefits of providing a five week meditation program for students diagnosed with learning and behavioural difficulties. Students meditated each school day, and those who completed the program showed improved social skills, decreased anxiety, and improved academic performance. Wisner (2008) also carried out a study where students and school personnel started with four-minute meditation sessions and worked up to 10-minute meditation sessions four days a week. Teacher ratings taken prior to and following the intervention indicated that students improved in behavioural and emotional strengths following the intervention. Specifically, student’s personal behaviour and behaviour towards other students improved. Qualitative data indicated that students found meditation helpful for increasing self-regulation, calming themselves, relieving stress, increasing relaxation, and improving emotional coping. In addition, students reported knowing themselves better and increased abilities to pay attention and to control thinking. Students also reported that meditation resulted in a calmer more relaxed school community with a more positive learning environment and less stressed and happier students. Moreover, Wisner (2008) findings also suggested that the potential for meditation to relieve stress and to improve the climate for learning within an educational environment are particularly important benefits for students. Students noted the importance of meditation as a calm, peaceful, and relaxing time. An unexpected theme in qualitative student narratives was that learning and practicing meditation in a school setting is not without challenges, both personal and programmatic. Challenges included negative preconceptions about meditation, difficulty of meditating in groups in a sometimes noisy environment, difficulty concentrating and focusing during meditation, and drowsiness interfering with meditation.

Summary & Conclusion

Clearly, the main body of research with students suggests that meditation, as a cognitive–behavioural intervention, has a positive impact for the students. Students experiencing high levels of stress, physical or emotional health concerns, learning problems that involve difficulty paying attention or concentrating, or low self-esteem may be particularly helped by this type of intervention. The concerns that may interfere with school success and meditation may be of benefit to students with these challenges. In addition, because meditation enhances coping abilities and self-regulation and improves social relationships with peers, it is likely that improvement in these areas will enhance relationships within the school community, thus improving school climate. However, there are limitations within this literature, some studies did not differentiate meditation from other components of intervention, and others failed to include a control or comparison group. Limitations also include lack of a thorough description of the intervention and methodology and little discussion of the credentials of the person teaching the meditation practice. Furthermore, the available literature on using meditation practices for students in schools has been limited to a few researchers, often with small numbers of participants. Meditation research models used with students are typically based on research models designed for and used almost exclusively with adults. For the most part, the research reviewed here modified these models to good effect. Briefer meditation periods have proven effective without compromising benefits to students. For example, a shorter meditation time, practiced once per day or several times a week, may provide students with the benefits of a meditational practice. However, a critical assessment of these research models is needed, with development of a more cohesive research model of meditation for use with students. In addition, it is necessary to provide meditation interventions that are replicable and easily incorporated into an educational school setting. School teachers and staff, charged with helping students who are struggling with many educational and life challenges, may find meditation to be an effective and efficient tool for use with students. Students are learning how to regulate their emotions and behaviour. As they do so, they often face certain challenges such as feelings of fear, anger, and sadness and self-defeating esteem. Many students also have additional learning, emotional, and social challenges. Meditation as a practice technique has the potential to help students to manage behaviour, thinking, and emotions in a way that can assist them in their school and home settings. Meditation interventions for students are intended to provide a means for improving coping and increasing self-awareness, allowing each student to succeed. Meditation offers students a brief period in which to seek a calm and still place within them during the typically chaotic school day. School teachers and support staff may find that there are a number of benefits to developing school based programs that incorporate meditation. Meditation, when practiced on a regular basis, is a technique that can be learned fairly quickly and has been proven effective for use in groups and for relatively brief cycles of time (four to eight weeks). The studies discussed in this report provide examples of interesting ways to include school-based meditation programs for any school. Naturally training and experience are required to effectively teach meditation practices. However, meditation practices such as the relaxation response method, not unlike the skills used to facilitate relaxation training, hypnosis, and guided imagery, are easily taught and may be easily implemented in school based settings. If a School teacher and support staff prefers not to teach meditation, partnerships may be formed between the school and school personnel with expertise in teaching meditation skills to students, and the school teacher and support staff may even choose to learn the skill along with the students.

The research discussed in this article also suggests that although there are potential barriers when offering meditation in a school setting, these challenges are not insurmountable, and the benefits to both people and communities are well worth the effort. In fact, the knowledge of these potential personal and community benefits and barriers to effective meditation may be used in planning and organizing an effective meditation intervention program. There is increasing recognition of meditation as a skill with numerous personal and clinical benefits. Information about meditation interventions can be included in social work courses, particularly practice courses that include knowledge of innovative clinical interventions. Students preparing to be school social workers may benefit from learning these skills in classrooms and field placements. Meditation can also be taught as a method of self-care as it has been shown to be an effective stress reliever. It may even be helpful to include an option to learn and practice meditation as self-care in the course content. School teachers and support staff with knowledge of meditative practices are an important resource and may serve as leaders in the movement to support inclusion of these practices in schools. Educators may also collaborate with school based personnel to support intervention programs and conduct research in this area.

School teachers and support staff all play leadership roles in enhancing the productivity and success of students. These educational professionals work together to support students in academic, social, and behavioural success. Meditation programs offered in schools can facilitate all of these goals through collaboration among these school professionals. Although institution of a successful meditation program for students will draw on school resources, there are many potential benefits. The research discussed in this report provides useful examples of collaborations between teachers and other school professionals. School teachers and support staff provide the support for a school-based meditation program and can be instrumental in helping students, faculty, staff, board members, and parents see the relevance of incorporating a secular practice of meditation in schools.

Recommendations for Future Research

Although the literature offers many general examples of school-based programs integrating meditation to enhance student functioning, there has not yet been extensive research on primary students and meditation. There is, however, sufficient evidence to warrant continued and enhanced investigation in this area. Thus, it is important to extend the research knowledge and to encourage additional studies investigating the benefits of meditation as a school based intervention for students. In particular, rigorous research that explores these interventions offered by social workers, targeting both the individual and the school climate, could offer much-needed guidance for those who wish to incorporate evidence-based practices in school settings. Most of the research on mind–body techniques such as meditation has been conducted by pioneers in the field of mind body medicine and the majority of whom were not school teachers or support staff. Research has contended that practice-based research on the use of these interventions for students in educational establishments is virtually non-existent and is needed to contribute to the knowledge base within meditation and education. Teachers are placed in a unique position to spearhead just this type of collaborative research project in schools. Meditation research on school-based programs for students is an area of investigation that will likely show much growth in the years to come. School teachers and their collaborative partners, working together to benefit students, are in the best position to organize, provide, and investigate these services for Students.

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