- What Is Mindful Education?
- Mindfulness in the Classroom
- Practice for Teachers & Teaching
- Recipes for a Calmer Classroom
- Book Suggestions
- Relevant and Related Searches
What Is Mindful Education?
To find balance, you must understand your feelings. To understand your feelings, you must see them clearly, without running from them.
These encouraging words are spoken by the magical mentor-figure Garnet in an episode of the popular Cartoon Network series for children, Steven Universe. An intergalactic teacher to the show’s child protagonists Steven and Connie, Garnet introduces them to mindfulness over the course of the episode, which is called “A Mindful Education.”
Being mindful simply means engaging with the present moment rather than becoming overwhelmed by one’s internal concerns. As Steven and Connie master techniques like breathing deeply and processing their troubling thoughts, the pair increasingly demonstrate the benefits of practicing mindfulness: they become able to respond to one another, work effectively together as a team. It is only by learning not to become engulfed by their respective internal turmoils that they can devote themselves wholly to accomplishing their shared mission of performing a fusion and morphing into the combat character Stevonnie.
Like Stephen and Connie, kids and adults can profit from learning to master their responses to the stresses and strains of daily life. However, there’s more to mindfulness than keeping a cool head. “Many studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can increase the activity and mass of the region of the brain associated with emotional intelligence,” says the celebrated Zen Buddhist teacher Takafumi Kawakami. Mindfulness has also been found to facilitate stress relief, improve one’s ability to sleep and to be helpful in managing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness Can Stop the Classroom Becoming a Pressure Cooker
According to a recent survey by the Gallup’s State of America Schools Report, 46 percent of U.S teachers experience high levels of stress on a daily basis: a higher percentage of teachers have this experience than the nation’s doctors. It’s no wonder that teachers are so frequently rendered helpless or anxious by the pressures of the job, which entails juggling many different responsibilities simultaneously.
Mindful education expert Dr. Tish Jennings is an internationally recognised leader in the field of emotional and social learning. She concentrates her expertise on bringing calmness to classrooms worldwide.
Jennings explains that the working day can easily become stressful for teachers because both they and the children they are teaching are “captives” who must spend a certain period of time together. When many of the individuals in the space are affected by stress, this makes them more likely to react to their surroundings with irritation and the classroom can easily become a “pressure cooker.”
Furthermore, outside the classroom, teachers must fulfil additional obligations, such as demonstrating to the establishment’s administration and external examiners that their students are meeting their learning objectives, and factoring in additional teaching time for those who are struggling. Pressures like these can easily weigh on a teacher’s mind throughout the day, diverting their focus from teaching and thereby worsening the learning experience that they deliver.
A primary or secondary education teaching role entails:
- Covering a certain amount of academic material per lesson
- Ensuring that the material has been understood by everybody in the class
- Meeting learning objectives and preparing students for important tests
- Balancing the learning needs of individual students with the class as a whole
- Tracking the progress of each student
- Helping each individual student to keep on top of their own personal planning and organisation
- Being aware of any personal problems that students may be experiencing which may affect their performance at school
- Dealing with problematic social behaviour exhibited by students
- Settling disputes between students
- Communicating effectively with other teachers
- Reporting to administrators and parents
Due to the complex nature of the profession, the fact that every teacher will experience a certain amount of stress is inevitable. However, according to a 2016 research brief by Pennsylvania State University, experiencing high levels of stress regularly can have a deleterious impact on teachers and their schools, with outcomes including poor health and wellbeing, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction.
Worst of all, being over-stressed can eventually lead to burnout: becoming exhausted, listless and completely unable to cope with the demands of the job. It is not only important for the teacher’s well-being that they find means such as mindfulness to reduce their stress, but for the children or young adults in their care, as stressed teachers are likely to pass this mindstate on to their pupils.
Stress Is Contagious: A Panic Pandemic
A recent study on stress contagion (when stress is passed on from one person to another, or spreads through a group) shows a direct link between teachers experiencing burnout, and the stress response of their students. Higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) were detected among the elementary school students in classes lead by burned out teachers.
