Teaching focus through mindfulness practice

Mindfulness icon

Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular as a way to help students improve their social and emotional intelligence, while also supporting positive academic outcomes in schools. The benefits of mindfulness are well established (particularly in adults where there is significantly more research) and include: 

  • Increased happiness
  • Improved ability to focus
  • Reduced rumination and worry
  • Better overall health
  • Reduced of depression symptoms
  • Reduced levels of stress and anxiety

So mindfulness is good for you. But does it require sitting in an uncomfortable position for hours on end? 

What exactly is mindfulness?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as:

"The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something."

We prefer the definition provided by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who provided a little more information when he said:

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment,
non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

There appears to be some confusion between mindfulness and meditation, so let's clear that up. Mindfulness, as outlined above is simply being aware in the present moment. That could be about how you're feeling (physically and emotionally) and what you're thinking. In practice, it sounds easy, but in reality, we often lose focus and our thoughts wander. Which is where the meditation confusion can come in. One of the most effective ways to improve your ability to maintain focus – to be mindful – is to practice meditation. Meditation is that sense then can be seen as an exercise to build up mindfulness skill, in much the same way as lifting weights builds up muscles.

Why is mindfulness important for good education and life outcomes?

Someone who might be considered highly mindful has naturally a few advantages when it comes to schooling success. First, they'll be able to focus for longer periods of time. Better focus, supports better understanding and retention of information, so the ability to focus for longer periods is significant in itself. But a strong mindfulness practice trains you to identify when your attention has wandered, helping you to bring your attention back faster. This means that even when their minds do wander, the mindful individual identifies their lack of focus sooner and returns to the object of focus. 

Consider this statement taken from Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman:

"A reader's mind typically wanders anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time while perusing a text.
The cost for students, not surprisingly, is that the more wandering, the worse their comprehension."

Given the wide array of ways for students to be distracted in this day and age (text messages, apps, social media, click bait etc.), offering mindfulness training provides a valuable support mechanism to help students stay focused on tasks that are meaningful and beneficial.

Can mindfulness be taught?

Absolutely. There are a number of studies that point to the benefits of mindfulness, where small interventions have been introduced, and positive gains have been made in quite short timeframes. While many of the activities centre around a meditation-type practice, there are also other activities that encourage students to pay more attention to the present. Take mindful eating as one example. Most of us know students who consume food rather than enjoy it. Mindful eating asks the student to pay attention to eating say, an apple. To note how it looks and smells, then, when bitten into, how it tastes, and sounds. Taking this type of mindful approach to everyday activities can help students to be more aware of what they're doing in a given moment, often leading to a greater sense of enjoyment in the moment.

Mindfulness and Passion Arena

In understanding the importance of mindfulness to education success, Passion Arena's programme is structured to support the improvement of student mindfulness and focus. Our first step is to introduce mindfulness (along with other core non-cognitive skills) to students so that they understand the benefits of learning and mastering such skills. We'll then support a range of our non-cognitive skills episodes with mindfulness activities, that work to reinforce the specific skill being introduced while reinforcing the value of mindfulness practice at the same time. 

Watch a Passion Arena episode about mindfulness

To get an idea of how we introduce our non-cognitive skills and, in particular mindfulness to students, click the button below to watch a Passion Arena episode that relates to mindfulness.

Want to find out more about mindfulness?

Books on mindfulness:

If you'd like to dive further into understanding mindfulness, we recommend the following books. Click on the titles for more information.

Videos on mindfulness:

Discover more of the benefits of mindfulness in these videos:


Daniel Goleman – Focus: The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment. (78min)

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD – What Is Mindfulness?

Jon Kabat Zinn, PhD – Some Reflections and Guidance on the Cultivation of Mindfulness. (45min)

Matt Killingsworth – Want To Be Happier? Stay In The Moment. (10min)

Andy Puddicombe – All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes. (9min)


Academic papers on mindfulness:

The academic papers below represent a handful of the research available on mindfulness. We've chosen a selection focused on mindfulness interventions in school or impacts for young people. While we hope the studies below prove useful, if you have a specific area of mindfulness you want to address, we recommend searching Google Scholar

Pause, breathe, smile: a mixed-methods study of student well-being following participation in an eight-week, locally developed mindfulness program in three New Zealand schools
Authors: Ross Bernay, Esther Graham, Daniel A. Devcich, Grant Rix & Christine M. Rubie-Davies. First Published: March 2016

Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis
Authors: Charlotte Zenner, Solveig Herrnleben-Kurz and Harald Walach. First Published: June 2014

Mindfulness in Schools
Author: Francesca Nagle. First Published: December 2013

Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People
Author: Katherine Weare. First Published: April 2012

A Wandering Mind Is An Unhappy Mind
Authors: Killingsworth, M.A & Gilbert, D.T.  First Published: November 2010