Mindfulness in Schools

Mindfulness in Education

Studies show that mindfulness has a major positive impact on education. An experiment conducted at Harvard University indicated that teaching mindfulness to students helped to reduce their stress levels and improve their attention. A longitudinal study at Cambridge University investigated the effectiveness of mindfulness in schools, finding that adolescents who practiced mindfulness regularly experienced fewer depressive symptoms, less stress levels, and greater well-being.

Benefits of mindfulness in schools:

  • Lower stress levels
  • Improved cognitive skills
  • Better focus
  • Increased emotional regulation
  • Better mental health and well-being

Mindfulness for Teens

Adolescence is for sure a challenging period. Each of us has experienced or are experiencing this period differently, but we all agree that it isn’t easy.

Some of the primary challenges of adolescence are:

  • Biological and sexual maturation
  • Identity formation
  • Intimate relationships with peers
  • Independence and autonomy in society

Education can be especially challenging when it coincides with a difficult stage in students' lives. Research shows that students perform better and feel better when they prioritize themselves. Enhancing mindfulness practices encourages students to practice self-care. They can identify and attend to their needs as they reflect on them regularly. In the context of education, those steps improve the class environment and the overall well-being of both teachers and students.

Mindfulness for Teachers

School and instruction can be stressful for teachers as well. They’re always in the spotlight, having to be alert, energetic, and possess a solid grasp of the learning materials in order to lead the class.  Navigating the classroom dynamic, supporting colleagues, and dialoguing with administration can be overwhelming on top of all of the other miscellaneous tasks teachers attend to. These all require skills of compassion, focus, and resiliency.

In those cases, mindfulness can be good not only for students but also teachers.

Mindfulness can act as a protective self-care tool for teachers to stay present through challenging situations.

Practicing Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness, supported by scientific evidence,  has become widespread and many organizations are taking up the mantle of both implementing and/or disseminating mindfulness practices. One nonprofit, Mindfulness in Schools Project, aims to improve students’ well-being and overall health in the UK. They’ve created a thorough curriculum that can be applied to various contexts all around the world.

Here are some examples that can help you implement mindfulness practices into the classroom setting:

  • Start each day with a short 5 minute practice: a quick meditation or a breathing exercise.
  • During the day, check in with yourself now and then. Both the teacher and students can briefly share how an in-class assignment makes them feel or how they feel when a conflict arises.
  • Encourage students to notice when they’re distracted and gently invite them back to the class activity. It’s important that you’re not punitive in these cases. Everyone gets distracted. What we’re modeling here is the ability to return to the task at hand either on our own or with encouragement.
  • Make time for self-care activities that allow students to reflect on their feelings and to learn to be on their own, such as coloring, journaling, and so on.  
  • Do a mood check at the beginning and end of the day.
  • Teachers and students can practice saying “no” in a respectful way, learning to set boundaries.

Open up the discussion around implementing mindfulness to students. Student-teacher collaboration can make mindfulness, and the classroom environment as a whole, more meaningful and connected. Listen to student input and try to include their suggestions into the daily class activities. Tailor-made exercises will make the process more sustainable since they emerge according to the needs of that class and its members.

In order to make these mindfulness practices effective, both teachers and students should be dedicated to the process. Teachers should show support for and own the mindfulness education as they model it for students. A secure and supportive environment is critical when encouraging students to share their feelings and opinions. Harsh or punitive approaches will not help the process and can damage the classroom community.

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