Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and paying attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surroundings. Mindfulness helps students to be more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions which helps enhance their focus and attention.
As a pedagogical practice, mindfulness is a relatively new addition to the classroom. When I first started teaching over two decades ago, you can barely come across the concept in the education literature. Today, there are countless books and articles on the subject, as well as numerous trainings for teachers to learn how to bring mindfulness into their classrooms.
I was first introduced to the pedagogical practice of mindfulness during my Master’s classes. Professor Susan Walsh used to start her classes with few minutes of breathing practice . I find the practice very rewarding. Those moments of meditative peace and tranquility would instantly relieve your stress, improve concentration and prime you for focused learning.
Several studies now prove the benefits of mindfully teaching in the classroom. For instance, a new study conducted on sixth-graders at a Boston charter school has shown that mindfulness education, which teaches techniques to calm the mind and body, can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase students’ ability to stay engaged. The study showed that students who participated in an eight-week mindfulness training were less stressed out and had better self-control than their classmates who hadn’t.
Another study using thematic analysis on mindfulness journals written by 38 elementary school students found that mindfulness enhances student wellbeing and helps children develop a greater awareness of their body, mind, and emotions.
As a teacher, you can easily integrate mindfulness practice into your daily teaching routine. In fact, an increasing number of teachers are currently integrating mindfulness into their instruction. If you haven’t already tried it in your own classroom, here are few tips to help you make the best of mindfulness in your teaching:
1) Incorporate mindful breathing exercises
I have seen this exercise being used by several professors. The practice is simple and easy: ask your students to close their eyes and take few deep breaths. This not only helps them relax, but it also helps to focus their attention on the present moment.
2) Introduce mindful movement activities
Introducing simple yoga-inspired movements into the classroom setting will help your students to release their stress, clear their minds and prepare them for learning. Examples include stretching exercises , Tai Chi movements and even walking meditations. You can also use guided mindfulness activities or guided visualization exercises. These can be very calming and lead to improved concentration.
3) Use mindful meditations
In his book Curriculum as Meditative Inquiry, professor Ashwani Kumar whom I had the privilege to work with on a number of research projects, stresses the importance of introducing meditative inquiry into the classroom. This type of inquiry practice helps to bring mindful awareness and compassion into the learning process.
Mindful meditation is one way to do this. Research shows that meditation can help students manage stress and improve self-awareness, concentration, focus, creativity and emotional regulation. You can start each class with a brief meditation session, or you can use mindful meditation throughout the day to help students take a break and recenter themselves.
3) Teach mindful listening
Mindful listening means to listen without judgment, or offer a response or advice. This can be very beneficial in helping your students become more aware of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. It also cultivates empathy enabling students to focus on the feelings of the speaker.
You can introduce the concept of mindful listening in your classroom by asking students to take few moments and simply listen without judgment, or offer any advice. This practice not only creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding, but it also helps to improve student’s listening skills and overall communication.
In her article, How to Practice Mindfulness Listening, Elaine Smookler explains that mindful listening requires setting aside distractions and judgments, paying attention to body language and tone of voice, and being open and curious. Elaine also offers four steps for practicing mindful listening: setting an intention, being fully present, suspending judgments, and reflecting on the conversation.
4) Ask your students to keep a mindfulness journal
Keep in mind that mindfulness is not limited to breathing exercises and meditation. It can manifest itself in many different forms. As such, you can ask your students to keep a mindfulness journal in which they write down their thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. I have been practicing journaling for many years and can’t stress enough its importance in helping to stay focused and organized.
The key in effective journaling is the free flow of ideas from your mind into your journal. It clears up cluttered spaces in your mind and makes you aware of your inner thoughts, thoughts that might have gone unnoticed had you not taken the time to write them down.
When you use journaling with students, give them total freedom to write what is on their mind regardless of grammar, spelling or structure. Ask them to think of their journal as a space in which they can express and explore their feelings without fear or judgement. This can be a great way for them to learn how to regulate their emotions, and to develop deeper insight into the issues that matter most in their lives.
5) Create a calm learning environment
Make your classroom a peaceful and calming space by using soft lighting, soothing music, and natural elements such as indoor plants and nature-inspired decorations. This will help your students to relax and focus on their learning.
Research has proved the importance of indoor plants in improving student’s concentration and learning. Plants can also help to reduce stress levels, purify the air, boost morale and improve overall wellbeing and productivity.
6) Encourage mindfulness outside of the classroom
Encourage students to take mindfulness practices outside of school. Suggest that they practice mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation, and walking in nature. You can also recommend books or podcasts on mindfulness topics. This can help build healthy habits that can improve their overall well-being.
Overall, incorporating mindfulness into your teaching can tremendously improve the well-being and success of students. For those of you who are new to the concept, keep in mind that it will take time before you can fully understand the benefits and effects of mindfulness practices. However, with dedication and consistency, you will see the positive changes it brings to your classroom and your students.