Are we creating mindless schools?

There is a big difference!

I am reading a book called “The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind” by B. Alan Wallace. Wallace argues that many of us are suffering from a chronic inability to focus, to give one thing our undivided attention. He argues that the ability to focus our attention is something that needs to be explicitly learned, but is actually something we assume develops naturally. We are mistaken. What develops naturally, particularly in our chaotic lives (and our even more chaotic schools) is our ability to try and survive, multitask and think about as many things as possible! Wallace believes this is not only unhealthy, but ultimately means we can’t do anything well:

“We can’t study, listen, converse with others, work, play or even sleep well when our attention is impaired.”

There is a movement in schools to try and bring more mindfulness into the way things are done. I wonder if we need to take a harsher approach. Many people I have spoken to about mindfulness in schools are actually seeing it as another thing, something else to add to the workload, another aspect of our already overloaded days and curricula. Perhaps we need to be more realistic and take steps to remove some of the mindlessness of schools, and then hope to bring in some mindfulness!!! As Wallace says,

“The more we practice mindlessness, the better we get at it – there’s no better way to kill time. Our lives just pass on by, without our noticing it.”

I urge educators to look at everything they do and try to find things to remove, to strip away… to simply stop doing. Ask yourselves why you do some things and if you’re not convinced by your answers… stop doing them. When your days and weeks seem to have a little more time and space you can then start to do everything else more mindfully, with more actual attention. So can your students.

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4 comments

  1. Jason Graham

    Great post Sam,
    Yes, the sad thing is I can see this in my own kids as well. I think the ability to filter information is an essential skill. Where does this fit into a curriculum? Do we know as teachers what is important or not and how do we determine that? If teachers dont know then how do we expect our kids to? Teach in a meaningful way and be explicit about it.

    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks Jason.

      ON the point about information, have you ever used De Bono’s 6 Frames for Understanding? I keep meaning to bring them in as a way to help students focus their attention.

  2. Krysten

    Hi Sam, always enjoy your posts. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see B. Alan Wallace’s name as part of this, what inspired you to pick up ‘Attention Revolution’? Yes, many educators see mindfulness as an add on which is why we need to show that it is equally, if not more so, an ethos building/culture setting. We as the adults need to first learn to be mindful (as Alan Wallace calls it our “OCDD – Obsessive, Compulsive, Delusional Disorder”), which helps us teach more mindfully – read the field, recognize teachable moments, etc. – and then we can focus on teaching mindfulness. Susan Kaiser Greenland’s new Inner Kids training is all about this, I highly recommend “The Mindful Child” by SKG and “Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness” by Deborah Schoeberlein. All of this is of course a longer dialogue …

    For the moment, what we attend to is reality – William James

    Be well!
    Krysten

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