Reaching the hearts and minds of our students through Mindfulness
“By changing the way we think, we can take our brains in a new direction …”
In your classroom, are the students “Mind FULL” or “Mindful”? Teaching mindfulness in the classroom is a vital practice, now more than ever. In these stressful times, educators know that students learn best when they are comfortable, safe and relaxed. But how do you incorporate mindfulness into your curriculum and bring calm to your classroom? Read on to learn practical techniques to provide your students with the gift of lifelong learning and tools to become kind and productive adults – using their breath and mind to realise a happy and healthy life of purpose.
The time is now. Schools and teachers have begun bringing mindfulness techniques into the classroom to help students learn to focus, regulate their emotions and manage stress in a healthy way. Why? One of the reasons for the popularity of mindfulness is how simple it is to implement … we just need to press the “pause” button in our busy, instructional day. Furthermore, it is easy, inexpensive and can be practised by anyone at any time and is appropriate for all ages and abilities.
What is Mindfulness Education?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994)
What are the benefits?
- Better focus and concentration.
- Increased calm.
- Decreased stress and anxiety.
- Enhanced health.
- Improved impulse control.
- Mindful communication.
- Skilful ways to respond to difficult emotions.
- Increased self-awareness.
- Increased empathy and understanding of others.
Let’s “unpack” this practice more fully to better understand implications and applications in our classrooms. Mindfulness simply means directing our attention to our experience as it unfolds. The practice of mindfulness allows us to respond more skilfully to whatever is happening – good or bad. Being more mindful improves our thought processes, our feelings, concerns and responses to others. This results in a sense of calmness and helps us to perform better by responding instead of reacting. We can be mindful of our senses and of our inner world of thoughts and emotions. This helps us in our interactions with others as well. The head and heart are working together. Mindfulness isn’t difficult – we just need to remember to do it.
Educators know that students learn best when they are comfortable, confident, safe, calm and relaxed. Mindfulness practices provide our children with the gift of lifelong learning and tools for a happier and healthier life by helping them manage stress.
How do you get started?
Here are some strategies to help you get started that I have implemented in my classrooms to help students improve their focus and reduce their stress. Remember to start small and then gradually extend opportunities for more mindful moments throughout the instructional day. Here are some simple tips to get started:
- Explain what mindfulness is and what it is not – give examples to them that they can relate to.
- Practise mindfulness with them – teacher modeling is essential, plus, it will reduce your stress too
- Assure them that it’s okay if they get distracted with “mind chatter”, and share with them how to remind themselves to be conscious of their breathing
- Ensure they have a positive experience, and discuss their feelings after the exercise.
Simple strategies to encourage focus
- Begin with a “mindful minute”. At the beginning of class, I take 60 seconds to help students focus their attention on their breathing and get their brains ready to learn:
- “Let’s get into our ‘mindful bodies’ – still and quiet, eyes closed.”
- Dim the lights in the room.
- Tell them to rest their hands on their legs.
- “Now focus your attention on the sound you are about to hear. Listen until the sound is completely gone.”
- Gently ring a “mindfulness bell”, (known as a Tibetan “singing bowl” or “energy chime”) or have a student do so. You can use any bell with a sustained sound to help set the tone for mindful listening.
- “Now slowly, mindfully, gently place your hand on your stomach and feel your breaths moving in and out of your chest.”
- Help your students stay focused on their breathing, asking them to inhale and exhale with saying “breathing in … breathing out …”.
- Ring the bell to end the mindful minute.
This simple act of focusing on their breathing helps them be present in the moment, which reduces anxiety and stress and gets them centred.
- End with a “mindful moment”. This is an excellent way to bookend your mindfulness into the day and provide time for the students to reflect on the lesson in a calm and peaceful way.
- At the end of class, give students around 3 to 5 minutes to focus on their breathing and ask them to close their eyes and focus on their breaths – going in and going out.
- Ask the students to think about what they have learned in class today and their accomplishments.
- Gently ring a “mindfulness bell”, or have a student do so.
- Give them time to focus and bring themselves back into balance.
- Ask them to think about their successes.
- End with a positive statement to them. This can be about how much you believe in them, or how hard they worked today.
Helping all students succeed
My students say that mindfulness has helped them increase their focus, regulate their emotions and provided them with a sense of calmness. By giving our students the time, support and tools they need to focus, we can help them gain more confidence in themselves to become better learners and develop their perseverance they need to succeed in school and in life.
If you are interested to learn more from Kathy Perez, her books The New Inclusion: Differentiated Strategies to Engage ALL Students, The Co-Teaching Book of Lists and 200+ Proven Strategies for Teaching Reading are all available from Hawker Brownlow Education right now. Kathy will also be presenting at the 2019 Hawker Brownlow Education Thinking & Learning Conference, so secure your spot today!
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Kathy Perez Kathy Perez has over three decades of teaching experience from the early childhood level through to graduate school. She is a professor of education, educational consultant, author and motivational speaker, specialising in instructional strategies and creative approaches to literacy and professional development. Read more articles by Kathy Perez