What exactly is “mindfulness” and why are so many teachers using it in their classrooms? According to Mindful, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.”
Whether we are experiencing stress and anxiety or looking for ways to cultivate a greater sense of well-being, practicing mindfulness is one way we can learn how to work with our emotions and access a state of inner-calm at any moment. Mindfulness is a skill that takes practice to cultivate, yet many adults, let alone young people, haven’t been exposed to such techniques. Without an understanding of our thoughts and feelings, it may be difficult to access the mindful presence that is inherent within all of us.
What is mindfulness in the classroom?
While mindfulness sounds like a “nice to have” in any classroom, and may conjure up thoughts of relaxed yoga and meditation sessions replacing rigorous classroom content, the truth is that mindful practices improve learning as students gain more self-awareness, mental focus, and emotional well-being. In addition, mindfulness helps students learn to self-regulate their emotions so that they can be more present for learning throughout the school day.
Mindfulness programs include many different facets, but the goal is aimed at giving students the opportunity to tune into their thoughts, feelings and physical bodies with an open, curious attitude. When chaos rules a classroom, students will not feel safe or reach their individual potential and in fact, chaos leads to student conflict, stress, or disengagement. Practicing mindfulness in the classroom can offer solutions to these issues.
Adding this practice to your classroom can be as simple as pausing for a 3-minute breathing exercise or as dynamic as giving students time and space to talk about their emotions. Regardless, it is meant to be a supportive compliment to your curriculum and content as a way to enhance student engagement.
Do mindfulness activities really work?
Not only does mindfulness prepare students to manage stress and anxiety of the modern world, it has been shown to improve peer-to-peer relationships and increase learning within classrooms.
According to Waterford Upstart, mindfulness activities support students in three main ways:
- Practicing mindfulness can alter the brain to help one better respond to stress. By thickening the cerebral cortex, we see increased blood flow to the brain itself. This allows for reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Students learn new ways to interact with peers as they are able to recognize and respond to their emotions more easily. This has helped schools significantly reduce bullying issues and other negative peer-to-peer interactions.
- Mindfulness strategies reduce classroom disruptions for all students, including students with learning disabilities and special needs. Reduced distractions lead to more learning opportunities for the entire class.
Can mindfulness help students do better in school?
According to a 2019 study from the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, mindfulness exercises helped students hone their ability to focus in the moment and expanded their capability to regulate emotions. Higher levels of mindfulness were associated with better grades, higher standardized test scores in math and English language arts, better attendance, and fewer suspensions.
Another study from the University of British Columbia showed that students who participated in a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program for only 12 weeks saw an increase in math scores compared to students from the same class who did not participate.
Mindfulness increases self-awareness and emotional regulation, which in time can help students’ learning engagement. When students encounter conflict, awareness of their emotions and the emotions of others results in a more positive response. The dynamic shifts from reacting impulsively to responding thoughtfully when strong emotions arise.
How do you practice mindfulness in the classroom?
Incorporating a daily or weekly classroom mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. The point is not to add more stress to your plate but learn how to manage stress when it arises. Here are a few quick and easy exercises you can add into your classroom today:
- Breathing exercises - Before having students start a test or quiz, set a timer for one minute and practice mindful breathing. Along with the students, inhale to the count of two and exhale to the count of two.
- Discuss emotions - Take a minute at the beginning of each class to ask students to do an emotion check-in. This can be a quiet minute for students to think or journal to themselves. Or, it can be an opportunity for students to voice their feelings aloud.
- Have a space for a stressed student - Clear a part of your classroom to be a safe space for a student to have a minute to themselves. If you see a student visibly becoming irritated or overwhelmed, offer them time in the space. For young children, this could even be a play tent or other semi-private area.
- Gratitude journal - Set aside a 5 minute window once a week for students to journal about things they are grateful for.
- Introduce mindfulness - Take breathing exercises to the next level by guiding students through a short mindfulness practice.
- Talk about the benefits of mindfulness - Discussing the benefits of mindfulness and even sharing experiences from your own life will help students adopt a practice of their own.
Consistency is key, so make mindfulness a part of your daily classroom routine!
Mindfulness is a quality we all possess and can improve through practice. As educators, it is important to give students the tools to balance their stress levels and learn the value of caring for their mental and emotional health on a daily basis.