My own experience using mindfulness skills started in conjunction with my own yoga journey about nine years ago. As I started to notice the calming and transformative effect on my distracted mind, I decided to start learning more about how I can integrate this life skill in the classroom to benefit my students. I knew my students desperately needed strategies to contain their emotions and mind. I began teaching various breathing strategies on a daily basis in class, integrating concepts of gratitude, compassion, and growth mindset. Each morning, I would start the day with a daily kindness challenge where students picked an action to spread happiness, and linked it with mindful breathing exercises. After each session, we would reflect on our emotions and how we felt, and I’d always be amazed to hear some of the feedback from students who’d say things like, “I was floating on a cloud of happiness,” and “I feel so calm.”
Soon enough, my students developed confidence to conduct sessions for their peers and were leading the mindfulness sessions. This bolstered their confidence and fostered good relationships with their classmates. The buzz started traveling to their homes as they told their family and friends about this. We, then, started sharing what we were doing in grade level assemblies, and even whole primary assemblies! My students were proudly the mindful champions of the school. I noticed they were more intuitive of their emotions, reflective of their choices, more proactive in communicating with kindness, and mature in their problem solving. It was amazing to see how self-motivated they were to embed this practice independently into their daily lives.
The following year in 2016, I was invited to give a presentation to other educators by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) on mindfulness. While discussing ideas with my primary head at the time, I saw an article about how The Indian High School, Dubai had started a “Happiness Hallway.” I loved the concept, and it triggered the idea of creating a concrete space that’s interactive to practice all things that help achieve a healthy, mindful, positive mindset. That’s how the vision of the first mindfulness room in the region came together. I got a team of teachers, students and parents to help turn this vision into reality. The Mindfulness Room has a gratitude tree in the center where students hang positive affirmations and the room is divided into several sections, including an affirmation wall, reflection area, mandalas, a sensory section, and a reading area.
In 2017, we organized the grand opening of the space in the presence of Her Excellency Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, UAE’s Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, and Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Director-General of the KHDA. Before we knew it, the whole school had started using the space, and mindfulness sessions became integrated in the timetable of the children. This has helped promote a healthy, balanced and happier student life. The room also allows students to take some time off to be present in the moment, using the space to meditate, reflect and ease any stress. Sessions in the space vary, but all of them focus on application of different activities and students can get access to the room at least once every week for 30 minutes.
To me, mindfulness is fundamentally one of the most valuable life skills to teach and pass onto the next generation, and the advantages of practicing mindfulness can be endless. Schools all over the country have now followed suit and tried to implement something similar. Some students have even been inspired to create their own special mindful spaces in their own homes. In addition, I have noticed that students experience elevated levels of compassion, problem solving skills, and overall happiness by embracing mindfulness. Educators are realizing the importance of holistic education and mindfulness is just one step toward it. More educators and schools need to help their students embrace the concept of self-care as we empower the future generations.
Rola Ghadban is a teacher and the mindfulness and well-being coordinator at Greenfield Community School in Dubai. She’s a passionate believer in empowering students with a positive mindset.