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Whole-school approaches for supporting young people and their families

(This article was written for us by Andrew Jones from Smiling Mind)

“Children will grow into the intellectual life of those around them”.

Lev Vygotsky

Powerful Learning Communities

Parents and families are the first and most significant teacher in a child’s life. Learning does not begin when a child commences school, nor does it stop when the child is in the family home. Au contraire.

When considering student performance, research has demonstrated conclusively that the greatest influence on achievement is not the teacher. It’s not the principal - nor is it the school itself. It is in fact, the parent and home-based influences.

The idea that children best succeed when schools, leaders and education systems promote and encourage positive family-school relationships, is not a new one. It is widely acknowledged in education research, policy and practice, that when families and school-based professionals unite and collaborate on the program of support and development for the child; that children are more likely to thrive.

However as a principal, researcher and father of school-aged children, I can honestly say - hand on heart - that despite best intentions, far too often this partnership is not as successful as we instinctively know it needs it to be.

Within a re-conceptualisation of schools as ‘centres of learning and development for young people and their families’, it becomes incumbent on both school and system leadership to actively create the conditions that facilitate this necessary realignment - a congruence of both beliefs and practices, whereby the social, emotional and academic capacity of the child is identified, understood and ultimately enhanced.

For improvement in learning to occur, we must move beyond the rhetoric, beyond the research-based propositions from academia, and beyond the postulations of compliance-based logic in bureaucratic policy. The work of changing the interpersonal dynamic for families and for schools is genuinely about changing hearts and minds. A dynamic that challenges the traditional dichotomy of the parent versus teacher or school versus the home and in its stead, places the emphasis on the child’s growth and development system - of which the school-based educator and the home-based educator play an integral part.

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Mindfulness Learning

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness by paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement. ‘Non-judgemental’ in mindfulness, is acknowledging thoughts and emotions without labelling them as ‘positive', ‘negative’ or otherwise. Learning community members that are less judgemental deploy a more objective and respectful bias in their interactions; dispositions critical for fostering more considerate and impactful engagements around the child's development.

Mindfulness practices have also been proven to have a significant influence on one’s attention, cognitive flexibility and self-regulation; as well as reducing both emotional reactivity and anxiety. I suspect that here would be broad agreement that these are a valuable set of skills and depositions for all members of your child’s learning network to posses.

A child’s emotional wellbeing, behaviour, relationships both with peers and with teachers is strongly influenced by parental attitude and their connectedness with the school. By establishing and maintaining more purposeful connections between home and school, students are more likely to experience success. Mindfulness practice reinforces an individual’s capacity to listen and to communicate - foundational skills that drive the establishment of more effective and respectful relationships with others and assist in the appreciation of diverse perspectives, leading to a more cohesive learning community for all.

Parents as Partners in Learning

We know that parents play a critical role in shaping the behaviour and mindsets of their children while at school. By supporting families understanding and influence on mindfulness practice in their children, smart schools further enhance their positive influence on young people’s learning and wellbeing.

Furthermore, there is emerging evidence around the positive impact of the provision of training and workshops around specific aspects of learning to families. Mindfulness helps groups and individuals to be able to recognise others’ feelings and know how and when to assist. More focussed and deliberate capacity building interventions - create by enhancing mindfulness skills and

By developing a whole-school approach to mindfulness, Mindful Learning Communities;

  • create a culture of partnership and shared endeavour between home and school
  • understand and appropriately acknowledge the range of stakeholders within the learning community
  • promote focussed learning conversations and interactions between members of the partnership and;
  • support intentional and strategic trustful partnerships between families, school-based practitioners.

Many schools have found that engaging the whole school community in implementing and maintaining their mindfulness program results in the biggest impact. This involves school leaders, educators, support staff, students, parents and the wider community - our children’s future depends on it.

Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit organisation that works to make mindfulness meditation accessible to all. The Smiling Mind App has reached more than 2 million people worldwide. Smiling Mind offers a comprehensive range of workshops and training tools to support your schools mindfulness journey. Tens of thousands of educators use their programs in schools.

For further information contact

Andrew Jones’ areas of expertise are learning design, school improvement and teacher professional development. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Melbourne in the areas of Learning Culture and Teacher Beliefs under the expert tutelage of Professor John Hattie. He has been working in a range of school settings both as a teacher and as a principal for more than 20 years. He has a Masters in International Education. Andrew consults regularly with communities, practitioners, government, researchers, policymakers and developers across Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Europe and the United States.

Contact Andrew @


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