How Mindfulness in K-12 Classrooms Eases Stress, Produces Better Decisions

Ten or 20 years ago, mindfulness seemed like the forte of yogis, hippies and the like. But bit by bit, the practice of mindfulness (and meditation and yoga) has found its way into the mainstream. Today, Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, the U.S. military and educational institutions are integrating mindfulness practice into their company ethos and 9-to-5 workday.

mindful practice is good for teachers and students alikeBroadly speaking, mindfulness means being aware of the thoughts that enter into your brain and, in theory, considering them before they trigger a response. In practice, meditation and mindfulness can reduce stress and depression while increasing compassion and self-awareness. Students at every level can benefit from mindfulness because it helps them become more considerate and alleviates the pressures they start feeling at a young age.

Mindfulness for students

Some educators still brush off the idea of integrating mindfulness into their school week, but if you’re interested in giving it a try, you have a lot of options. Ultimately, mindfulness practice can be accomplished in just a few minutes a few times a week.

For children ages 3-10, teachers can ask them to practice mindfulness in roughly three- to five-minute spurts.  During this time, students are asked to refocus their minds, pay attention to their breathing and how their bodies feel, and to notice the thoughts that come into their heads.

This practice helps young students refocus before moving to a new activity. It also can help them find better ways to respond to adversity in their everyday lives. For instance, students can recognize the anxiety of waiting for a family member and accept those feelings rather than react to them.

With middle and high school students, however, mindfulness requires getting student buy-in. Many students at this age aren’t particularly motivated to practice mindfulness. They may feel the practice seems somewhat ridiculous and don’t see the relevance to their lives.

Many experts agree that to generate buy-in, teachers should first get students to recognize the stress they feel. The stress might be related to school, their home lives, relationships with friends or partners, or performance in sports or other extracurricular activities. Once students recognize their stress, teachers can show how mindfulness can help them find a  response that makes them feel better.

That can help students boost their academic performance and strengthen their relationships. Students also can calm their worries and recognize stress related to projection, which is baseless, compared to stress rooted in reality.

Mindfulness for educators

A great deal of research shows teachers also benefit from mindfulness. Mindful educators not only do a better job of managing stressful classrooms and encounters with difficult students, but they also become better teachers.

Many teachers who practice mindfulness report that they feel more present while teaching, which enables them to focus on the lesson they are giving rather than what is coming next. Teachers also report that practicing mindfulness makes them more aware of what they are saying when they say it, creating more purposeful lectures and a better learning environment for students.

Practicing mindfulness as an educator and encouraging it in students can help foster a better, more focused teaching process that helps students to become more mindful in their studies and interactions with students and teachers alike.

Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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