Matthew Brensilver, PhD

Essentials of Mindfulness-Based Programs & the Qualities of Teachers who Share Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues recently published a notable article in the journal Psychological Medicine. Jon is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and an Advisory Board member for Mindful Schools. In the article, the authors attempt to define the core elements of mindfulness-based programs (MBP), while acknowledging the important adaptations required to deliver MBPs in various contexts. The piece is notable in its authorship and scope. It is written by numerous leaders in the mindfulness field and attempts to provide a benchmark definition against which we might measure mindfulness programs.

Reading their definition, I felt a very strong resonance with the orientation and values that have been a North Star for all of our work here at Mindful Schools. Below, we’ve listed the essential qualities of mindfulness teachers. We don’t list these here so you can judge or grade yourself. This is simply an opportunity to reflect on how we can serve kids most effectively.

Essential Qualities of Mindfulness Teachers

  • “Has particular competencies which enable the effective delivery of the MBP.”  Teaching mindfulness requires skills. Our practice is the foundation for developing those skills. Educators have an advantage: the pedagogical skills developed in the classroom translate and can support your ability to teach mindfulness.  And, of course, practice is needed. We learn by doing – and being responsive to the successes and challenges we encounter in sharing mindfulness.
  • “Has the capacity to embody the qualities and attitudes of mindfulness within the process of the teaching.” Yes! This is an emphasis here at Mindful Schools. Teaching mindfulness is not merely sharing information – it is sharing your presence. Unless we model mindfulness, our words will not be persuasive. As we teach, we can give our students a taste of mindfulness itself simply by modeling it in our speech and behavior.
  • “Has engaged in appropriate training and commits to ongoing good practice.” The authors echo our foundational commitment: good teaching grows directly out of our ongoing practice and curiosity about our own minds. This is not a journey that has an end-point: there’s always more to learn. This ongoing commitment is not a burden but feels more like an adventure of self-discovery.
  • “Is part of a participatory learning process with their students, clients or patients.” Mindfulness teachers are forever students. We are the doctor – and the patient. The willingness to learn and grow makes it easier for students to relate to us and trust that we share their journey. We consider our curriculum a living document. The possibilities of innovation are endless and we trust that our graduates find creative ways to share mindfulness in a range of educational contexts.

Essential Qualities of Mindfulness-Based Programs
The article outlines the following five essential qualities of MBPs:

  1. Is informed by theories and practices that draw from a confluence of contemplative traditions, science, and the major disciplines of medicine, psychology and education
  2. Is underpinned by a model of human experience which addresses the causes of human distress and the pathways to relieving it
  3. Develops a new relationship with experience characterized by present moment focus, de-centering, and an approach orientation
  4. Supports the development of greater attentional, emotional and behavioral self-regulation, as well as positive qualities such as compassion, wisdom, equanimity
  5. Engages the participant in a sustained intensive training in mindfulness meditation practice, in an experiential inquiry-based learning process, and in exercises to develop insight and understanding

We are appreciative of these suggestions and are committed to supporting the growth of mindfulness in a way that honors the depth and beauty of mindfulness, while integrating wisdom from neuroscience, behavioral science and the education field. We plan to produce new resources that honor these commitments. Stay tuned…


Reference:
Crane, R.S., Brewer, J., Feldman, C., Kabat-Zinn, J., Santorelli, S., Williams, J.M.G. and Kuyken, W. (2017) ‘What defines mindfulness-based programs? The warp and the weft’, Psychological Medicine,1–10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291716003317.


Mindful Schools transforms school communities from the inside out. Founded in 2007, Mindful Schools’ graduates have impacted over 750,000 children worldwide. You can learn more about our online course offerings, Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials.

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