Book title: Mindful Teacher, Mindful School
Author: Kevin Hawkins
Publication date: 2017
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
Mindful Teacher, Mindful School provides an interesting introduction to the practice of mindfulness and how it could work in a school-based context. I like that it considers the role of mindfulness for both teachers and students, and gives examples of how it could be used.
The author, Kevin Hawkins, draws on his 30 years’ experience of working with children and adolescents in various contexts as a teacher, school head and social worker. He first started teaching mindfulness awareness to students, teachers and parents in 2008 and founded Mindwell, which supports education communities to develop wellbeing through mindfulness and social-emotional learning, in 2012.
Hawkins has a three-stage approach to mindfulness – be mindful, teach mindfully and teach mindfulness. These principles form the main body of the book, while an introductory chapter explores why mindfulness is needed, an overview of what it is and what it can do, before summarising the three principles. After exploring each of these principles in more depth, the book considers mindfulness and its place in the context of wellbeing, culture and the wider world.
The book is easy to read and accessible to anyone – it offers summaries and links to activities and wider reading at the end of each chapter. For those who adhere to the trad vs prog dichotomy, this book appeals to more progressive approaches to education and it can be quite critical of the pursuit of knowledge, which could put off some people.
When I first began reading I was a little critical and cynical, but as I read on I found myself engaged in the topic. The discussions around teacher stress and retention were relevant to the current context and I now want to explore this further, with a particular interest in mindfulness as a support technique for reducing stress in teachers. There were also some compelling case studies about the benefits for students and this is an area I would also like to investigate more.
That said, some of the recommendations for students felt counterintuitive to the current educational climate and it was hard to see how space can be made for the implementation of these ideas without more compelling evidence. For example, many of the recommended programmes require significant time investment (eight to 10 one-hour sessions) and it would be hard to see where this time could be found.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
This would be a useful read for anyone who is interested in promoting teachers’ or students’ positive mental health – from an NQT, wanting to improve their own or their children’s wellbeing, to a senior leader who might consider implementation on a whole-school level. It’s particularly interesting for anyone with pastoral care responsibilities and PSHE leads, as well as any teacher who wants to consider what they can do to support their own wellbeing.
You will learn about: what mindfulness is; the research and statistics around staff and student mental health, alongside research that supports how helpful mindfulness can be; how mindfulness could be applied in schools to support staff and students. You will also be signposted to further reading, videos and resources.
Readers also get the chance to experience mindfulness, if you choose to engage with the exercises. Personally I didn’t engage with the exercises as I went through – I was keen to read the justification without adding my personal experience to it. If I had engaged in this way, however, it may have enriched my experience of the book and might give readers a sense of where mindfulness can sit in their own context.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
The book is very easy to read – there are links to research, but these have been well summarised and are very accessible. The book is designed so that you can read chapters in isolation – each chapter has a clear theme, an overview that explains what you will learn and links/references included at the end – although I think you gain more from reading the book as a whole.
As mentioned, there is a clear bias towards progressive education in Mindful Teacher, Mindful School and Hawkins makes no secret of his own educational philosophy. This is not a problem as Hawkins is very transparent, but some people may find this difficult if they hold an alternative perspective. Nevertheless, the book is fit-for-purpose and, if you believe that mindfulness could be helpful and want to implement this in your school, this is an ideal book to read. It will also suit those who are ‘healthily sceptical’, though it is unlikely to win over those who think mindfulness has no place in the current school climate.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
Early evidence in the book draws on the work of Bloom et al (1956) and their ideas about ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’. This feels a little dated and has come under fire from some educational writers and bloggers.
The book also refers to a range of research studies on mindfulness although many of those used in the first two chapters were based on findings from adult participants in a medical rather than educational context, which makes it hard to draw relevant generalisations.
As the book moves on to consider the benefits of mindfulness for teachers and teacher self-care, the research is more relevant although not necessarily new. There is a lot of research around stress and teaching, but it is really only the research by Katherine Weare (2014) that alludes to a connection between mindfulness and stress. Hawkins signposts the reader to a number of promising studies that may indicate that mindfulness reduces stress in teachers and students – and makes a compelling case for its inclusion – however much of this is anecdotal and there is no definitive evidence to draw on that implies a cause-effect. This may be problematic for some readers and school leaders.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
Mindful Teacher, Mindful School has reminded me that there are many people in schools (staff and students) who might be struggling to maintain positive wellbeing. It encouraged me to consider research on mindfulness and how it could – or could not – help all the people in a school maintain positive mental health. I felt the author was honest about his stance on the issue and the limitations of some of the research, which made me more open to the topic.
I do not yet feel in a position to consider implementing mindfulness myself, but I am interested in exploring it as an opt-in strategy to support young people. I will watch some of the Ted talks, read the links recommended in the book and I’m very tempted to book myself onto a mindfulness course or retreat to engage with the practice and see where my healthy scepticism could take me.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
There are two:
“Teaching can be both nourishing and depleting and if the overall balance swings towards the latter, sustainability and health can be at risk”. (Page 34)
I liked this quote from chapter three because I felt it captured how many teachers experience our vocation. It opened my mind to the possibility that if mindfulness could address this issue, if it could help teachers maintain healthy balance, then perhaps it is worth exploring. It also made me want to explore it as a strategy for my own wellbeing.
“Healthy scepticism - not to be so cynical or closed that you aren’t prepared to try something a bit different but not to so open that you conclude that mindfulness is the answer to all problems.” (page 27)
I liked this quote from chapter two because it made the author seem less evangelistic and more in touch with his audience. His willingness to acknowledge that scepticism could be a good thing made me feel more open to reading on and exploring the possibilities.
7. Please add any additional comments.
All in all this was an interesting and accessible read that has opened my mind to the possibility of exploring the topic of mindfulness in greater depth.