Northbrooks Secondary School embarked on a positive journey with Mindfulness over the last three years and has discovered different facets of the Brooksian Family. Over the last two years, the team has gradually garnered support from students, teachers and parents and embarked on new collaborations and partnerships to strengthen our well-being. Through workshops and support from partnerships with wellness institutions, we educated and raised awareness on mental health and the well-being of our staff and students. In the following write-up, you will see the mindfulness efforts that the team has put in place to enhance the well-being of the Brooksian Family.
Mindfulness was first introduced to Northbrooks staff in 2017 in efforts to broaden our knowledge on mental well-being and how to develop it. Experts in the field were invited to conduct workshops for the staff and a group of teacher enthusiasts were identified based on their various roles in school to attend an eight-session Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction(MBSR) programme by Brahm Centre in early 2018.
The programme taught physiological and psychological components of stress reactivity which is present in our work life and how we can apply these techniques with our students. The session also explored the role of mindfulness in responding to stressful situations in positive and proactive ways. The sessions also focused on interpersonal communication patterns where the teachers were taught how to listen mindfully and apply mindfulness in difficult and stressful situations and how this can be applied in the classroom when communicating with students.
The trained teachers formed the Mindfulness Team to pass on the knowledge of mindfulness and to be multipliers of well-being among Northbrooks staff and students.
The Mindfulness Team shared with the staff the benefits and techniques in embodying mindfulness and ways to implement simple techniques in the classroom. The sharing exposed staff to strategies and practices of mindfulness namely body relaxation exercises, deep breathing exercises, mindful stretching and coping mechanism (R.A.I.N technique).
Post-sharing survey conducted for the staff based on the mindfulness sharing indicated that staff welcomed the practice and were feeling relaxed and calmer after each session. Teachers stated they were ‘refreshed’, ‘present’ , ‘aware’ and their minds were ‘less cluttered’. It was an encouraging start for our mindfulness journey.
Brooksian teachers also proposed having more sharing sessions to introduce them to more techniques and resources to implement mindfulness in the classrooms. As an initial exposure for both teachers and students, the mindfulness team designed a 20-minute lesson on tackling exam anxiety and stress with simple deep breathing techniques for all students during the examination period. The lesson was a means for teachers to introduce mindfulness to students.
The staff then integrated the practice of mindfulness to our staff culture and many were willing to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness. A group of teachers spent their Saturday morning learning directly from Mindfulness experts during the Singapore Mindfulness Conference organized by Brahm Centre in 2018. There was rich learning for the teachers and they exchanged ideas on the transfer of learning. The conference and conversation among the staff generated more questions and a greater desire to develop ourselves professionally in the area of wellbeing.
To better understand how to use mindfulness for enhancing well-being and as a strategy to deal with challenges and tensions that arose in the classrooms, the Mindfulness Team collaborated with the Professional Development (PD) Committee to develop teachers’ competencies in classroom management. Our staff discussed articles such as “The Emotional Art of Teaching” from the book by Patricia Jennings, “Mindfulness for Teachers” and held conversations among themselves on how we can bring mindfulness to the classroom. The staff were encouraged to pen their reflections based on their experiences in the classroom and how they responded to difficult situations.
Leveraging on the reflections, the PD Committee conducted a learning circle entitled “Mindfulness, Me and the Classroom” for staff interested to further the conversation and share experiences on how they respond emotionally and handle challenging situations in the classroom.
Two of the trained teachers piloted mindfulness with their students in the Red Cross Youth CCA group in the hopes of seeing positive change in student behaviour. Miss Sumithra and Mr Sanjay Radhakrishan conducted mindfulness sessions in their classrooms using online videos and sent frequent reminders on using relaxation techniques during form teachers’ time. The students appeared calmer after the body relaxation exercises and were able to focus and concentrate better.
Mr Sanjay also worked towards allowing students to acquire the habits of mind of mindfulness with simple activities. He involved his form class in a tree planting activity in school to commemorate Biodiversity Week for Schools by National Parks. Through 'Project Green Wave', he instilled patience, diligence, selflessness, and gratitude in his students through appreciating nature. This activity brought about calmness in the students and inculcated in them the importance of gratitude.
Mr Sanjay then reached out to his students from the Red Cross Youth Group and conducted a mindful walking session at Yishun Park for the cadets. During this walk, students were made to pause, notice and reflect on the various sounds and smells of nature without being distracted. During the reflection segment, the cadets demonstrated a more mature thought process. They shared that they were thankful and blessed with a healthy and able body and were grateful to Mother Nature.
Noticing the positive impact from the pilot activities, the Mindfulness Team extended their programmes to involve more co-curricular groups to empower more Brooksians to take charge of their mental well-being. Co-curricular activities are good avenues for students to build and develop relationships and social skills while exploring their interests outside of the classroom. The activites also help develop self-esteem and positive values.
2019 was the year for the Visual and Performing Art Groups to showcase their talent and performance during the Singapore Youth Festival and Brooksians were getting ready for the competition. In the midst of the national competition, heavy training schedules and the academic workloads can take a toll on the students and they tended to experience heightened stress and are unable to perform to their optimum capacity. The Mindfulness Team found the opportunity to help them by teaching them how to stay calm and be in the present moment.
