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Mindfulness in a Faith-Based Education Setting Research Paper

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Introduction

As justly noted in the assigned readings, action research goes far beyond being purely theoretical (Ferrance 2000). True, the knowledge obtained through empirical, cerebral reasoning is a critical part of problem identification and goal setting. At the baseline, however, such research relies firmly on evidence, which is unattainable unless a sufficient amount of data is gathered through thorough and systematic fieldwork (Atweh, Kemmis & Weeks 1998).

The fundamental principles of action research are specifically applicable to teaching, where managing change based on a solid body of evidence advocating for or disproving the efficacy of this or that particular method is the only way to actual improvement (Dadds 2003; Hattie 2005). Some might argue that an imprudent step can turn the situation to the worse and aggravate an otherwise perfectly functional educational practice. As far as my personal experience is concerned, however, the place for improvement is always present. Besides, action research is designed so that it can prevent unwanted damage and achieve the goal of utilizing evidence-based and efficacy-tested practices.

Background

De La Salle College, where I had my latest placement practice, is a Catholic educational institution for boys. The College pursues the mission to ignite faith and provide the students with the set of skills necessary for them to become members of society. Preparing young men for the world, the College acquaints them with the values proposed by St. John Baptist de La Salle. These include respect for everyone regardless of their religious convictions, high-quality education, and striving for excellence, diversity and inclusion, social equality, and faith.

The College’s overall strategy for the following years is to continue promoting education in faith to form the staff around the Lasallian values, improve their appreciation of these values, use the Lasallian principles as a guide to foster the readiness to serve in students, and equip students and staff with everything they need to contemplate and reflect on socially significant issues (De La Salle College 2016).

In learning and teaching, the strategy mainly concerns improving the students’ academic performance through cultivating the atmosphere compliant with the needs of a diverse classroom and careful monitoring. The strategic steps the College is planning to take concern, namely, embedding the innovative leadership structure into the school’s mission and vision, selection and review of the best curriculum alternatives (specifically, with the inclusion of digital learning), alignment of the improvement plan with the staff’s capacities, and clear goal-setting (De La Salle College 2016).

As one can see, the College’s leadership is perfectly aware there is a place for improvement. My first-hand experience in teaching science to 7-graders and 9-graders allows me to point out some points that can be further explored and improved on the way to this overarching goal. The College complies with its vision to provide optimal education for students of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, which is to say I have had a chance to teach a diverse classroom.

While diversity as such does not seem to present any issues, classroom management can be complicated. A diverse classroom subsumes meeting the educational needs of every student without offending any of them, complying with their interests, and coping with their attitudes; at the same time, one must not disregard the College’s directive to promote faith-based learning and values. The major points for exploration and improvement, therefore, are students’ behavior management and time management.

Research Question and Rationale

The context of a faith-based educational institution, and the deeply philosophical values that the College promotes, hint at the necessity to develop a more insightful understanding of these values in students. At the same time, there is a need to develop a behavior correction program to enhance the students’ curricula compliance in the diversity context. The emerging practice of mindfulness seems to adhere to these requirements as it helps elaborate the students’ resilience paired with emotional control and non-judgmental attitudes (Pearce 2004; Riel 2016).

The present research proposal, therefore, will be focused on the practice of mindfulness embedded in curricular activities as a means of classroom behavior management in diverse religious contexts. The question can be formulated as follows: how can mindfulness training embedded in the curriculum of a faith-based educational establishment assist teachers in managing classroom behavior and time?

The rationale for the proposed research is that the practices of faith are densely intertwined with self-control and rule-abidance, and the techniques of mindfulness employed within the educational context can prove helpful in guiding a young person to self-consciousness and self-control; this, in turn, can ease the teacher’s task of presenting the curricular material and managing time.

Literature review

Mindfulness as such is a psychological capacity of being aware of one’s sensations and experiences, accepting them, and wishing to explore them holistically (Zenner, Herrnleben-Kurz & Walach 2014). As a practice, and until relatively recently, mindfulness training has been employed in a clinical setting rather than any other. It is known to have been used as a means of treating attention disorders and impulsiveness in children and adolescents.

Such deficiencies as ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and assorted forms of autism are known to have been treated with such training at varying times (Bögels et al. 2008). The training and interventions were specifically designed to increase awareness of the present and oneself in it, acknowledge the slightest changes in the mood and physical conditions, “listen” to one’s emotions and learning to cope, and finally, becoming aware of the others’ presence and starting to treat them holistically, with compassion and gratitude.

Mindfulness training did not begin its way into the education context until a few years ago. The first pilot studies have provided support for the tangibility of the results of mindfulness-driven educatory practices (Burke 2010). The training is known to have worked both with young adults and pre-adolescents (Schonert-Reichl & Lawlorm 2010). The techniques used in the curriculum were designed to improve the children’s emotional control and self-awareness. Indeed, there is a significant body of evidence proving that mindfulness teaches children the understanding of their emotions and strengths (Coholic, Eys & Lougheed 2012).

