Page 20 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Mindful moments:
Supporting students through exams
Marcea Eckhardt, High School and University Counsellor at ACS Hillingdon, Middlesex, explains how mindfulness can help to ease student stress as they enter the exam season....
The number of young people in Britain seeking counselling over exam stress has increased by 200 per cent in recent years, according to the child protection campaigners NSPCC, with worry over education one of the leading causes of concern for children.
The increasing pressure on young people to succeed academically, alongside the stresses of being a young person in today’s distracting world dominated by Instagram likes and smart phones, suggests that now more than ever students need mindfulness training to help combat stress and maintain well-being. Mindfulness training gives students tools to remain calm, sustain their attention and focus through simple breathing and meditation practices.
As exam season looms and stress levels among students increase, mindful practices like meditation help students to focus and feel con dent in the run up to this crucial time, and ensure that they reach their full potential while maintaining their well-being.
Overcoming stress
In a nutshell, mindfulness is the training of the attention to keep focused on what’s actually happening in the present moment, and how to relate to this thoughtfully and rationally.
Exam stress is often created by thinking what might happen if I fail, what happens if I am not good enough, or can’t answer this question? Although this may be a natural reaction when facing a challenge, this can diminish students’ ability to think straight and hinder them from doing their best when under pressure. Practising mindfulness helps students to combat these thought-processes, and instead remain calm and focused.
Through simple breathing exercises and meditation, students can direct their attention to the present moment, rather than becoming overwhelmed with worry about what’s happened in the past, or might happen in the future – whether that’s getting into university or passing a challenging GCSE.
Bene ts of mindfulness
As part of ACS Hillingdon’s Wellness Week, each student spent ten minutes every day practicing a guided meditation in class. And while mindfulness can sometimes be perceived as ‘new age mumbo jumbo’, over the course of the week, ACS teachers witnessed calmer classes whilst students claimed to be re-focused and less stressed.
Studies show that mindfulness meditation is anything but ‘mumbo jumbo’, with students practicing mindfulness bene ting from improved
cognitive functioning. According to a Mindful Schools study, 83 per cent of teachers saw improved levels of focus amongst students who had undertaken mindfulness training; while 89 per cent also saw better emotional regulation; 76 per cent more student compassion; and 79 per cent increased engagement in the classroom.
Long term, practising mindfulness cultivates a greater sense of perspective, within the school gates and beyond. It helps young people to develop a more considered thought process, rather than just ‘reacting’ to situations.
Tips and techniques
Sometimes students are simply looking for a quiet space to refocus, others are looking for practical assistance; here are  ve tips and techniques to help students deal with exam stress mindfully:
• Guide students through a meditation. Meditation inspires students to concentrate on their senses and breathing, clearing headspace to think and regulate their emotions. I’ve compiled a playlist of  ve popular YouTube guided meditations which can help students deal with exam pressures: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqb66TZVXjjAFh6LUvmIcZs5uvhGWwAM9
• Encourage students to spend ten minutes a day on a creative activity, such as sculpting with play-doh or colouring intricate patterns. Colouring is a form of meditation, creating a sense of rhythm, which the brain craves. Students build con dence by slowly completing the designated pattern.
• Similar to the guided meditations, a three-minute breathing exercise will help students re-focus their attention rather than succumb to exam panic. The ‘Five Senses Drill’ is a simple breathing exercise; after two deep breaths, meditators silently note three things they see, hear, feel and note what they smell and taste, before  nishing the exercise with two more deep breaths.
• Two-minute breathing exercises can even be used mid-exam, allowing students to maintain focus and create thinking space when it matters most.
• ‘Self-talk’ techniques, which remind students what they have done well today or what they have achieved, helps to focus a positive attitude to combat stress and develop self-awareness.
Teaching mindfulness to young people gives them crucial tools to deal with the pressures of life – exams included, but beyond that too. It’s empowering, and once they know how to do it, they can draw on it whenever they need to.
Joining the Queen & Commonwealth
Students and staff from Buckswood School, Sussex, travelled to Westminster Abbey to attend the Commonwealth celebrations led
by Her Majesty the Queen. The Commonwealth Service is Britain’s largest annual inter-faith gathering, held each year. 2000 invited guests including senior members of the Royal Family, celebrities and athletes attended this years’ service which took the theme ‘A peace-building
Commonwealth,’ re-af rming the Commonwealth Charter principle that ‘international peace and security, sustainable economic growth and development, and the rule of law are essential to the progress and prosperity of all’.
8 students were selected from Buckswood to represent the international student body made up of students from over 48 different nations at the school. Students from
England, Swaziland, New Zealand, India and South Africa joined the congregation in the Abbey and were delighted to be so close to Royals and celebrities also in attendance and see the Commonwealth baton at the start of its journey to the next Commonwealth games to be held in Australia in April 2018. The baton will travel 200,000 miles, through 71 countries over 388 days on its way to the Australian Gold Coast.
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