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Smiling Mind brings calm to classrooms after stressful year

Jerrabomberra Public School teacher Megan Drury with year 1 students practising movement meditation as part of the Smiling Mind program. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Jerrabomberra Public School teacher Megan Drury with year 1 students practising movement meditation as part of the Smiling Mind program. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

All is calm in the year 6 classroom at Jerrabomberra Public School as Linda Blazevska's students close their eyes and lay on the ground.

The students imagine there are bubbles in every part of the body as they slowly breathe in and out.

Meanwhile, a year 1 class of normally wriggly six-year-olds are perfectly still, pretending to be a tree with their arms above their heads.

The school observes mindfulness Monday and tranquil Tuesday every week since introducing the Smiling Mind program last year.

Mrs Blazevska is one of the teachers who competed the intensive training with Smiling Mind experts and she's convinced it has made a world of difference for her students.

"Since we started they're more focused, they're able to stop and take notice of things in their environment," she said.

"They're able to identify their emotions and use language to express how how they're feeling. And I think it's been a really good settling activity for schoolwork."

Up to 600 schools in regional and remote areas, including nine schools in the ACT, will be able to access evidence-based workshops and tools to support development of mental health habits.

The rollout will be funded by the federal health department with $2.5 million allocated over four years.

Smiling Mind chief executive and clinical psychologist Dr Addie Wootten said she was expecting high demand for the program after a challenging year in 2020.

"The impact of all of the things that we went through last year and the potential traumatic response that we can see kids and sometimes that takes a while to emerge," Dr Wootten said.

"But what we're trying to do with this program is actually getting as early as possible and equip them with skills that they can use to navigate those feelings and experiences, so that we're taking a much more preventative approach rather than waiting the signs or signals to emerge."

The program will be delivered online over three terms. Staff will get intensive training and resources to help them implement mindfulness activities and strategies in the classroom.

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The result is calmer classrooms with students who can better recognise and regulate their emotions while teachers are also feeling less stressed from their busy work days.

"Because the program focuses on teaching and educating teachers and upskilling teachers with their knowledge and confidence ... we're actually seeing benefits for teacher wellbeing so reductions in teacher stress and improvements in overall wellbeing," Dr Wootten said.

She said it was counterproductive to tell children to be happy or get over their emotions because it reinforced the misconception feeling emotions was bad.

"We're trying to take the opposite approach with our programs and that is trying to help kids have a really healthy relationship with their emotions," she said.

"We will all experience ups and downs in our life. That's just part of being a human and so if we can actually help kids learn how to sit with emotions how to manage their own emotions ... we're empowering them to actually live with their mental health."

At Jerrabomberra Public School, mindfulness was here to stay.

"I think it should be a part of everyday practice, not only for students but for teachers as well," Mrs Blazevska said.

Smiling Mind's regional and rural schools program is open to public, independent and Catholic schools. See smilingmind.com.au/regional-and-rural-schools-program.

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This story Mindfulness brings calm to classrooms after stressful year first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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