Use of Mindfulness Interventions to Reduce Behaviors: Promising Results
Mindfulness and Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs) are interventions that have been studied over the last several years in general education classrooms, with data from a recent systematic review showing that:
“MBIs have a small, statistically significant positive effect on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. But there is not a significant effect on behavioural and academic outcomes.”Maynard, B. R., Solis, M. R., Miller, V. L., & Brendel, K. E. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Improving Cognition, Academic Achievement, Behavior, and Socio-emotional Functioning of Primary and Secondary School Students. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017: 5. Campbell Collaboration. Plain language summary of this systematic review of 61 MBI studies with 6,207 students can be found here
However while the systematic review noted above shows that MBIs have mixed results related to various student outcomes , limited research has been conducted and published on the use of MBIs in Special Education for students with highly challenging behaviors (two examples from the Maynard et al. systematic review of 61 MBI studies are here and here). I wanted to see what MBIs could look like if they were applied to my school, where 100% of the students are receiving Special Education services.
Applying MBIs To My School Context
The school I work at (called “The Center,”because it serves students from 14 school districts in our Special Education cooperative) has approximately 160 students who are all in Special Education, and who range in ages from 3-22.
In preparing for this project as part of the Loyola School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) certificate, I investigated the research around MBIs. And while the research was incomplete and cautioned schools about assuming that MBIs will work with all kinds of students and student problems, I didn’t find research that actively discouraged me from at least trying MBIs in my special school setting with our specific student population. Therefore in collaboration with key school allies (teachers, administrators, other school social workers), I decided to give this intervention a try to see if MBIs could help decrease significant student behaviors that result in time outs or restraints.
Implementation Of Our MBIs 2017-Present
We started discussing with staff in the Fall of 2017 how utilizing mindfulness practices could help our students to better self-regulate and reduce challenging behaviors. Our school had already been using an SEL curriculum called AIM (formerly Fusion) based off Acceptance Commitment Therapy for 6 years. This curriculum is completed daily through SEL lessons and a token economy system. This curriculum teaches students the following concepts: diffusion, acceptance, present moment, committed to action, values and self as context. Using this language, we have been helping students learn how to practice mindfulness.
This year, our team of school social workers have started expanding on these MBI practices by implementing yoga during some social work sessions. This school year, we also have started doing Calm Classroom daily over the loudspeaker in order to give students the opportunity to refocus and calm their minds and bodies. Some classes have also started a mindful moment after recess in order to refocus utilizing calm music, coloring, yoga, Go Noodle and quiet time. Starting in January of 2019, Calm Classroom was increased to being implemented twice daily over the loud speaker.
Initial Results From Implementing Calm Classroom School-Wide
Behavior Data: At our school, data is collected on challenging behaviors that result in an isolated time out or a restraint. In the first 7 weeks of the 2018-19 school year, 34 students engaged in challenging behaviors. At the start of the 8th week, 22 of the 34 students were participating in daily calm classroom lessons in their classroom, 2 of the students had moved, and 10 of the students are in classrooms that do not always do the lesson. After 10 weeks of daily calm classroom lessons, 10 of the 22 students (45%) who participated had a decrease in the amount of time and frequency they were in isolated time out and restraints. Given how challenging these behaviors are, and how quickly they can escalate, we were encouraged by these findings.
From January 7-February 8th of 2019, we have seen additional decreases in highly-challenging behaviors as well. During this time, 28 of the 32 students being tracked are participating in Calm Classroom twice daily. In the first four weeks of this implementation, 21 students (65%) showed a decrease in the amount of time and frequency they were in isolated time out and restraints from the previous 17 weeks.
Student Knowledge & Attitude Data: I also surveyed 46 of our 162 students. Those surveyed were in classrooms I knew most likely participated in calm classroom through teacher report. The students were asked 5 questions and the answers were only yes and no.
- Do you do Calm Classroom with your class daily? Yes-41 (89.1%) No- 5 (10.9%)
- Do you like doing Calm Classroom? Yes- 34 (73.9%) No-12 (26.1%)
- Do you want to do more Calm Classroom? Yes- 28 (60.9%) No- 18 (39.1%)
- Do you use these strategies during your day? Yes- 23 (50%) No- 23 (50%) .
- Do you use these strategies on your own? Yes- 8 (17.4%) No- 38 (82.6%)
- Do you feel calm after doing Calm Classroom? Yes- 40 (87%) No- 6 (13%) . Summary: Based on these student responses, MBIs appear to be perceived as a positive and helpful intervention by the majority of students surveyed. We also have work to do to make sure that more students are equipped to use the MBI strategies during the day and independently.
Informal Observation & Anecdotal Data: The effects of using MBIs in our school have also been assessed through informal observation and anecdotal reports. The following are a couple examples:
Example 1– A student with a cognitive delay who does not appear to participate in daily Calm Classroom lessons went up to an unfamiliar staff member who was crying and told her to breathe while patting her arm.
Example 2- A group of 4 students rated themselves from 1-10 in terms of how they were feeling with 1 being very angry and 10 being really happy. They rated as 3,4,5 and 5. They then talked about ways they calm down and practiced different breathing strategies. After using 3 different strategies as a group, they rated themselves as 7,8,8, and 9. Each student was visibly relaxed and was able to focus on the lesson presented while fully engaging in the activity with peers.
Example 3-A parent reported that when they were upset, their student looked at them and told them they should candle breathe. The student then proceeded to show them how to candle breathe in order to calm down.
These three anecdotal examples, combined with student knowledge and attitude data, as well as classroom behavior charts, show us that the MBIs we’re using are making a difference. Despite what the numbers showed us about students using MBIs independently, students are beginning to make these strategies a part of their daily lives.
Through implementing this MBI project, I have learned that there are many ways to track the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions usage in schools. In looking at our students, it appears as though a majority of our students are benefiting from learning these different strategies, and over 50% of our students with highly-challenging behaviors appear to be responding to the MBIs by decreasing the frequency of their major behavioral incidents. To be sure, each of our students are unique and their situation is reflected in their IEP; they certainly also have other external factors that contribute to their behaviors that impact our results. However, our observation, students’ responses and data is encouraging us to continue implementing daily mindfulness as well as help our students to use learned and chosen strategies to self-regulate and be mindful of their actions.