Mindfulness in Schools: Richard Burnett at TEDxWhitechapel
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Mindfulness in Schools: Richard Burnett at TEDxWhitechapel


the mindfulness in schools project was created when some teaching colleagues and I shared an ambition to bring together two things that were really close to our hearts one was mindfulness practice which we’ve been doing for many years and the other was the art of classroom teaching which as a teacher I can tell you none of us would ever claim to have mastered but which is a real craft and we ended up writing a nine-week classroom introduction to mindfulness which we called dot B for reasons which I will explain later and dot B was in essence the answer to a very simple question when twenty-five teenagers come tumbling into your classroom at 11:45 on some wet Tuesday morning how are you going to persuade them that they want to learn mindfulness they’ve never heard of it it doesn’t sound that thrilling and if you told them that it involved sitting still and sitting quietly they would run a mile they are not going to come into the class and look at you or bright eyed and expect it saying please sir teach us mindfulness for we know it will make us happy and we shall flourish no it just it just doesn’t work like that how are you going to convince them that mindfulness is a life skill which is really worth learning that can make a tremendous difference to their lives you know that it can but they don’t know that and dot B was really our answer to the challenge we set ourselves which was to write a mindfulness course which was engaging fun memorable and also of practical use on the roller coaster that is adolescence the the other thing that struck us was why is it in schools a few people have touched on this today do we teach English maths geography chemistry biology physics languages but we never very very rarely teach young people to use the lens to best use the lens through which all of their experience both at home and at school is being filtered and that is the Faculty of their attention some of you I imagine we’re a lot about mindfulness already some might not know very much but what we always see in pretty much any definition of mindfulness is the word attention and what a lot of research is telling us at the moment and what I know from my own experience or from the kids that I taught is that our mental health and Happiness are profoundly shaped by what we do with our attention what do I mean by attention what I mean is that faculty of awareness that you can probably sense as you sit here right now how is your attention is it is it zoomed in on me that’d be nice I hope there was some of it zoomed in on me or is there a bit of hunger in the background is the mind wandering around a bit if we’re quiet just for a few moments notice how tension opens up to the soundscape around us your experience of this moment like the experience of every moment of your life is profoundly shaped by where you place your attention and how you place your attention now being a school teacher I cannot give a talk without involving my class so are you ready to do a little mindfulness exercise good and if you are at home please do this otherwise I will look very strange please join in this exercise for it to make sense this is one of the first exercises we do on the course what I’m going to do is I’m going to count down three two one and then I’m going to count up and we’re all going to count up clapping 1 2 3 and then we’re going to hold out our hands about that far apart as if we’re holding a football okay so I’ll go 3 2 1 we all go one two three and then we hold out our hands as if we’re holding a football why don’t we just sit up to give this some attitude as well classic feet shoulder-width apart on the floor okay clap as hard as you can three two one one three now without looking at them and even closing your eyes if you if you’re happy to do that try placing your hand your attention in your hands now what do you notice they’re fizzing tingling pins and needles II hot/cold now at play with our attention try Suman your attention in on your thumbs and then let go with the attention in your thumbs try zooming your attention in now on your little fingers and if you’re happy with that why not try the tippy tip of your left little finger and then just quietly silently resting your hands in your lap and bringing your attention to something you do about 20,000 times a day but very rarely notice and that’s your breathing just feeling the air coming in through your nostrils directing tension to the touch of the air as it comes in and as your abdomen expands just being with your breathing for a few moments thank you what a good class now I’m going to try and illustrate what the point of that exercise was with it with a little diagram which is known in the trade as the two slices of cheese diagram here’s the first slice of cheese this is where we spend a great deal of our time our attention is absorbed in our thinking and it tends to be absorbed in planning remembering analyzing evaluating what I’m talking about here is that little voice inside your head that little monkey that yabba’s away at you all the time that internal narrative that tape that’s playing who knows what it’s saying have I called the dentist pizza I can’t believe I said that to my boss he’s going to think I’m useless did I lock the car door now for very good reasons our attention tends to go – what’s wrong – what’s threatening – what’s – what’s worrying – what’s lacking and there’s a very good survival reason for this our ancestors faced a lot of threats and dangers they had to be alert if I went down this path and came across the saber-toothed tiger yeah it was worth me remembering that and planning next time to go down that path and that piece of evolutionary software is still very much part of the way we think we scan our attention scans our experience for problems and when it finds one it latches on to it somebody once said that the mind is like Teflon for good experience it’s nonstick they slide off but it’s like velcro for bad ones when something happens it snags our attention it might be one unkind word it might be a text that you send and you don’t get a reply – it might be as easy as walking down the street and somebody you know not looking at you as your walk past bang your mind kicks off into that whole mode of trying to work out what what’s been going on now there is another mode of mine and that is what we were doing in the exercise we just did we were in our sensing mode our attention was directed to the present moment reality of our physical bodily sensations now a lot of the time our attention is allocated like this mostly thinking not much sensing and one could say of us what James Joyce says of mr. Duffy in Dubliners he lived at a little distance from his body we have a body we’re aware of it but we don’t really inhabit it we inhabit our heads and they chatter away at us all the time and the sensing is just kind of going on an autopilot in the background now what a lot of research is telling us now and what is also you know once you practice this just common sense is how