Finding Inner Peace in Schools

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Om Paramatmane Nama

TO the universal consciousness a bow

Sit upright, both feet on the floor, fingers still, eyes closed

Come to rest and be still

Feel the feet on he floor, the weight of the body on the chair and come into the present moment. Use the sense: connect with the sense of touch, c;othes on the skin, air on the face, connect to the hearing, listen to the sounds in the room and let them come and go. Let the listening run out as far as it will go.

Become aware of the breathing and focus on the sensations as the air enters the mouth or nose and leaves again. Notice the changes in the body as the air fills the lungs and is naturally expelled. Remain with each breath and just observe without interfering.

Now dedicate with the words OM PARAMATMANE NAME

The individual dedicates this activity to the service of everybody and everything. In Sanskrit, the individual is called the Atman and the Universal self is called the Paramatman. The mind is encouraged to acknowledge the universal consciousness upon which it depends. One of the benefits of the pause is to prevent the build up of mental agitation throughout the day and allow the mind to become more focused and better directed. It reduces stress and improves learning (and teaching).

The coronovirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to normal routines and schools in particular have borne the brunt of this. I have been impressed at the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mentality of senior leaders across the many schools I have had the privilege of visiting, despite the almost daily disruptions this pandemic is causing. But, the side effects of this are huge and the constant, stress, worry and uncertainty are having huge repurcussions on the entire profession. The Guardian have warned about an exodus of exhausted headteachers and one fears this will come to reality in the very near future.

For children and adolescents with mental health needs, such closures mean a lack of access to the resources they usually have through schools. In a survey by the mental health charity YoungMinds, which included 2111 participants up to age 25 years with a mental illness history in the UK, 83% said the pandemic had made their conditions worse. 26% said they were unable to access mental health support; peer support groups and face-to-face services have been cancelled, and support by phone or online can be challenging for some young people

The Lancet

Routines are an essential part of anyone’s life, but in particular children. It is the one real anchor which they can hold on to. Take that anchor away and those already prone to coping issues will relapse and a new generation of students who have locked themselves in their rooms, refusing to eat, take showers or leave their beds will struggle to regain normality. Add in the uncertainty of whether exams are going to be able to proceed as normal in the summer and if so in which form will they take and you have a petri dish of competing problems that can have severe knock on effects. The problem is that there is very little research available about the long term mental effect on children or adolescents, especially those facing bereavement or the loss of family income.

The charity Place2be have come up with 5 ways to help at home

  • Celebrate your child’s strengths and differences. The world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same. Help your child to recognise, and love, their own qualities and interests – this could be their hair colour, skin colour, religion, hobbies, sports they’re good at… Notice and celebrate what makes them an individual and encourage them to see those positives and be a friend to themselves.
  • Have open conversations about feelings. Be a good role model and share your feelings openly with your child. This will show them that it’s okay to talk about how they feel – whether they feel happy and excited, or worried and sad. If your child knows they can talk to you about anything they’re feeling, they’ll be more likely to come to you and ask for help if they’re struggling.
  • Help your child to come up with their own ways to cope. As parents and carers, we often want to fix things for our children and do all we can to protect them from hurt or upset; but it’s important we don’t take over and we give our children a chance to deal with difficult situations on their own. Make it clear that you will step in if your help is needed (for example by talking to the school) or in circumstances where your child’s safety is at risk, but empower your child to come up with their own ideas to cope with problems by asking them questions like ‘how could you respond?’, ‘what do you think might help?’. If they can come up with their own coping strategies now, they’ll be able to use them in future situations.
  • Let them experience their feelings fully. Every feeling is valid and it’s so important we let our children feel all emotions. Try to avoid minimising their feelings (‘I’m sure it’s not that bad!’) or rescuing by trying to instantly make them ‘happy’ or saying things like ‘don’t be sad’. Instead, talk to them about their sad feelings and tell them it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
  • Make yourself available to listen. Sometimes your child may not want to talk, and it’s important we don’t force them to have a conversation they don’t want to have. Make yourself available but don’t pressure them to talk. You may find that your child opens up in situations where they feel less pressure – for example when you’re in the car on the way home from school, or during the walk to school in the morning. Create rituals where you have a chance to regularly connect – for instance at mealtimes

Remember Young people cope in different ways

Some children may be coping better than adults, the traditional stresses at school classwork, exam stress, bullying etc. all still exist, yet they may be coping particularly well at home.

For some children, being at home has been a positive experience, and returning to school requires greater intervention. From the different schools I have visited, separating children into ‘bubbles’ has proved to be both popular and beneficial for all; having smaller groups has made it easier for students to settle back into school and has helped teachers manage their return relatively easily.

Similarly students may be presenting different behaviour characteristics, during this uncertain time, poor behaviour may be linked to other pressures at home,

take the time to understand the behaviour characteristcs before deploying the full weight of the schools behaviour policy.

Staff wellbeing should be a top priority

Imagine teaching the same way for 20 years and then being asked to open your laptop and do the same thing but virtually, without seeing the students faces to check understanding or even participation?. Imagine being told that one of your students ahs tested positive and you will have to isolate along with the rest of your tutor group for 14 days? This whole period has been hugely challenging for all and I would recommend any school to utilise both workshops in school for staff on wellebing and an external mental health charity for support. This extends beyond anxiety relating to COVID-19, supporting staff with a variety of other mental health issues and difficult situations. At one school I have taught in, the school have deployed ‘The Karma Army’ to promote activities, to avoid the stigma of mental health and to ensure those teachers who in lockdown may have been isolated and lonely feel well supported and an integral part of their community.

My advice

While there is pressure surrounding the curriculum, timetables and results right now, we should strongly focus on wellbeing. If someone is struggling with their wellbeing, they cannot learn – and the same applies to staff and their teaching. Being available to those who may want to reach out when they’re ready will ensure everyone in the school community feels supported and knows they have a network they can rely on. Combining this with a long-term strategy will enable all schools to ensure children can flourish, both now and in the future. The lesson I have learnt is to find peace in schools, you need to find peace within yourself, start and end the day with time for quiet reflection and solitude, perhaps this school is on to something?

TO the universal consciousness a bow

Sit upright, both feet on the floor, fingers still, eyes closed

Come to rest and be still

Feel the feet on he floor, the weight of the body on the chair and come into the present moment. Use the sense: connect with the sense of touch, c;othes on the skin, air on the face, connect to the hearing, listen to the sounds in the room and let them come and go. Let the listening run out as far as it will go.

Become aware of the breathing and focus on the sensations as the air enters the mouth or nose and leaves again. Notice the changes in the body as the air fills the lungs and is naturally expelled. Remain with each breath and just observe without interfering.

Now dedicate with the words OM PARAMATMANE NAME

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