According to a 2014 survey of the power of stress-related coping strategies, burnout is most likely to occur when the methods workers use in their attempts to protect themselves from work-related stress prove ineffective. Disengagement, cynicism and denial are all common psychological responses to being in a stressful or otherwise unsatisfactory employment situation, but, unlike mindfulness exercises, they do not have the potential to improve the way one reacts to the situation or to reduce the levels of stress derived from it.
Mindfulness can help a stressed teacher avoid eventually burning out. Furthermore, if one practices regularly, it can reduce their potential to conduct the stress they feel to the class at large. Mindfulness techniques can help everyone to find a sense of balance, think more clearly, relate to others with more compassion, derive greater enjoyment from their activities and focus on the task at hand.
The mental clarity that can be achieved with mindfulness exercises can make it possible to accomplish ostensibly difficult endeavours and navigate impossible-seeming high-pressure situations, such as taking a difficult exam or preparing a classroom full of stressed-out kids to sit one. A mindful education can nurture teachers as individuals, and classes as a whole.
How Can Mindfulness Make a Great Teacher?
The mindfulness-based stress-reduction pioneer (MBSR) Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrates acute awareness of the fact that teaching comes with inextricable pressures: “It’s an intrinsically stressful profession for which there’s never enough support. Tests are stressful for kids, but imagine being in charge of a class of stressed kids!”
The school day doesn’t ostensibly have time for self-reflection built into it, but according to Kabat-Zinn, finding the time to perform mindfulness exercises the key to surmounting teaching’s pressures and excelling in one’s role. When one spends so much of one’s working day taking action, he explains, it can be very easy to forget “who’s doing all the doing.”
To excel throughout their incredibly action-packed day, a teacher must look after their interior mind. Mindfulness practice can help make one more resilient to the highly-pressurised situations one encounters.
With mindfulness practice integrated into their routine, teachers will be better able to ensure that they are:
- Approachable: teachers should provide guidance beyond the curriculum. A great teacher is somebody whom pupils feel able to talk to on a one-to-one basis about any problems they have, academic or otherwise. Being tuned into the present moment through mindfulness will allow teachers to become fully aware of the various temperaments at play in the class around them and make themselves available for private conversations with students who are in need of personal guidance.
- Adaptable: It would be wonderful if every stage of the school timetable (or even a given lesson!) went according to plan. However, a defining characteristic of teaching is that one has to expect the unexpected. With a mind calmed through mindfulness, teachers will be better able to cope with whatever changes of plan the school day throws their way, switching gear with gusto rather than panicking about straying from the script.
- Leading: A great teacher is a great leader. Although the act of educating (ex ducere, in Latin) means to lead the natural potential of one’s students out into fruition, which means encouraging them to think for themselves, it is important for teachers to maintain an uncontested level of authority. Delivering instructions about deadlines and cautions about behaviour to one’s class with a calmly confident manner will encourage students to accept authority. How can one acquire a confident leadership style? Mindfulness practice, of course!
- Accessible: A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t possible in teaching. Every pupil must understand the content in the curriculum, but everyone in the class may have different individual learning habits, strengths and weaknesses, and they may need to have the concepts explained to them in a different way. Practicing mindfulness will increase a teacher’s’ empathy for students struggling with particular concepts, maximising the usefulness of the time they devote to making their teaching content accessible and the creativity with which they devise new methods of explanation.
- Engaging: Lessons should not only be comprehensive, but thought-provoking. With the ability to teach in the here and now, educators should be able to spot pupils whose attention is wandering, and identify places in their lesson plans where they are likely to lose their audience. Rather than being phased by the prospect of daydreamers, a mindful teacher can relish the challenge of finding interesting, fun, ways to bring her class back to earth and the topic at hand.
