Mindfulness, adapted from ancient Buddhist thought and practice, was introduced into the West in a secularized and Westernized form during the 1980s. In subsequent decades, it spread around the world, into clinics, workplaces, and schools. The practice involves cultivating the ability to focus attention, and to notice any distracting thoughts and feelings without judgment or elaboration, in order to reduce stress and improve mental health. As such, it is a psychological phenomenon involving metacognition, or thinking about thinking, though this can be placed within a holistic framework that sees the mind as intricately linked with the body and the external world. In the early years of the 21st century, concerns grew about children’s mental health, and schools became seen as places to address this through universal programs; that is, mental health promotion programs that reach all students and that therefore do not stigmatize those who already have psychological difficulties, or are at risk of developing them. Evidence was also accruing that, with samples of healthy (non-clinical) adults, mindfulness had moderate effects on measures such as anxiety, and strong effects in reducing stress. Although research designs were generally not very strong, the positive results and public enthusiasm for mindfulness encouraged the introduction of universal programs into schools, and even preschools. However, the dissemination of school-based mindfulness programs ran well ahead of the scientific evidence examining their efficacy (under tightly controlled conditions) or their effectiveness in real-world school contexts. While studies were suggestive that mindfulness could affect many aspects of children’s and adolescents’ wellbeing and development, the body of research as a whole fell short in terms of scientific rigor. There were few well-designed randomized controlled trials that would enable firm conclusions to be drawn that any identified effects were due to the mindfulness program rather than to unknown factors. Moreover, little attention was paid to the presumed mechanisms of change or to the developmental appropriateness of programs. As more, and better-designed, studies began to emerge, accumulating results suggested that effects were generally small, but stronger for older than younger adolescents, and longer lasting for adolescents than for children. Issues that remained for further systematic attention included many matters of program design and implementation, the safety of the practice, its basis in developmental theory and research, and its ethical and political implications.
Rosalyn H. Shute
Sew Kim Low and Jin Kuan Kok
There is a global push for a comprehensive school mental health system to meet the mental health needs of children and youths in school. To respond effectively to these needs, parents, schools, and communities must recognize the value of collaborating as partners. The term parent-school-community partnership refers to the genuine collaboration among families, schools, communities, individuals, organizations, businesses, and government and nongovernment agencies to assist students’ emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and psychological development. To realize the goals of effective partnership in promoting school mental health of children and youths, ongoing assessment of the schools’ needs, and the available resources of local, state, and national communities, agencies, and organizations is necessary for the provision of effective partnership interventions. In partnership, parents, educators, and community members work together and share responsibilities for the development of the “whole child.” A multitier system of partnership support could be beneficial in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of school mental health interventions and evidence-based programs.
Li-fang Zhang and Robert J. Sternberg
“Intellectual styles” refers to people’s preferred ways of processing information and dealing with cognitive and other tasks. Styles comprise an all-embracing way of understanding such constructs as cognitive styles, learning approaches, career personality types, thinking styles, teaching styles, and many others—constructs with or without the word “style.” The field of intellectual styles has a history of more than eight decades. Until the early 21st century, however, the field was constantly struggling with its identity as a result of three major challenges: (a) the lack of a common language and a conceptual framework with which work on styles could be understood, (b) the difficulty in distinguishing styles from intelligence/abilities and personality traits, and (c) the ambiguity concerning the link between work on styles and work in other fields. This identity crisis was exacerbated by three principal controversial issues regarding the nature of intellectual styles: whether styles are distinct constructs or similar constructs that overlap with one another but have different labels; whether styles represent traits or states, or whether they have elements of both; and whether styles are value free or value laden (i.e., some styles are more desirable than others in terms of human learning and performance). Over the years, the aforementioned difficulties inherent in intellectual styles impeded the progress of the field and confused both practitioners and the general public. Despite these and other difficulties, the field has flourished since the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Concerted attempts at theoretical conceptualizations have given some degree of unity to disparate bodies of literature. At the same time, tens of thousands of empirical investigations based on a wide range of style models and carried out in diverse populations across the globe have consistently demonstrated the critical roles that styles play in various domains of human lives. Undoubtedly, the existing literature has proved that intellectual styles are real, distinct psychological phenomena. Moreover, research findings have scientific value as well as practical implications for human learning and performance. Nevertheless, for the field to prosper further, several major limitations with the existing work must be overcome, and investigations that take into account the fast-changing world need to be initiated.