In commemoration of Earth Day 2019, an hour long Mindful Walking @Yishun Park was conducted for all the Sec 1 classes on the 22nd April 2019 to 24th April 2019. The activity was intended to break students away from their routine classroom activities and bring them outside the classroom to have a change of environment. The walk is also a reminder to show our gratitude to the environment and how we can play our part as a community to save the environment.
In an effort to connect with and appreciate nature, they were tasked to take a slow walk along the routes in Yishun Park and sketch what captures their attention. During this walk, students were asked to pause and notice the various sounds and smells of nature without being distracted. They also had a short 5 min mindfulness relaxation exercise to slow down to stop and listen to nature. The activity ended with a reflection and a gratitude letter to nature.
From a post survey conducted, the students expressed that they enjoyed the session and articulated that the activity has benefited them as they were calmer and it allowed them to take a short break away from school. They also highlighted that they have never ‘seen’ the park fully in its beauty and failed to appreciate it with technology in their hands. The students were indeed reflective after the activity and appreciated the walk for the day.
A mindful walk is also an excellent way to clear our mind of clutter and restore our sense of focus. To extend the benefits of mindful walking to all teachers, we encouraged the Brooksian staff to engage in simple mindful walking in Yishun Park as part of the staff well-being programme in Northbrook on the 11th April 2019.
Mindful walking gave them the opportunity to move away from their daily routines in school for a bit and to walk in the present moment while catching up with their well-being. The activity was also a great way for the teachers to bond and to know one another outside the workplace in a peaceful and calm environment.
During the Secondary One and Three level breakfasts in August 2019, we wanted the students to slow down, focus on their food and themselves and be in the present moment when they were eating. We taught them the fact that mindful eating is a powerful tool to help over weight students gain control of their eating habits and reduce binge eating such that they would feel better about themselves.
Our Secondary 1 and 3 students learnt the benefits of mindful eating and experienced mindful eating first hand. They also learnt the detriments caused to the environment through food wastage and how everyone must do their part by eating mindfully and only eating what they need.
Mindfulness workshops conducted on March 2020 for our graduating students to help promote their physical, mental and emotional health through mindfulness especially during the most challenging year of their secondary school life. We collaborated and invited volunteers and trainers from YOU.th Matters which is a youth wellness initiative by Over The Rainbow (OTR), with support from National Youth Council. With five different workshops conducted concurrently, all our graduating students were able to learn simple tools and manage their well-being. The students provided positive feedback on how the workshops benefited them and even suggested activities that will be useful for their juniors and their peers for handling and managing exam stress.
While some Brooksians were able to manage the stress and pressure, we do have vulnerable students who needed more help academically, emotionally and mentally. To ensure that the students were empowered to manage and enhance their own well-being, we felt it was important to educate them with simple techniques that they can use on a daily basis as well.
Mindful Minutes involves intentionally setting aside five minutes each morning to practice simple breathing exercises as a whole school. Focused breathing regulates the breath, stress, anxiety and in turns manages our emotions. It is very important to start the day right with a routine to have a clear and calm mind. This allows the students to be refreshed and energized for the day.
In collaboration with Brahm Centre, the team formed a YouTube Channel (Brahm Centre Mindfulness Channel_ Northbrooks) which features Mindfulness videos by our partner, Brahm Centre for Brooksians, teachers and parents. These videos were specifically designed by A/Prof Angie Chew, Singaporean of the Year and founder of Brahm Centre and Mr Eric Lim, a mindfulness psychologist. They allowed parents and students to practice mindfulness at home during the Circuit Breaker period with their family to achieve calmness and peace in a period of chaos and uncertainty. The videos were also uploaded onto Student Learning Space (SLS) as part of the Northbrooks morning assembly programmes during our Home-based Learning (HBL) period. Students were able to practice mindfulness at home with the videos as a guide to ensure morning school routines were followed with some level of normalcy.
Mindful drawing is a great way to practice mindfulness as it involves observation, focus, being in the present moment and settling the mind. Term 3 is one of the busiest school terms and we wanted to engage Northbrooks staff in mindful art to unwind and relax at the end of the day. During a staff meeting in September 2019, Mdm Phoon Hwee Lee together with the team facilitated the use of art therapy to calm one’s mind and void our minds of distraction and clutter. Using Japan Pastel Art, Mdm Phoon brought us through how art therapy reduces stress and anxiety and is also a great way to express our emotions and feelings and enhance self awareness. The teachers had the opportunity to express themselves artistically on the canvas provided and it was heartening to see the teachers participating and being fully involved in their artwork. The collective artwork of the teachers was indeed a masterpiece that evoked serenity and calmness.
Zentangle is an easy to learn relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images using structured patterns and the end product is unique to the person. The purpose of Zentangling is to provide Brooksians and all staff a space to express their creativity. Vibrancy within Mindfulness was a school wide project which allowed all staff, students and external stakeholders to place all of their Zentangles up on the wall titled Vibrancy within Mindfulness. The wall represented a vibrant learning and teaching environment where students and teachers were able to appreciate how simple things in life can bring joy. This art installation was also to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school. Though each Zentangle is small, together, it represented the unity and collective strength of Northbrooks as a whole.
It has been a fruitful journey for all of us as we explored ways to empower staff and students to take charge of their own mental well-being. Through the adoption of proper mental health hygiene practices, we will continue to enhance the mental resilience of all at Northbrooks.
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