Reflecting Minds

Development of a mentalization training for elementary educators

Educators are increasingly confronted with a lack of resources and inadequate working conditions. Recent studies indicate that high level of reflective functioning serves as a protective factor in everyday pedagogical work. Reflective functioning describes the ability to reflect on one’s own mental states as well as on those of others by thinking about and imagining feelings, beliefs and desires. Thus, high reflective functioning ability promotes interaction and relationship quality and reduces the perceived stress in educators.

The project aims to improve the mentalizing ability of elementary educators. Therefore, we will develop a training in collaboration with students and teachers of the schools for elementary education in Vöcklabruck and Bischofshofen.

The mentalization training is based on the program B.A.S.E ® - Babywatching. For this, a parent visits the school class with his or her baby and spends 20 to 30 minutes with the child in the circle of students. Together, the interaction between parent and baby (e.g. feeding, playing, diapering) is observed. Specific questions from the group leader encourage the young people to reflect. The specific reflection on thoughts, feelings and intentions of action of parent, child and themselves, trains the mentalization ability.

Together, the group investigates whether the training improves mentalization skills, empathy, self-compassion and emotion regulation, whether there is a reduction in stress levels and whether there is a change in sensitivity in dealing with the children. To test efficacy, changes in the baby observation group will be compared to changes in other school classes that are either taught theoretical knowledge about mentalization in class or simply attend their regular classes.

Students are involved in the research process in both a hypothesis-testing and hypothesis-generating capacity. They keep a research diary of their own experiences with the application of mentalizing in kindergarten practice, which is jointly evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively in workshops after the training is completed. The results are then discussed with each other with regard to the practical relevance of mentalizing skills in everyday work and interpreted together.

(Photocredit © Don Bosco Schulen Vöcklabruck)