Implementation Matters: Mindfulness in schools

Implementation Matters: Mindfulness in schools

The 'how' of bringing mindfulness into schools - a blog by Stephanie Wilde, Qualitative Researcher for the MYRIAD project.

Research and experience shows that how mindfulness is implemented in schools is just as important as why it is implemented (e.g. to improve resilience and well-being amongst young people) and what is implemented (the content and delivery of mindfulness programmes in schools).

The potential benefits, challenges and risks of mindfulness in educational settings are currently the subject of intense discussion, particularly of key questions such as: what are the young people learning? Why is it valuable? And who is teaching them?

However, less attention has been given to the question of how to implement mindfulness in schools – something the OMC’s Mindfulness and Resilience in Adolescence (MYRIAD) project is planning to address via a dedicated website and resources to support and inform schools interested in implementing mindfulness, or already doing so.

Joseph Durlak has argued that the success of social and emotional learning interventions in schools is determined by the quality of the implementation processes set in motion. Experts have published extensively on the implementation of social and emotional learning in school settings [1]. We know that implementation matters. But what do we mean by ‘implementation’? Durlak recently defined it as

the ways a programme is put into practice and delivered to participants. In other words, implementation refers to what a programme looks like in reality compared with what a programme is conceived to be in theory. (p. 334) [2]

This definition will ring true to teachers and head teachers who have implemented interventions of various kinds that have not had the desired effects in their schools. Implementing mindfulness in schools represents a challenge in terms of time and resources, both of which are limited and precious. One can hardly overstate the pressures schools and their staff already face in terms of curriculum changes, inspections, budgetary constraints, and keeping subject knowledge and teaching techniques up to date.

Durlak, in his recent paper on programme implementation [3], outlines some of the factors that may count against effective implementation in schools:
In some cases, school staff may not be well enough trained or prepared to conduct the programme effectively; in other instances, teachers may make major changes to some parts of the intended programme in accordance with their teaching styles, preferences or personal beliefs; and in still other situations, there may be competing administrative, curricular or financial demands that curtail a project before it is finished. (p. 334)

Many of these factors emerged in MYRIAD’s qualitative implementation study, which took place in 7 schools located all over England in 2015/16. For example, teachers reported that pressure on the curriculum was one of the main barriers to implementing mindfulness.

“The problem comes… about how you genuinely make it part of the curriculum, for both students and for staff, when there is increasing pressure.”

However, the MYRIAD research also shed light on factors that can support the process of implementing mindfulness. These were mainly in the following four areas: people (including commitment and support from the head teacher or Senior Leadership Team), resources (investment in both curriculum time and space, and funding), seeing implementation as a journey, and perceptions of mindfulness.

“Your starting point is you have to have a champion. I think it depends on having somebody there who is constantly or regularly advocating its strength and is prepared to champion it.”

With a focus on how mindfulness should be implemented as well as what and why, a key aim of the study was to collect data and findings to support schools. Therefore, one of the outputs of the MYRIAD project is resources and materials to support and inform schools. These resources include short films, links to relevant materials, and an outline of the research findings from the study.

One of these films presents the case for mindfulness and why overcoming the difficulties of the ‘how’ of implementing it could be worthwhile. As one teacher describes her school’s experience, “As a team we have been able to say, our mental health and wellbeing is really important… we as a school have decided that we want to invest in this because we think it is important for the young people – but also for us”.

Stephanie Wilde
Qualitative researcher for the MYRIAD project, looking at processes of implementing mindfulness in school settings.
Declaration of interests: none to declare.

Watch the film:

[1] See CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) (2015) Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs: Middle and High School Edition. Available at:; Durlak, J. What everyone should know about implementation. In: Durlak, J.; Domitrovich, C. E.; Weissberg, R. P. and Gullotta, T. P. (eds.): Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning, Research and Practice, Chapter 26, pp.395-405.
[2] Durlak, J. A. (2016) Programme implementation in social and emotional learning: basic issues and research findings, Cambridge Journal of Education, 46 (3), 333-345, DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2016.1142504
[3] Durlak, J. A. (2016) Programme implementation in social and emotional learning: basic issues and research findings, Cambridge Journal of Education, 46 (3), 333-345, DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2016.1142504

The MYRIAD project is currently recruiting schools through the UK – to register an interest or find out more, email: