Bringing Mindfulness to the Classroom for Students and Teachers Alike

Today’s guest blogger is Lynea, and she has an excellent post about bringing mindfulness into the classroom. Please enjoy reading about a topic that you might not have ever realized is so important to the classroom environment.

Implementing mindfulness strategies in the classroom can help calm both teachers and students. There are a variety of ways in which yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques can be implemented in a classroom setting.

As a school counselor working with behavior disordered children with histories of trauma, I found that the children often came into class with sad things on their minds. Sometimes they were full of troubling family memories. Sometimes their heads were full of violent images from games and movies.

How could they possibly focus when their minds were full of disturbing thoughts?

With these children in mind, I developed a morning practice to help them be present during their school day. We would start each day by practicing simple breathing techniques to calm the body. Then students would have an opportunity to share what was on their minds. After, we did some physical yoga for movement to release the tension from their bodies and hearts.

Mindfulness in the classroom is an approach that not only benefits students but also benefits teachers. Address the stress, trauma, and distraction that students and teachers alike face with mindfulness.

One of their favorites was “Woodchopper.” Lifting their arms over their heads, they got to swing down an imaginary axe and make a loud “huh” sound to release pain and anger.

We’d end the practice with a mindful activity. One of my favorites was was what I began to call “mindful moments,” in which we’d each shift our minds to something positive – a happy memory, a dream for the future, or thoughts of someone who cared about us.

These moments taught the students how to shift from negative thoughts and move toward the positive. But the key was first acknowledging and recognizing their hardships – an act of mindfulness.

How Mindfulness Benefits Students

Mindfulness in the classroom is an approach that not only benefits students but also benefits teachers. Address the stress, trauma, and distraction that students and teachers alike face with mindfulness.

Mindfulness is best thought of as non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness. It’s total attention to what’s happening right now.

And no matter the student population, it lays an excellent foundation for learning, delivering both academic and social-emotional benefits. Research on mindfulness consistently reports its effectiveness. As Kim Rempel summed up in her 2012 review of the literature,

[The] research…suggests that mindfulness-based practices can have a positive impact on academic performance, psychological well-being, self-esteem, and social skills in children and adolescents. There is evidence that mindfulness-based training in schools is feasible and acceptable to those who have participated in it.

A more recent review, published last year in the Journal of Adult Education, found mindfulness education to be particularly helpful “in some specific ways:”

Minimizing the impact of bullying, helping students with learning disabilities, benefiting students who are training in careers with high emotion and stress, and coaching. Based on the results, students who have mindfulness incorporated in their curriculum could potentially reap benefits academically and personally.

This is precisely why more and more schools are embracing it. In these days when we’re expected to do more with less, even as our students come presenting with more challenges and brought up in an always-on media environment that easily fosters distraction, mindfulness in the classroom provides a key support in meeting our challenges as teachers.

And insofar as we practice mindfulness ourselves – as Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching, among others, recommendsmindfulness supports teachers’ well-being, too.

How Mindfulness Benefits Teachers

I speak here not only from my own experience, nor from just the anecdotes I’ve heard from other educators in the field and when we train them in the Yoga Calm curriculum– a program we developed that integrates physical yoga with social-emotional learning.

Research bears it out, as well.

One especially compelling study looked at the impact of teacher-focused mindfulness training – both personally and with respect to classroom performance.

Results suggest that the course may be a promising intervention, with participants showing significant reductions in psychological symptoms and burnout, improvements in observer-rated classroom organization and performance on a computer task of affective attentional bias, and increases in self-compassion. In contrast, control group participants showed declines in cortisol functioning over time and marginally significant increases in burnout.

Talk about a win-win situation!

Learning how to bring mindfulness into your own life and classroom is as simple as attending a training. Even online mindfulness courses especially geared toward educators are available.

Start now, and you’re one step ahead of being ready for the new school year!

Lynea Gillen, co-founder of Yoga Calm

Lynea Gillen, MS, LPC, RYT-200, is visionary in the field of wellness education for youth. From its development in a behavior classroom in a rural Oregon town in 2000, her Yoga Calm curriculum is now accredited at six colleges and universities and is being used with tens of thousands of children each day in diverse settings, such as Head Start programs, urban classrooms, occupational therapy clinics, summer camps, the Mayo Clinic, and Amplatz Hospital in Minnesota. Renowned for her heart-centered approach, her books and media have won eight national awards, and she has been a national conference presenter.

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