- Observant: It’s easy to notice that a student who consistently hands in their homework late, talks during class or is generally disruptive might be experiencing problems which need a tailored pastoral care approach. However, it’s just as important for educators to be tuned into subtler signs that students might be struggling, especially as some problems which students can encounter - such as a propensity towards eating disorders - generally affect high-achieving individuals who won’t present with poor academic performance. Furthermore, students often actively try to hide problems of this nature.
Being able to turn away from one’s own inner turmoil using mindfulness can help a teacher notice and respond appropriately to both loud and quiet signs of distress.
- Respectful: A teacher should respect every individual in the educational establishment, in order to inspire a collective stance of kindness, tolerance and respect towards others in their students. By practicing mindfulness and encouraging one’s students to the same, teachers can promote a mindset with is naturally conducive towards behaving considerately and respecting others.
- Inspiring: The American educator and motivational speaker William Arthur Ward once said, “the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” As a teacher practices mindfulness and feeds the parts of their brain which are instrumental to lesson-planning, they will become excited about the material they are presenting and will find that teaching dynamically inspires a love of learning in their students.
- Professional: A professional teacher is organised - both personally, and in terms of being prepared for each lesson they are going to teach. Teaching professionalism also involves punctuality, dressing appropriately for the school day, behaving consistently without allowing emotions such as frustration or anger to affect the way they treat their pupils or colleagues, and collaborates effectively with their fellow teachers and other staff.
With a clear head such as mindfulness practice facilitates, teachers will find it possible to take a professional and dignified stance in accordance with the school’s code of conduct, regardless of any inner agitations they may be experiencing.
To demonstrate how mindfulness functions to help a teacher improve in their role, Kabat-Zinn likens the activity of practicing mindfulness techniques to that of tuning an instrument: “you have to tune the instrument of learning before you actually carry out the learning.” In this analogy, the teacher “tunes” their persona with mindfulness practices before entering the classroom (or, in Kabat-Zinn’s phraseology, the orchestral performance) and becomes ready to shine.
Mindfulness Practice for Teachers (and for Teaching)
It is easy for teachers to underestimate the importance of self-care, but it is necessary for them to find moments to integrate mindfulness practices into their routine if they wish to pass on their ability to embrace the present moment to their students.
Mindfulness practices that are suitable for carrying out at school can be geared towards:
- Establishing a sense of groundedness within one’s body
- Regulating one’s breathing
- Noticing one’s thoughts without necessarily being drawn into them
Practices with aims like these can all be performed in a short space of time. They can help a stressed teacher to find their balance even on the most challenging of school days.
Take Time Out
As mindfulness-mentor Garnet sings in the episode of the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe called “Mindful Education”: ”Take a moment to remind yourself,/ To take a moment and find yourself.” Taking time out to practice mindfulness is “self-centering,” rather than self-centered, explains Jennifer Howd, author of Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat (2017).
Although it will not always be possible to take a significant amount of time “out” during the school day, taking a thirty minute break where possible to practice mindfulness can give a frazzled teacher a clearer head and enable them to carry on. It’s always better to take the time to explore and diffuse the sensations of pressure one feels rather than allowing them to build up unaddressed.
Be at One With the Body
The Zen master and mindful education specialist Thich Nhat Hanh, author of Body and Mind are One (2013) is an advocate of syncing one’s mind with his body. He says, “when body and mind work together as one, you are fully and naturally in the present moment.” Achieving a headspace where one is fully able to be engage with the present moment is key to creating a truly interactive and memorable learning experience which is rewarding for both teachers and their pupils.
Mindfulness exercises which allow one to connect with one’s body and physical surroundings can involve:
- Body scanning: Exercises of this type involve focussing systematically on different regions of one’s body such as the feet, legs, pelvis, chest, hands and arms, clenching and releasing tension from each body part in turn whilst monitoring one’s physical feelings in that area as one does so. This is an effective way to bring a wandering mind back into one’s body.
- Sensory perception: Focussing on one’s senses, or a particular sense, can allow one to reconnect with one’s surroundings in a physical capacity. Taking a minute to count the number of different scents one can smell or sounds one can hear can bring one out of a moment of seemingly overwhelming stressfulness and back into the present moment.