profoundly beneficial it is to spend even a relatively small amount of time every day with your attention allocated in this way into the sensing mode as we were doing then as we can do now just breathing being aware of our body as it breathes being aware of our feet on the floor and by doing this and minds are not spinning off into their stories and their interpretations about what they think is happening know our minds are here in the present moment experiencing what is actually happening and what is actually happening is that we are alive and it can be wonderful in all sorts of situations now we have to train this so when the mind wanders we bring it back if it one is a hundred times we bring it back but what we’re doing is we are training the muscle of our attention and that is the foundation of mindfulness and it’s not just good for the mind I was so relieved when I read a piece of research about five years ago that said that mindfulness practice improved immune function I had noticed after I started practicing mindfulness that I was getting fewer colds I never told anybody nobody because they thought I was a bit weird anyway kind of sitting on the floor the way I did and I thought well if they thought that sitting on the floor was somehow stopping colds how can sitting on the floor every day stop me from getting colds and what this research said was quite straightforward you’re less stressed there’s less cortisol cortisol is a suppressor of the immune system hey presto so that’s just one of the benefits I mean the other one which in terms of young people I’m sorry just one thing here what I’m not doing by the way I’m not a teacher here telling that we should say out tell our young people not to think okay that’s not what I’m saying at all mindfulness is about recognizing when thinking becomes overthinking and rumination yeah and knowing how to change gear into a mode of mind which is more nourishing okay because if you don’t change mind if you if you don’t what can happen is anxiety and even depression and one of the most telling signs of the traction that mindfulness is getting in the adult world is this that nice the National Institute of Clinical Excellence is now recommending mindfulness as a treatment for depression you can go to the GP with a recurrent depression and be prescribed an eight-week mindfulness course which is wonderful but isn’t it therefore a total no-brainer that’s with the spiraling depression in young people that this should be being taught in our schools a couple of examples you know at a more at a more serious level one girl came up to me and said how helpful it had been to know how to bring her attention to her breathing and her feet when her mother was screaming at her because normally she would lose control and just get incredibly upset but she found that refuge in the present moment and that was a tremendous relief for at a more trivial level but in some ways not so trivial his exams are so much a part of school life now they cause tremendous anxiety but countless times I’ve had kids come up to me a year two years even three years later and said oh so I was standing outside the example when I was breaking it which for those of you don’t live in the UK means I was very very nervous and I did a dot B I did a seven-eleven which is two of the exercises we teach and it really helped but the other interesting thing is that mindfulness in the adult world now is not just about getting out of a bad space it’s also about getting into a good space and actually in the in all sorts of circumstances and applications that mindfulness is coming up and one of those is in business we’ve got Google Apple IBM PwC KPMG General Mills somebody told me that eBay now have a mindfulness room in their headquarters so in other words these people are seeing the potential of a life skill which is not only making their employees healthier and happier and interestingly kinder to themselves and to their colleagues but it’s also helping them to work better now again in schools what we’re finding is that the places kids are using this is in things like drama to stay centered in music not to be overcome with the nerves when they’re playing in sport when they’re making the big kick and that’s one thing another reason why mindfulness can bring so much to a school community now the question now is why did we call it dot B well what we did in Lesson four was to get each of their each of the kids to dot be each other on their mobiles which means just texting dot B once a day so what yeah once a day for a week and when you get your dot B it is just a signal that dot says stop just pause come out of that relentless stream of your own internal narrative and notice that you are alive notice that you are breathing that you are right here right now and that is what the B is it’s breathe but it’s also be just exist and you know examples of how that comes to life in an adult context is sorry in a kid’s life or an adolescence life as a 16 year old come visit this is one of the earliest dot B stories there if I had more time I could take countless stop these stories there’s bizarre situations that people get got bead but one of the earlier ones yes but one of the early it’s not the time of the place one of the earliest dot B stories was of a young man who came out of a nightclub and the girl that he was with just collapsed on the floor in front of it in him probably you know vodka something just was on the floor he felt really panicky and really stressed and really worried and suddenly ping dot B okay this is now this is here breathe feel your feet on the floor and he said it just really helped him just to see the situation clearly you know recovery position 999 job done now okay but now I’d like to finish with this quote from William James very prescient that in 1890 he was able to spot this the Faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment character and will and education we should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence but it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical instructions for bringing it about well now we do have those practical instructions for bringing it out they are tried and tested and the research evidence is telling us time and again that it is not only good for their mental health and their happiness but for them to be themselves at their very best the problem of course is that in the vast majority of schools these skills are just not available and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could teach young people to train their attention in the same way we teach them to read and we teach them to write what a difference that would make to every moment of their experience and that ladies and gentlemen is really the ambition of the mindfulness in schools project you

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48 thoughts on “Mindfulness in Schools: Richard Burnett at TEDxWhitechapel

  1. They tried showing us these exercises once in a drama class, but it just seemed so strange and they didn't explain what it was meant to do we couldn't focus on the exercises at all! I really wish had paid more attention now, .b seems to be really useful.