Brian A. Gerrard and Gertina J. van Schalkwyk
School-based family counseling (SBFC) is an integrative systems approach to helping children succeed academically and personally through mental health interventions that link family and school. SBFC may be practiced by any of the mental health approaches and is best viewed as a supporting approach to traditional mental health disciplines. An important precursor to SBFC was the guidance clinics attached to schools that were developed by the psychiatrist Alfred Adler in Vienna in the 1920s. A core assumption in SBFC is that the two most important institutions in the life of a young child are the family and the school and that an effective way to help children is by mobilizing both family and school resources. SBFC has eight strengths: school and family focus, systems orientation, educational focus, parent partnership, multicultural sensitivity, child advocacy, promotion of school transformation, and interdisciplinary focus. Despite its early origins, SBFC remains a new approach that challenges traditional mental health disciplines that focus on either school or family, but not both. There is moderate evidence-based support (EBS) for the effectiveness of SBFC, but further research is needed on different approaches to SBFC.
Laura Sokal and Jennifer Katz
Inclusive classrooms provide new opportunities for group membership and creation of effective learning environments. In order to facilitate the success of inclusion as an approach and philosophy, it is important that all class members as well as their teachers develop the skills to understand one another, and to communicate and work together effectively. Social emotional learning (SEL) is aimed at developing these skills and is generally defined to involve processes by which individuals learn to understand and moderate their own feelings, understand the feelings of others, communicate, resolve conflicts effectively, respect others, and develop healthy relationships. These skills are important to both children with disabilities and to those without, in terms of overall social development, perceptions of belonging, and promotion of overall mental wellness, as well as mitigation of the development of mental illness. Research suggests that SEL programming has the potential to effectively enhance children’s academic, social, and relational outcomes. Moreover, teachers who teach SEL in their classrooms have also demonstrated positive outcomes. Despite these encouraging findings, implementation of SEL has been hampered by some limitations, including the lack of a consistent definition—a limitation that in turn affects research findings; lack of teacher education in SEL, which erodes confidence in the fidelity of implementation; and concerns that current SEL programs are not sensitive to cultural differences in communities. Together, the strengths and limitations of SEL illuminate several policy implications regarding the most advantageous ways for SEL to contribute to the success of inclusion in classrooms and schools.
Vera Munde and Peter Zentel
Designing education for learners with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities (PIMD) is a special challenge for both professionals and researchers. Learners with PIMD experience a combination of significant intellectual and other disabilities, such as motor and sensory impairments. Heterogeneity in terms of combination and severity of disabilities is a common characteristic of this group. In the past, learners in this target group were described as not being able to learn due to the complexity of their disabilities. Recent studies do provide evidence that learners with PIMD are in fact able to learn, however, evidence-based practice for designing education for this group of learners is still scarce. One reason could be the difficulties associated with conducting intervention studies such as randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials with this target group. Most studies are designed as single-case studies. Hence, only a small number of studies have investigated topics such as communication, assessment, and teaching curricula to generate knowledge about the education of these learners. The most important conclusion of these studies is that all teaching activities need to be designed according to the strengths and needs of each individual learner with PIMD.
Students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) comprise a diverse group in terms of academic, social, emotional, and behavioral strengths and needs. Identification and diagnostic criteria and terminologies vary widely across and within many countries and school systems, resulting in a complex research base. Estimates of prevalence range from 4 to 15% of students meeting criteria for an emotional and/or behavioral disorder or difficulty. Approaches to teaching learners with E/BD have shifted since the turn of the 21st century from an individual, deficit-focused perspective to a more ecological framework where the environments interacting dynamically with the learner are considered. Research increasingly demonstrates the benefits of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) where the needs of most students can be met through universal preventative and whole-class approaches. Students who do not find success at the first level of supports receive increasingly specialized services including intensive, wraparound services that involve partners beyond school walls. MTSS are common across North America and beyond and are typically focused on externalizing behaviors; positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is the most prevalent multi-tiered system currently being implemented. Since the mid-2000s, efforts have been made to focus on academic as well as behavioral goals for students, often through the inclusion of response-to-intervention approaches. Comprehensive strategies that combine academic and behavioral support while drawing on learner strengths and relationship-building are successfully being adopted in elementary and secondary settings. Approaches include social and emotional learning, mindfulness, peer-assisted learning, and a range of classroom-based instructional and assessment practices that support the academic, social, and emotional development of students with E/BD.