- Breathwork: When one is anxious or stressed, breathing in such a way that one provides one’s body with insufficient oxygen and thereby facilitates the negative physical effects of stress is all too easily done. However, practicing mindful breathing exercises can be an excellent method of achieving relaxation.
- These can involve inhaling and exhaling whilst counting to a particular number, changing the speed at which one breathes and breathing through alternate nostrils. In general, all mindful breathing techniques focus the mind on the act of breathing itself, rerouting one’s attention away from the worries that had been impacting upon one’s healthy breathing rhythm.
- Yoga: According to a recent study supported by the world class yoga university S-VYASA, one can develop mindfulness capabilities through Yoga practices which can significantly increase one’s ability to regulate one’s behaviour in ways that are conducive to emotional well-being. At the conclusion of the study, participants who had practiced Yoga displayed significantly lower levels of aggression in the workplace than those in the control group.
Labelling Is Enabling
One often experiences confluences of several emotions and thoughts. This is especially the case during the working day in a profession such as teaching, as one is exposed to many different stimuli at once. On a given day, a teacher might simultaneously be anxious in the long term about a particular year group’s performance in an upcoming test, acutely concerned about a social issue affecting a particular student and startled by the sudden need to cover for an absent colleague at the last minute.
The cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) technique of labelling one’s thoughts and feelings as they occur, (for example, taking a second to step back and think: “that’s the anxiety again!”) can create a sense of distance between oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings, making them easier to process and less likely to seem like a threatening, tangled mess of ungovernable impulses.
Integrating mindfulness practices into one’s lifestyle can be difficult at first, especially during the school day. These mnemonics are tools that teachers can memorise easily, and contain tools for remembering the cornerstones of mindfulness:
- Accepting one’s feelings
- Taking pauses as needed
- Embracing the here and now
Thoughts and Feelings Come and Go, Just Like R.a.I.N
Taking a moment to recognise, explore and move on from one’s thoughts and feelings as they occur can be a useful tactic for not letting yourself get taken on an emotional roller-coaster. That’s where R.A.I.N comes in:
- Recognise: The first step to walking away from the negative headspace that some thoughts and feelings tend to bring with them is to notice each thought and feeling as it occurs and
- label it. Even when one is thinking and feeling a mix of different things simultaneously, labeling one emotion (for example, “I feel stressed right now” and focussing on unpacking the implications of that feeling for the purpose of this exercise can help to simplify your headspace.
- Accept: Accepting your chosen feeling or thought doesn’t mean embracing it, or welcoming the experience of thinking or feeling that way. Acceptance merely means acknowledgement that you are having this experience in the here and now.
- Investigate: Notice how the thought or feeling you have chosen to focus on is affecting different areas of your body. Are you experiencing muscle tension, and if so where? Are you breathing fast, or slow? What does it feel like to change the pace of your breathing? This process of exploring your bodily reaction to your experience of the here and now will help you re-centre yourself and come back into your body and the present moment. Notice any other thoughts or feelings that come to you as you investigate how you are feeling.
- Non- Identify: As you come back into your body, remember that every thought and feeling you experience is just a reaction to a given moment in time: they are not permanent, and they do not have to define you. No matter how intense a feeling is, or how preoccupying a thought is, it is always possible to acknowledge it, explore it, let it go, and come into a new headspace.
There’s Always Time to S.T.O.P
This simple mnemonic is a brilliant tool for teachers and pupils alike to dismantle a tangle of thoughts and emotions, and take a step back from a situation which feels challenging. After going through the four stages of S.T.O.P, everyone be able to continue their day with a clearer head.
- Stop: Pause, and take a step back from what you are doing. Put down anything you may be holding. Get comfortable.
- Take a few deep breaths: Breathing mindfully is different from breathing normally. Often, when we are stressed, we forget to take deep breaths. Concentrate on the sensation of your breathing. To slow your racing mind down, inhale through your nose, count to ten, and exhale out through your mouth, also counting to ten.
