St John’s Anglican College’s approach to developing mindfulness within the student has been to use the idea of Prayer Spaces in Schools. As chaplain I used this English concept to create a highly creative and very interactive environment. Such spaces of wonder, mystery, peace and beauty will teach students in a very real and practical way about prayer, how to pray and how to connect with God. It was observed that the students participating in the space felt nurtured on an emotional, physical and spiritual level.
Another important aspect of the Prayer Space is that it is invitational, which means that students can opt out if they choose. However, as students are innately curious, the majority of students did participate. The feedback from students revealed they were surprised that they actually enjoyed being in the Prayer Space. The invitational nature of the space means that it is inclusive of all faiths allowing the student to find their own path and connection with themselves and God.
The invitational element means that students moved naturally into mindfulness, being in the moment. They found they were able to be still and reflect, critical life skills. The students had an opportunity to ask the “Big Questions,” grappling with issues like, what is their purpose, identity and the meaning of life. Some students said the space enabled them to forgive past hurts. Another commented that after they visited the “Sorry Station” they were released from guilt and anger towards others. Some students said the space made them feel “special”, and helped them to learn about themselves. One student said they felt better about an issue after they visited the “Sorry Station”. After being in the Prayer Space the students were then able to reflect with staff, opening up some deep and meaningful conversations.
The overwhelming response from both staff and students was that the space was calm, peaceful and quiet which the students loved. They said that being given the opportunity to find time for mindfulness in the busyness of school life was a gift. While students had formal time in the welcoming environment during their Religious Education class they were also invited to spend time there during the morning tea and lunch breaks. Many students took advantage of the space being open at breaks, spending quality time being still and quiet.
This initiative develops skills for self-reflection in students, which will be essential skills for managing the busy lives they lead in a technology rich world. Creating a balanced life in which time for understanding themselves and others is an important part, is an important element in the pastoral program at St John’s. Students and teachers certainly responded well to the introduction of Prayer Spaces at our College.