Welcome to the new term and warm wishes to our new families and children! We also welcome Claire Moody, our new Bursar, who will be in school three days a week. She comes to us from the Towers Convent School, Upper Beeding, where she was Finance Manager and Assistant Bursar. I am extremely happy to have her in post.My last puja was around the subject and practice of kindness and friendliness, and the more I pick up from the news (in the guise of information) the more I am reminded of the essentiality of consciously developing positive traits.
In Buddhism, developing unconditional loving kindness (metta bhavana) is a concentration practice. There is a distinction between a meditation practice that develops concentration and absorption – such as metta practice – and insight practice (of which mindfulness is an important part) which cultivates the arising of insight into the true nature of all things and events.
In mindfulness practice we pay attention to whatever arises in awareness, in the present moment, and make that an object of meditation. In metta practice, we choose phrases such as ‘May I be happy’ as the object of meditation, holding those phrases in our hearts the way we would hold something precious and fragile in our hand. In other words, the development of metta is posited as a conscious activity, one which requires effort and care.
Practising kindness is part of our Buddhist ethos. As a school, our aims are:
- To guide pupils to develop mindfulness, kindness and understanding, and apply these practices in their daily lives.
- To provide an excellent academic education which enables children to develop positive learning dispositions, and to be challenged in ways that accord with their needs and potential.
- To promote self-esteem by teaching emotional literacy and problem-solving skills, enabling children to reflect and learn from all their experiences and to transform conflict.
- To constantly strive to create a nurturing environment in which positive, respectful relationships are developed among and between all tiers of the school: children, staff, parent community and trustees.
- To give students positive experiences of nature and the outdoors, inspiring curiosity, wonder and respect for the environment.
What is also wonderful about developing kindness is that neurologically the evidence is that happier children learn better and that brains, especially young ones, are ‘plastic’. In other words, young people’s brains are extremely affected by outside stimuli and hormones that get released in response to those stimuli, positive or negative. Particular neural networks are enhanced and others are ‘pruned’ so that new behaviours, attitudes and actions occur. This is a process that happens all the time throughout childhood and beyond.
Experientially, we know that children readily mimic behaviours and attitudes and this can be put to good effect in the classroom or at home by ‘modelling’ whatever behaviour or attitude we would like them to develop. As children do not generally engage in substantial periods of meditation practice (one can hope!) the development of kindness and appropriate friendliness happens often in relationship with others, and through guided reflection.
It is important to have a nuanced approach with young children and it is worth enquiring of ourselves: What is the kindest thing I can do in this situation right here and now? It may not be ‘giving in’, it may be a firmer approach. In terms of neural development and the development of habits, a longer term approach is probably more beneficial.
At school we have an array of creative methods to encourage children in developing these positive attributes and we have a behaviour policy which promotes positive discipline and is not punitive. We take the view that poor behaviour is a form of communication and that children want to behave well.
Our ethos and approach is being recognised by other organisations; at the end of last term, we entered the school into the Independent Schools Association (ISA) Awards 2017, in the category for ‘Excellence and Innovation in Pupils’ Mental Health and Wellbeing’. I am very happy to announce that we have now been shortlisted for this award along with two other schools and the winner will be announced in November.