- Observe: Pay attention to the sensation of the breath going in and out of your body. Observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice that your thoughts are not facts. Explore your emotions. Note any physical feelings in your body, such as muscle tension or a clenched jaw. Relax.
- Proceed: Rather than resuming the activity you’ve paused in order to perform this exercise, proceed by doing something that will make you feel better. This could be drinking a glass of water, having a conversation about your worries with a friend, or going outside for a breath of fresh air.
It will often be the case during the school day that one cannot “Proceed” with an activity that is a total alternative to teaching the lesson, such as going for a walk. However, it is always possible to chose an alternative to the exact lesson plan. Performing a group mindfulness practice with the students or setting them a timed text-book exercise are alternative activities which a teacher might suggest after performing S.T.O.P, rather than taking up the situation which led to the outbreak of stress.
Embrace the Here and Now With O.N.E M.I.N.D
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) practitioner Thomas Marra PhD says that one of the most helpful tactics one can use to move past a thorny emotional headspace is to focus on the here and now.
He developed this useful mnemonic O.N.E M.I.N.D to as a reminder of the mindfulness techniques one can use to return to the present moment:
- O: One thing at at time
- N: Being in the here and Now
- E: Attend to the Environment
- M: Be attentive to the Moment
- I: Increase your five senses
- N: Take a Non-judgemental stance
- D: Describe what you experience without interpretation
Recipes for a Calmer Classroom
There’s no reason to make a secret of practicing mindfulness. The mindful education expert Dr. Tish Jennings makes a point of reassuring teachers that, even during a lesson itself, one should not feel shy about pausing the lesson, announcing to the class that one is feeling stressed and performing a breathing exercise. Demonstrably practicing mindfulness can provide students with a positive example which they can then choose to emulate.
Demonstrating that one uses mindfulness exercises to become better at processing stressful situations is an excellent prelude to introducing students to the idea of using these techniques themselves. Here are some examples of mindfulness exercises which lend themselves to being performed in large groups and are ideal for introducing one’s pupils to mindfulness.
The average person takes between 17,280 and 23,040 breaths a day. However, many people don’t ensure that they get the best out of breathing. Performed correctly, breathing can maximise the amount of oxygen one delivers to one’s body, which helps us to feel more energised and reduces stress.
Headspace recommends this simple exercise that can introduce a teaching group of any age to the concept of improving one’s breathing technique:
- Breathe deep into the diaphragm through the back of the throat for four seconds
- Hod for four seconds
- Breathe out through the back of the throat for six seconds
- Hold empty breath for two or more seconds
Periodically reminding one’s class to breathe well by performing this exercise at the beginning or end of lessons is an easy and rapid way to engender a calmer classroom.
Make a Mindful Jar
Recommended by the Positive Psychology Program, making a mindful jar is a particularly useful activity for introducing primary-school aged kids to mindfulness. However, making and using a mindful jar can help people of any age to be more mindful, because both creating and using the jar require one to focus one’s intention on the here and now.
To make a mindfulness jar, the following items are needed:
- A mason jar
- Glitter glue
- Three heaped tablespoons of glitter
Put the glitter in the jar, fill it almost to the top with water, and the dry glitter and glue or glitter-glue, and screw the lid on tightly.
For the mindfulness practice:
Shake the jar, and imagine that the whirl of glitter represents the inner chaos you feel when you are overwhelmed by thoughts and/or feelings. Put the jar down on a flat surface and watch as the glitter begins to fall to the bottom. This is a visual representation of how you can stabilise the turbulence within yourself when you take a moment to stay still and re-enter the present moment.
Visualisations That Revitalise
Children are naturally imaginative and guided imagery can therefore be an effective tool for encouraging them to explore the connections between their bodies, selves and minds. Guided imagery involves using a narrative to turn thoughts, feelings and difficult concepts into characters, inanimate objects or elements of a story, so that they become easier to cope with. Employed effectively, guided imagery meditation can even reduce physical pain.
