Calm in class

I always hope my words will strike home when I do INSET training in schools and I usually do get feedback to the effect that they have, particularly on two topics: brain bandwidth (and its effects on learning and mental function) and the challenges for introverts in a modern school. But rarely do I hear such an immediate practical effect as I heard last week.

A school I visited, and where I did a session for all students, followed by one for staff and then one for parents (and it is NOT one of the schools referred to in my Downsides of School Visits post!), sent an email to staff the very next day, introducing a new system they are going to try throughout the lower school. (Up to and including Year 6.) 

At the start of each double lesson, pupils will spend five minutes with eyes closed, described as “quiet time just to be”. This will be followed by five minutes of sustained reading silently. Staff as well! So pupils are asked to take their reading book to each lesson. For each single lesson, they will just have five minutes eyes closed at the start.

I would have benefited from this so much at school!

This action was in response to my talking at some length about a normal school day’s potential for information overload, mental strain, continuous partial attention and the constant demand to react, absorb, speak, question and be social, with little or no time for reflection, processing and thinking. This is particularly acute for introverts but applies to everyone. There’s fascinating research about the importance of daydreaming, deliberate free-thinking, both for processing emotions healthily and information correctly and strongly. And it seems that most of us are getting less of this time than we used to, as our days are filled with bombarding stimuli from all the people around us and the devices we feed on in those spare minutes which years ago would have been used for a bit of healthy mental resting or drifting.

Children (and teachers) get little or no time for mental quiet during a busy school day. Their brains are constantly on high alert. Being on alert is good – and sometimes necessary – but it’s not sustainable over too long a period and it’s not optimal for learning, functioning or wellbeing. We need to be on alert – stressed – occasionally, but not all the time.

Of course, this would also be a brilliant idea for secondary schools. The school I visited was an all-through school so it does have a senior section. I imagine that implementing such a change will take more time in a senior school.

But teachers don’t need to wait for an order from on high! If I were back in the classroom as a teacher, where I was a very long time ago, I’d be seeing if I could find a way to introduce this to my lessons. A time to calm hearts, focus minds and give a powerful few minutes for regeneration and re-energisation. I know lessons are busy and the curriculum has to be delivered, but I think that a few minutes like this could make learning easier, better, healthier. Specifically, I foresee these immediate benefits:

  • Clearing brain bandwidth, leading to improved focus on what you’re going to teach them
  • Time to subconsciously process learning that happened in the previous lesson
  • Feeling better as heart rate slows
  • Necessary mental quietness for introverts, especially
  • Reduction of unnecessary stress response

I’m really looking forward to hearing how this school gets on. I am sure some other schools do this, too. All stories welcome!

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