Practice Mindfulness Strategies to Help Yourself and Your Students
Practice Mindfulness Strategies to Help Yourself and Your Students
Mindfulness is more than quieting your mind. It’s more than meditating. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as, “an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Using mindfulness as part of mental health education is beginning to be recognized as an effective way to help students center in order to be better able to accept new learning and calm their bodies and minds. It has also been cited as a way for students and teachers to build resilience during challenging times. However, even when teachers have read the data and know the science, it still leaves them wondering how exactly they can use it in the classroom to support their social-emotional learning strategies. Also, mindfulness tends to be one of those practices where the more the teacher is adept at practicing it themselves, the better they will be able to teach it to their students. It’s more difficult to teach the concept of centering or being in the present if you don’t actually know how to do it yourself.
Practice Mindfulness Strategies
There is also an additional purpose for teachers to practice mindfulness strategies, especially during a pandemic. Educators, no matter what their role in the system, tend to be future thinkers. We are thinking about lessons tomorrow, the unit for next week, assessments next month, and what instructional we will keep or discard for the following year nearly as we are doing it. We wonder about what is coming up, what the following year will be like, what administrators will be in the school. There is always something to worry about tomorrow. This is part of what has made the pandemic so incredibly difficult for educators – we cannot predict what will be happening next week let alone next school year. Mindfulness, by the very nature of its practice, brings back to this moment and keeps us from trying to future-forecast during a time when it is difficult, if not impossible, to do. Staying in the moment and releasing the desire to try to guess what will happen will reduce anxiety and increase the energy we would have otherwise spent on trying to predict the future. That is only one benefit of mindfulness for teachers specifically.
Practicing mindfulness also calms down your sympathetic nervous system, so you are less likely to be thrown into a survival strategy (flight/flee, freeze/collapse, or fight). It has been shown to have a positive effect on depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Studies have also found that it activates the brain regions involved in emotional regulation and can lead to changes in body awareness and fear, making it less likely to react to triggers (Van Der Kolk, 2015). Also, because mindfulness keeps us at the moment, we are less likely to ruminate about failures, obsess about mistakes, fear the future, and become overwhelmed emotionally, therefore increasing our resilience and ability to cope with adversity.
Understanding the benefits of mindfulness is only a small piece of knowing how to do it in the classroom. Below are some easy ways for students to practice mindfulness. Remember if you’re going to use these with students, help them understand the concept of letting go of judgments and biases at an age-appropriate level.
Setting an intention activates your internal guidance system. Setting an intention involves knowing who you want to be and then setting a goal to get there. An intention can be chosen depending on a situation or goal. For example, if communication with a partner is an issue, an intention might be, “I will communicate and listen to my partner without judgment.” Then, throughout the day, running any communication through that lens based on the intention and asking, “Am I showing up in this way right now?” If the answer is no, then you know there needs to be a change. Many times we have goals that we are working towards. Setting an intention is like setting micro-goals to help you get there. It is action-orientated. Instead of wishing and hoping that things change or the future gets better, you’re making it happen. In the absence of setting intentions, people will continue to operate in the same way.
Body scans are a way of recognizing, in the moment, both pleasant and unpleasant sensations in the body. While laying down on your back, tune into how your body feels. Many times, people will begin at their toes and work their way up their body, noticing the sensations they feel. It’s important not to judge the feelings as good or bad, but instead to just notice them. This practice increases the connection to your body and to be able to feel when there may be a shift in the way it feels. This is especially important in the case of people who have experienced trauma as their brain is adept at shutting off the connection to the body’s sensations.
Coloring has its place in the practice of mindfulness. Find a picture that has an intricate pattern. A Mandala has a spiritual meaning, but it’s the intricacy that is useful for this technique. Any image similar to that will do. The process should take about 10-20 minutes and should be meditative; your focus should be drawn to what you are doing. I have personally seen this practice work with students nearly immediately. Many times I get asked about the instructional time lost to “coloring.” However, they would lose more instructional time being removed for negative behaviors from the classroom, so it still seems like a solid strategy.
Intentional breathing, especially deep breathing, triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for feeling calm. Even taking three deep breaths and letting them out slowly will work, but a more popular option is Box Breathing. Using the Box Breathing strategy, you inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. This mindfulness technique tricks you into focusing on your breath which can draw the mind’s attention away from racing or negative thoughts and back into the present.
Find a beginners guide on mindfulness on my website as well as other free resources to support mental health at www.mandyfroehlich.com.
For mindfulness strategies or activities to be the most effective with students, it is important for teachers to know how to practice it themselves. The strategies of mindful intentions, body scans, mindful coloring, and intentional breathing are fantastic ways to practice mindfulness both as a human and as an educator of humans. Mindfulness can be a powerful ally in building resilience, drawing your attention to the present from the future, and calming the body which we could all use a little more of right now.
Mandy Froehlich passionately encourages educators to create innovative change in their classrooms. A former Director of Innovation and Technology, technology integrator, and teacher, she has experience at many levels of the organizational structure. Her interest lies in reinvigorating and re-engaging teachers back into their profession, as well as what’s needed to support teachers in their pursuit of innovative and divergent thinking and teaching. She consults internationally with school districts and post-secondary institutions in the effective use of technology to support great teaching, mental health support for educators, and how to create organizational change. Her first book, The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning, discusses mental health awareness for teachers. Her second book, Divergent EDU, is based on an organizational structure she developed to support teachers in innovative and divergent thinking. Her third book, based on educator engagement and mental health, is titled Reignite the Flames which has a recently released companion guide/workbook titled The Educator’s Matchbook. Find more information at www.mandyfroehlich.com