The the Steven Universe episode, “Mindful Education,” contains an excellent example of guided imagery and its positive effects. The troubling thoughts and emotions which flit into the protagonists Connie and Steven’s minds are visually represented as butterflies. As they learn to notice and accept what their thoughts and emotions rather than trying to suppress them, the butterflies become less bothersome: they appear momentarily and glide on by, rather than swarming around the characters in such a way as to prevent them from continuing with their activities.
Guided imagery exercises can help children to explore and overcome problems including:
- Low self-esteem
- Back-to-school jitters
- Difficulties concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
Mindful Education Books
In 2017, there is a wealth of reading material available to educators who wish to incorporate mindfulness into their teaching practice. Here is a selection of top-rated, recent publications on mindful education which are suitable for educators wishing to embark on a more mindful approach to teaching.
Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom by Dr. Tish Jennings
The pioneering Dr. Tish Jennings is a leading light in the field of mindful education. With Mindfulness for Teachers (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015), Jennings brings together insights from her own long and illustrious teaching career with cutting-edge discoveries concerning the benefits of mindfulness from neuroscientific and psychological studies. This accessible, witty and practical handbook offers teachers the chance to explore and harness transformative mindfulness techniques which are revitalising the teaching profession.
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
The mindfulness meditation guru Thich Nhat Hanh has over thirty years of experience in teaching parents, teachers and kids alike to use mindfulness meditation as a means of increasing compassion, concentration, communication and connection – with one another and with the natural world. With this book Planting Seeds (Parallax Press, 2011) and its accompanying CD, Hanh offers insights into the principles of mindfulness, catchy songs which can help kids to understand them and practical activities which parents and educators can perform in any setting in order to plant the seeds of a mindful education.
Even More Books
- Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford
- Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Animal Designs by Blue Star Coloring
- Adult Coloring Book: 30 Inspirational Coloring Pages, Motivational Quotes And Phrases, Stress Relieving & Relaxing Coloring Book by ColoringCraze
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Coloring Book by Hendry Pratsetya (Author, Illustrator), Jamal Campbell (Illustrator), Goni Montes (Illustrator)
- The Mindfulness Coloring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People (The Mindfulness Coloring Series) by Emma Farrarons
Relevant and Related Searches
- teaching mindfulness
- teaching mindfulness in schools
- teaching children mindfulness
- teach mindfulness courses
- why teach mindfulness in schools
- teach breathe learn mindfulness in and out of the classroom
“How mindfulness can help you to live in the present.” Rev. Takafumi Kawakami. TEDx Kyoto. YouTube. 20 December 2015. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“American Teachers Feel Really Stressed, And It’s Probably Affecting Students.” Huffington Post. 09 April 2017. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“How Mindfulness Can Help Teachers & Educators with Stress.” Live Sonima. YouTube. 06 July 2016. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“Stress contagion in the classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisol in elementary school students.” Social Science & Medicine. June 2016. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“Coping with Stress and Types of Burnout: Explanatory Power of Different Coping Strategies.” PLOS One: Tenth Anniversary. 13 February 2014. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩ ↩2
“From the Source: Children Talk About Handling Difficult Emotions with Mindfulness.” Mindful Schools. 2017. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“Well-being at workplace through mindfulness: Influence of Yoga practice on positive affect and aggression.” AYU: An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda. December 2015. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“Managing Emotions With Mindfulness: The R.A.I.N. Practice.” ImpactADHD.com. 24 March 2014. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
127 More Amazing Tips and Tools for the Therapeutic Toolbox: DBT, CBT and Beyond. Judith A. Belmont. Pesi Publishing and Media 2013. p. 77. ↩
“Transforming the Heart of Teaching: CARE for Teachers.” Tish Jennings. TEDx Washington Square. YouTube. 17 March 2017. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩
“Mindfulness Activities for Children And Teens: 25 Fun Exercises For Kids.” Positive Psychology Program. 03 February 2017. Accessed: 14 October 2017. ↩