Integrating mindfulness into classroom activities – such as art – resulting in less emotional reactivity in children. In other words, the children were reported to have demonstrated more balanced emotional reactions than before the intervention was implemented. What is more, mindfulness can reduce the levels of stress in children and facilitate greater emotional flexibility (Santorelli 2014). The children who have at some point undergone mindfulness training are known to display enhanced social skills and communicability.

The dimension of mindfulness targeted at increasing the participants’ awareness of the others around them curbs antisocial behaviors, thus preparing them for a life in the society (Sklad et al. 2012). Considering that social life training is one of the ultimate goals of De La Salle College, the criticality of mindfulness to be embedded in the curriculum is understandable. What is more important in the educational context and for the goals of the present research, more recent findings evidence the overall improvement of the classroom behavior as perceived by teachers (Black 2014).

On the whole, the body of research on the subject of mindfulness serves to illustrate the improvement of emotion regulation skills in pre-adolescent and adolescent participants after the intervention. Complying with the needs of the students, the College caters to the well-being of each individual; at that, mindfulness can equip children and young adults with a set of tools to enhance their emotional and psychical well-being (Broderick & Metz 2011).

Since the first pilot studies were conducted, mindfulness-driven training has been frequently incorporated into educational curricula, which enabled subsequent studies to meta-analyze and review the best practices and even create compilations of sorts. As many as ten best programs accounting for the students’ emotional well-being from the point and through mindfulness are well-known and described, each possessing its nuances but united by the same core values, goals, and visions (Meiklejohn et al. 2012).

Several tests and assessment procedures gauging the rates, levels, and attitudes towards mindfulness in participants of various age groups have been created. Among them, for instance, and specifically relevant to the context of the present study, is the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale – Adolescent test (MAAS-A) (Brown et al. 2011). The tests are designed to assess the emotional control of the participants before and after the intervention and have been used in numerous studies.

However, to the best of my knowledge, no such tests have been ever used to estimate the mindfulness levels of students of faith-based institutions such as De La Salle College, which explains the relevance of the present research and its importance in the context of faith-based education with a mission to promote and encourage diversity.

Some studies suggest that school principals can look at corporate leadership for patterns to follow. For instance, leaders of some giant global corporations well-known and recognized for their game-changing approach, goal-setting, and decision-making practices can provide a good example of innovative leadership (Onorato 2013). Still, emotional intelligence in a leader is a valuable quality, especially in what concerns religion and experiences related to it. The reviewed sources suggest that mindfulness, when embedded in the curriculum, can assist the College on its way to improving the students’ performance by:

Helping them develop the ability to recognize their emotions and coping with them;

  • Raising self-awareness, which is especially important in the context of religious studies, which require the ability to concentrate and hold oneself accountable;
  • Giving students a sense of purpose and responsibility and balancing their emotive response;
  • Helping the teacher manage time and control the classroom behavior;
  • Preparing the students for social life by developing their compassion through the recognition of others’ emotions.

Research Plan

A short course in mindfulness consists of a set of procedures that are standardized to meet the need of any group of trainees but can be adapted if necessary. A tool such as this can be implemented as an extracurricular activity before the lessons start to acquaint the students with the new practice and help them concentrate on their studies to more effectively manage their behavior during the lessons.

Considering the reported success of mindfulness training, there are several authorized curricular activities and extracurricular drills for students of varying age groups. To successfully implement the changes in the students’ daily routine, especially in a diverse classroom with varying levels of comprehension as determined by their cultural backgrounds, it is suggested that a thorough introductory walk-through is taken. A procedure such as this is used to outline the basic rules of the training (which the students will later learn to use in the classroom) such as:

  • Respecting oneself and the others around;
  • One person talking;
  • No name-calling, cross-talk, or back-talk;
  • What happens at the class stays there, etc.

The topics covered by the mindfulness course can vary. It is suggested that a trial course within the faith-based context consists of the introduction, the body awareness session, emotion awareness or emotional intelligence session, mindful listening session, and transformation of negative beliefs.

An introductory session can be presented in the form of a lesson plan as follows:

