Mindfulness Matters: How to Bring Calm into the Classroom for Better Learning

Mindfulness offers infinite benefits for people of all ages. In the classroom, practicing mindfulness can help students become more in tune with their personal needs and emotions. As a result, this helps them reduce anxiety, overcome trauma, and become more focused on learning and growth.

If you’re interested in incorporating mindfulness in your classroom, read on to find out why mindfulness matters, how to explore your own mindful journey and what you can teach to your students.

Why Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness has become a blanket term used to describe a host of ideas regarding self-care, relaxation, and empathy. When it comes to mindfulness in the classroom, however, it’s important to keep the definition focused on learning benefits. Sarah D. Sparks at Education Week explains this increasingly popular technique as “a form of attention training in which students — and sometimes teachers — engage in breathing exercises and visualizations to improve focus and relieve stress.”

Psychologist Juli Fraga says negative early life experiences affect brain development for life. Children and adolescents who experience trauma find it harder to let their guard down and exit the flight or fight mode. This in turn makes it more difficult to relax and concentrate, interfering with learning. Mindfulness helps them feel calmer so that they can overcome their past traumas and be more open and receptive to learning.

Mindfulness is used as a form of psychotherapy treatment for both adults and children who suffer from ADHD, anxiety and other mental health issues, adds Lauren Cassani Davis at The Atlantic. Long-term mindfulness training has also been known to improve attention and empathy, making it a key component of a productive and tolerant classroom environment.

Plus, a handful of studies have also proven the link between teacher mindfulness and teacher success. Specifically, mindfulness has been found to be effective for reducing stress and burnout in teachers, says Emily Campbell, education research assistant at The Greater Good Science Center.

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Setting a Positive Example

Students learn more than just academic lessons from teachers — they glean essential life lessons in kindness, positivity, and stress management. That’s why setting an example of mindfulness for your students is the first and most important way to establish a more mindful class.

In fact, educators need to take a few important steps to explore mindfulness on their own time before passing mindfulness teachings onto their students, Amy L. Eva, an education content specialist, points out. One way to do this is to enroll in a online course that focuses on mindfulness for educators, such as those offered by Mindful Schools. Taking one of these classes with another teacher can be a great way to share the experience and improve the overall school climate as well.

Reading books on the topic is another good starting point. One example is “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom,” written by teacher mindfulness advocate Patricia Jennings, Ph.D. She explains that as adults, we’re responsible for teaching children how to care for and nurture themselves. When we are peaceful, thoughtful and open-hearted around students and other children in our lives, we set positive examples while making ourselves more emotionally available.

Teachers should try to stay mindful and centered when moving about the classroom, writes Anya Kamenetz, lead digital education correspondent for NPR. Since teachers are usually on their feet, being aware of how body weight and pressure shifts from foot to foot can keep them grounded. This encourages teachers to slow down, listen, and pay attention to what’s going on around them, rather than rushing onto the next thing.

Approaches to Mindfulness Teaching

When you’ve explored mindfulness on your own, it’s time to explore different approaches to mindfulness to find an application that will work for your classroom.

One of the best resources for mindful teaching exercises comes from Mindful Classrooms, a teacher-designed website that shares five minute daily practices. Designed to empower teachers and  students, Mindful Classrooms is filled with printables and pages that help make mindfulness approachable for teachers.

Another idea is to turn to other teachers to see which techniques they enjoy most. Mental health care advocate Juliann Garey spoke to some teachers who practice mindfulness in order to better understand their techniques. Since mindfulness is about getting students to sit still and focus their attention, it’s important that teachers know how to settle their students down and engage them in the activity.

Wynne Kinder, author and founder of Wellness Works in Schools, says that she often starts by sharing a personal story related to the topic that the mindfulness session is focused on. This helps build trust with the students so they feel they can share their own thoughts.

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Creating a Mindfulness Space

Creating a relaxing space dedicated to mindfulness is a proven way to help students transition into the right mindset.

According to Mindful Teachers, a resource for living, learning and teaching mindfulness, collecting a few props for this relaxation space can help students feel motivated to participate. For example, gathering snuggly blankets and floor cushions can give students a space to hang out and feel comfortable. Additionally, having chocolate or other snacks reserved for this time can help kids look forward to it (keeping food allergies in mind, of course).

Dr. Lori Boothroyd, a certified mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher who started Mindful Michigan, likes a mind jar. This is a simple tool that helps students and teachers focus on relaxing and quieting their minds. To make one, fill a glass jar with hot water, glitter glue and dish soap. The jar is meant to symbolize a person’s mind, and when they shake it up and watch the glitter settle, it is a therapeutic representation of relieving stress and chaos.

Teacher-focused books are other resources that can be incorporated into your mindfulness hour. Amy Weintraub, founder and director of LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, likes Still Like a Frog, a small book of mindfulness exercises that children and adults can do together.

Teacher Trainings

Certain frameworks are designed to teach teachers specific management techniques for meditation and mindfulness. Specifically, Jill Suttie at Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley showcases one tool called CARE, which stands for Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education.

Designed by the Garrison Institute, CARE is a mindfulness training program created by and for teachers seeking deeper mind-body connections. It takes four day-long sessions spread out over four to five weeks to complete and includes mindful awareness, stress reduction and emotional management skills that help teachers lower stress levels at work and at home. Teachers have reported that training with CARE has helped them manage difficult emotions and psychological distress.

Images by: Jil Wellington, UncleKT, Prasanta Sahoo

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