Foundational Research

During the first few years of running the Pause Breathe Smile mindfulness programme, a series of studies were conducted in collaboration with research teams from AUT and The University of Auckland. Results were published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Observations from teachers 

Rix & Bernay, 2014

Our first qualitative study asked teachers to keep an observation journal of changes they were seeing happening in their classroom as their learners went through the eight-week Pause Breathe Smile programme. This took place in five primary schools around New Zealand, involving six classroom teachers and 126 students ranging in age from 6-11 years. A thematic analysis identified four major themes from the teacher observations: increased calm in the classroom; improved focus and attention; improved relational skills among children; and stress reduction for teachers.

Self-reported outcomes from children

Bernay et al., 2016

This mixed-methods study looked to replicate observational outcomes from the first study and gauge outcomes as reported by children taking part in Pause Breathe Smile. A sample of 124 primary school students from three New Zealand schools completed surveys comprising validated, age-relevant measures of wellbeing and mindfulness before and after the programme. The results showed significant improvements in wellbeing and mindfulness following the programme and corroboration of themes gathered from teacher journals.

Favourable outcomes in comparison to a standard SEL programme

Devcich et al., 2017.

In this study, 106 Students aged between 9 and 11 years were allocated to either Pause Breathe Smile or a standard emotional literacy programme that ran concurrently over the same period. Both programmes led to significant increases in wellbeing outcomes, but significantly greater changes were observed for the PBS group. Mindfulness scores significantly increased for the PBS group only. There was evidence of student acceptability of Pause Breathe Smile and some indication of sustainability of effects at 12 weeks.

Other Research and Evaluations

Since the foundational research, further commissioned reports and studies have been conducted evaluating the programme itself as well as components of teacher training (e.g., the Breathe online mindfulness course).

Positive wellbeing impacts for children and teachers

Rix & Rix, 2018

This report evaluates the wellbeing impact for children resulting from Pause Breathe Smile being implemented in classrooms and the personal wellbeing impact for the educators who participated in Pause Breathe Smile training. The wellbeing impacts in the children included: increased calm, improvements in empathy, kindness and respect and enhanced emotion regulation, resilience and self-regulation. 96% of teachers reported a meaningful improvement in personal wellbeing including feeling calmer, increased self-awareness, feeling more engaged with the class and improvements in collaborative teaching.

Mindfulness in school and at home

Rix & Rix, 2019

In addition to reinforcing already established benefits of Pause Breathe Smile there was a clear theme that young learners were valuing the mindfulness activities being taught as evidenced by their transfer from the school environment to the home environment. The emergence of this theme indicates a degree of intrinsic motivation to use the various Pause Breathe Smile strategies learnt in a variety of ways and situations as each child felt appropriate.

Independent report shows benefits for Māori and non-Māori children

Hynds et al., 2020

This evaluation builds on previous research that has found to Pause Breathe Smile makes a vital contribution to learning and general wellbeing within classrooms and school communities. Evaluation findings have emphasised the many positive and interconnected benefits that Pause Breathe Smile has on Māori and non-Māori children and particularly boys.

Impacts of the Breathe online mindfulness course

Krägeloh et al., 2018

The Breathe online mindfulness course (which forms part of the overall training for teachers prior to delivery of PBS in school) was piloted in this randomized controlled trial. Outcomes measured included depression, anxiety, repetitive negative thinking, dysfunctional attitudes, positive and negative affect, self-compassion, compassion for others, and mindfulness. For participants who attended at least five of the six sessions, scores on all outcome measures improved significantly post-intervention and remained stable at 3-week follow-up.

Ongoing Evaluation

As Pause Breathe Smile has been rolled out to schools nationwide with support from Southern Cross, we remain committed to monitoring programme efficacy and outcomes. In consultation with the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, a wellbeing survey has been developed to capture important wellbeing and other related outcomes, including student wellbeing, learning and interpersonal behaviour, and wellbeing support for teachers. The survey is administered to all schools and teachers taking part in Pause Breathe Smile, with data collected at three timepoints: prior to the start of the programme, at four months follow-up, and at one year follow-up.

Sustained positive improvements in children’s wellbeing and behaviours nationwide

Southern Cross commissions independent evaluation to understand the effects of Pause Breathe Smile on school communities. Surveys are carried out by Dr Reuben Rusk, Dr Rusk has worked in the area of wellbeing science since 2009. Having earned his PhD at the University of Melbourne, he is an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Wellbeing Science where he helps teach Master of Applied Positive Psychology. The research outlined in this report focuses on understanding the impacts and ongoing effects of Pause Breathe Smile for students and their teachers.

Review the full 2023 report findings


Bernay, R., Graham, E., Devcich, D. A., Rix, G., & Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2016). Pause, breathe, smile: A mixed-methods study of student wellbeing following participation in an eight-week, locally developed mindfulness program in three New Zealand schools, Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 9(2), 90-106.

Devcich, D. A., Rix, G., Bernay, R., & Graham, E. (2017). Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based program on school children’s self-reported well-being: A pilot study comparing effects with an emotional literacy program. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 33(4), 309-330.

Hynds, A., Hindle, R., Kus-Harbord, L., & Savage, C. (2020). Impact evaluation for the Pause, Breathe, Smile programme. IHI Research.

Krägeloh, C.U., Medvedev, O.N., Taylor, T. et al. A pilot randomized controlled trial for a videoconference-delivered mindfulness-based group intervention in a nonclinical setting. Mindfulness 10, 700–711 (2019).

Rix, G., & Bernay, R. (2014). A Study of the Effects of Mindfulness in Five Primary Schools in New Zealand. Teachers’ Work, 11(2), 201-220.

Rix, G. & Rix., N. (2018). Pause, Breathe, Smile school-based mindfulness programme: Professional development for Canterbury teachers and classroom implementation. Mindfulness Education Group.

Rix, G. & Rix., N. (2019). Pausing breathing and smiling in the Waikato: Outcomes evaluation. Mindfulness Education Group.

Rusk, R. (2022). Impact evaluation for the Pause Breathe Smile programme. Mindquip.