Session Content Procedure Comment
Introduction A short introductory note on mindfulness and the rules of the class. The students acknowledge each other’s’ presence: every person says their name aloud, and others say Hello/Howdy/Sup, etc. The catchphrase can differ.
Game “Still Chilling” The teacher explains that they are going to play a game involving a feature of mindfulness. The students sit in a circle and, on the teacher’s signal, hold their posture still. They can blink and breathe but the pose cannot be drooping, and no limb must move. As soon as a student moves they are called out. The game can be repeated in several rounds. Such a game can set a good foundation for subsequent meditations.
Discussion: How did you manage to sit still? The teacher asks questions concerning the students’ experience with the game, e.g., “How did you manage to sit still?”, “What were you thinking about at the moment?”, “Did your thoughts run faster or slow down?” letting students share their thoughts. The discussion should be followed by brainstorming the common ideas and experiences and singling out the aspects of mindfulness that the students already used.
Brainstorming and discussion: Mindfulness Upon brainstorming and noting the ideas on the board, a definition and discussion point for mindfulness can be coined: awareness of the present moment, the attitude of acceptance, etc., and how mindfulness can be achieved: meditation or taking one’s time to think and acknowledge what is happening.
Meditation: Mindful breathing Students are invited to sit in a comfortable pose, close their eyes (or keep them open if they feel like it), focus on their breath. The meditation lasts 5-7 minutes. The “invitation” is crucial to make the students comfortable. They should never be commanded or directed to the meditation. They should be reassured that mind-wandering is perfectly normal and reminded to concentrate on their breathing.
Feedback: Meditation experience The teacher encourages students to share their experiences and thoughts by asking whether it was hard and why, how they felt during the meditation, and how they feel afterward, whether they had any previous experiences like this, etc. Homework can be given at this point: the students are asked to set their ringtone reminders randomly throughout the day and practice mindfulness whenever it rings. They are encouraged to acknowledge their present emotional and physical state and concentrate on their breathing for a short time.
Closing and dedications Acknowledge the students’ effort and wish them luck with their mindfulness homework.

The lesson plan given is a sample; other efficacy-tested materials can be found at databases devoted to mindfulness in teaching. Teachers are the key personnel delivering the sessions and guiding the students on their way to mindfulness. The trial course will consist of five lessons; it is possible to add a follow-up after each lesson to ensure the understanding is achieved and collect the feedback. To measure the success of the intervention, standardized tests such as MAAS-A are sufficient. The MAAS-A will provide the necessary data as it comprises 14 items to measure the mindfulness rates and can be correlated with the students’ well-being. The tests can be conducted pre- and post-intervention to evaluate the outcomes of it.

Conclusion

The method of action research will allow establishing the efficacy of mindfulness practices in the context of a faith-based institution and their impact on classroom management. The results of the proposed research will be sufficient in providing a body of evidence for the subsequent research in the same field. The program can be implemented easily and with little expenditures, which is in line with the College’s goals as outlined in their development strategy. It will not require excessive human resources or much effort while simultaneously bringing peace and concentration to the classroom.

References

Atweh, WF, Kemmis, S & Weeks, P 1998, Action Research in Practice: Partnerships for Social Justice in Education, Routledge, London, UK.

Black, DS 2014, ‘Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behavior Among Lower-Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children,’ Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 23, no. 7, pp. 1242-1246.

Bögels, S, Hoogstad, B, van Dun, L, de Schutter, S & Restifo, K 2008, ‘Mindfulness training for adolescents with externalizing disorders and their parents’, Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 193-209.

Broderick, PC & Metz, S 2011, ‘Learning to BREATHE: A Pilot Trial of a Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents’, Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 35-46.

Brown, KW, West, AM, Loverich, TM & Biegel, GM 2011, ‘Assessing adolescent mindfulness: Validation of an Adapted Mindful Attention Awareness Scale in adolescent normative and psychiatric populations’, Psychological Assessment, vol. 23, no. 4, 1023-1033.

Burke, CA 2010, ‘Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field’, Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 133-144.

Coholic, D, Eys, M & Lougheed, S 2012, ‘Investigating the effectiveness of an arts-based and mindfulness-based group program for the improvement of resilience in children in need’, Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 833-844.

Dadds, M 2003, ‘Dissidence, difference and diversity in action research’, Educational Action Research, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 265-282.

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Ferrance, E 2000, Action Research, LAB at Brown University, Providence, RI.

Hattie, J 2005, What is the nature of evidence that makes a difference to learning?

Meiklejohn, J, Phillips, C, Freedman, L, Griffin, ML, Biegel, GM, Roach A, Frank, J, Burke, C, Pinger, L, Soloway, G, Isberg, R, Sibinga, E, Grossman, L & Saltzman, A 2012, ‘Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: fostering the resilience of teachers and students’, Mindfulness, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 291-307.

Onorato, M 2013, ‘Transformational Leadership Style in the Educational Sector: An Empirical Study of Corporate Managers and Educational Leaders’, Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 33-47.

Pearce, S 2004, ‘The Development of One Teacher’s Understanding of Practitioner Research in a Multi-ethnic Primary School’, Educational Action Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 7-18.

Riel, M 2016, Understanding Action Research.

Santorelli, SF 2014, .

Schonert-Reichl, KA & Lawlorm MS 2010, ‘The Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Education Program on Pre- and Early Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social and Emotional Competence’, Mindfulness, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 137-151.

Sklad, M, Diekstra, R, Ritter, M & Ben, J 2012, ‘Effectiveness of school-based universal social, emotional, and behavioral programs: do they enhance students’ development in the area of skill, behavior, and adjustment?’ Psychology in the Schools, vol. 49, pp. 892-909.

Zenner, C, Herrnleben-Kurz, S, & Walach, H 2014, ‘Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, p. 603.

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