  2. im 17 and iv always wished mediation was taught in schools i would be that kid who would look bright eyed and say please sir teach us mindfulness!

  3. Despite a public education system designed to produce worker slaves, actual humanity still can shine through. Richard Burnett is a great example. I had several teachers who, like Richard, understood what education is really about: focusing attention and having fun. This presentation nails it on all levels, and is one of the top TED talks!

  4. Attending this training at Rolling Ridge in Andover Mass – It was wonderful.
    Looking for any professional development venues and … an chance to practice this .B in a regular classroom. lee at cognitive yoga

  5. I have been involved with this project for a couple of years and am regularly moved to tears by the tangible and remarkable results I personally witness. Having attended a number of teacher training courses it is also delightful to see educational professionals from all over the word coming to the UK to learn about '.b'.
    Like all good things it acts as a goodness magnet that continues to pull excellent people. I am thrilled and honoured to be part of it.
    Bless you Richard and Chris!

  6. Thank you. Love it. My high cortisol levels nearly killed me three years ago. It took a very long time to recover. I learned how to meditate, do yoga and yoga nidra which helped me overcome insomnia and heal. Now I am teaching again and for my weekly after school activity session I am teaching pupils mindfulness. I plan on showing the pupils a section of your Ted Talk. Thank you.

  7. love the reactions and reflections about high cortisol levels and the practice of meditation and how to help the body, healing and overcoming insomnia..mindfulness is very important and to speak about awareness and consciousness is only possible when we teach them and practice this what it is, love this video 

  8. Yes, yes, YES! Well articulated, convincing, and sane. Burnett clearly is a meditator; many teachers mistakenly explain it as a way to relax, but Burnett clearly knows it is far more than this. The idea of turning it into a social phenomenon with ".b" is borderline genius.
    As a small critique, as an experienced meditator myself, I would encourage beginners to meditate with EYES-OPEN, in my opinion. The reason being: With eyes-closed, tiredness or lax-ness often starts to set in, and attention and focus wanes. For mindfulness to be at it's most effective, practitioners need to be alert, but not overly energetic (e.g. caffeine tends to hinder much more than it helps, in my experience). Meditating with eyes-closed has it's benefits too, but in different ways.
    My sincere hope is that in a few years, every school on the planet will have time daily devoted to mindfulness/meditation. It may seem so trivial, but it could have a significant impact in world affairs; gradually reducing conflict and violence, building a more altruistic society etc. Thank you, Mr Burnett!

  9. Thanks for sharing this important information. As a middle school nurse I have first hand experience with children that could use mindful education at school. I will look into this program.

  10. Dit heeft het onderwijs van de toekomst zo nodig en dat onderwijs van de toekomst begint vandaag, het is er al! Maar hopen dat we dat onze leerlingen en kinderen ook mee kunnen geven.

  11. Word Up Eric Oostdjick…Start the children at the very least by Kindergarten. We Must! watch this world fix its turvy self atop again. So positive to see this Energy Force empowering millions, believe this is the knowledge that counters THEIR indoctrination.

  12. It's a fantastic idea but the major problem is that a teacher has to go down to London for 9 weeks to learn this for their school. Doesn't help when you live in Newcastle, Manchester, or Glasgow. Needs to be more available across UK

  13. Yes, I totally agree! More needs to be done to bring mindfulness into schools, and it needs to be inclusive for all abilities. You may be interested in my new book: ‘Mindful Little Yogis: Self-Regulation Tools to Empower Kids with Special Needs to Breathe and Relax’ 🌺

  14. I was beginning to wonder why there are so many psychotic actions by kids getting into the news. It is because we are training their faculties outside the context of moral obligation. We are enabling them to utilize their faculties to full potential without aim, and to be capable of putting it to the use of whatever they decide. It's like if I teach my little brother how to use a gun before ensuring his psychological profile as sound or ensuring that his character is morally upright and dedicated to what is good. Instructing children in harnessing their consciousness as an amoral tool is making them readily weaponizable by anyone who can convince them to obey them – and extremely capable of executing an action for any cause – very good or very bad, without distinction.

  15. Thank you for this beautiful talk. I would like to translate it to French for a community of meditation teachers here. Could you please enable community contributions so I can add them? Cheers!

  16. I wonder if we are mindful all the time it means that we have to stop thinking and focus to the sensory. My creativity comes from mind racing and mindfulness disturb it. When I focus on something it involves thinking and developing the thought but trying to be mindful makes me more harder to that process. I may be wrong about mindfulness and I wanna know if it is good tool for all situation.

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