Over the past two years, I have heard more school administrators and meditation teachers ask me how to measure the success of the meditation and mindfulness programs. Whether you implement your program in a school, therapy practice, or at yoga studio, you will be surprised how rewarding working with data can be. Moreover, relying on an organized research process, will allow you to improve the implementation of your program.
First and foremost, I suggest you stay intentional throughout your research process. For example, at the onset of your study, create a thoughtful list of qualities that indicate to you that your meditation or mindfulness program is successful. Then purposely build your process of collecting data based on your list.
Some of the qualities I personally look for in a successful training program are enhanced focus, increased academic progress, healthier relationships, improved skills (i.e. athletic), and higher executive functioning (organization). Here, I list what I am looking for in each category. In other words, the following indicate to me that my program is successful.
Enhanced Focus: Longer duration on tasks, less looking up to survey surroundings during tasks, physical stillness (less pencil tapping/table kicking), and more thoughtful responses.
Increased Academic Progress: Positive reports from teachers, higher grades, positive attitude, academics become a higher priority, and increased self-fulfillment from academic work.
Healthier Relationships: Less reports of bullying, more self-regulated responses, less button pushing, more complimentary comments about others, and frequent instances of including others.
Improved skills: Higher game/competition scores, increased confidence, improved musical abilities, more time on the field, increased desire to be challenged.
Higher Executive Functioning: More prepared, less forgetful, interest in planning for the future, and more organized bedroom, locker, & book bag.
Your categories might be slightly different than mine. For example, you might wish to replace academic progress with improved sleep; or switch out higher executive functioning for reduced OCD symptoms. If so, make your own list of qualities that indicate to you these goals have been achieved.
Questionnaires are an effective way to determine how successful your mindfulness or meditation program is. In a questionnaire, you can ask open-ended questions, such as, “How have your relationships with your peers changed for the better or for the worse during the last two weeks?”
You might also ask respondents to score their experiences on a questionnaire. For instance, “On a scale of 1 – 5, five being the highest, how well have you been able to keep focused on your work?” Additionally, you might consider giving the respondent examples for each rating. This will help you collect more consistent results. For example, “Score yourself 1 if you spend most of your time devoted to a task trying to focus. Score yourself 2 if you are able to complete some work but catch yourself looking around or getting out of your seat frequently during the task. Score yourself 3 if you complete most of your work but struggle to focus, stopping and starting periodically. Score yourself 4 if you are focused on your task almost the entire time while working. Score yourself 5 if you are completely focused on your task the entire time. “Interviews are another way to document your subjects’ responses. During interviews questions such as, “What benefits have you noticed in your life that you believe are a result of your meditation practice?” For a younger child you might simply ask, “What in your life has gotten better or easier since you started practicing mindfulness?” Or, bring up a particular challenge the student faces and ask them to explain how they are faring that week in regards to that particular challenge. For instance, “I know earlier this month you were getting into arguments with a few of your friends at school. How would you describe this situation now?”
I highly recommend that you video record these interviews so you can extract more information from them after the interview. Additionally, you can view the videos taken over a span of time in one sitting to observe trends in improvement. Use a checklist to indicate when an interviewee mentions organization improvement, increased focus, or better sleep. Use a new checklist for each interview. If the checklists are dated, then you will know exactly how long into the program your students were experiencing which benefits. For example, “After four weeks, Sage reported that she noticed her soccer skills improve."
Questionnaires and interviews can be given to not only the children learning how to meditate, but also their parents, their school teachers, their therapist, or anyone else who observes the child on a regular basis. All of these parties are invaluable to the process of evaluating your meditation program. If possible make these questionnaires and interviews as concise as possible. For example, for a school teacher you might create a questionnaire with ten questions that require a 1 – 5 rating. For parents you might ask two open-ended poignant questions about what they have noticed about their child. I suggest making these intake sessions brief, yet frequent. The regularity of these sessions should be based on the regularity of the child’s meditation training and practice. For example, if the child is meditating or practicing mindfulness daily, a weekly check in is appropriate. If the child is meditating once a week, then questionnaires and interviews should be conducted monthly.
Crunching the Data
So now you have a pile of completed questionnaires and digital interviews piled high on your desk. Now what? Your next step is to compile the information gathered. Tally how many times a parent said their child's athletics improved, for example. Go through your questionnaires and tally how many students rated their relationships with peers a 4 or higher.
Once you have these data points, you can then create statistics that are easy to understand and communicate. For example, you might calculate that 72% of your students scored themselves 4 or higher for “I have increased focused on school work.” While 39% of your students scored themselves 4 or better on “I better respond to others when I am angry.” Additionally, you might find that 45% of those interviewed shared that they were better at maintaining a neat locker; however, 96% reported that their grade point average increased after one month of meditating.
These statistics are critical in making conclusions about the successes of your program. Based on the statistics above, I would say this program is effective in improving focus on academic work; however, not as applicable for anger management. With this data you can market your program more towards increased attention or rework your program to better improve the channeling a child’s anger.
Your research may take several months to pull off; however, you will be impressed with the process and what it offers. Good luck and feel free to contact me about your research questions.
Article written by Sarah Wood Vallely Copyright 2015 Sarah Wood Vallely