Illustration by Edpuzzle Staff
To quote the famous Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
And the truth is, life is fast-paced, especially for your students. When you factor in the hours spent at school, doing extracurricular activities and finishing homework, that doesn’t leave much time for anything else.
But there is something else worth squeezing into your students' already-packed schedules: mindfulness. By carving out just a fraction of your class time to spend practicing mindfulness with your students, you’ll be doing them (and yourself) a huge favor.
If you’ve never thought about mindfulness in the classroom before, take a deep breath, and get ready to get zen.
What Is Mindfulness?
One of the classic definitions of mindfulness was coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who honed eastern philosophy into the concept we know today:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
Usually, when we talk about practicing mindfulness, we’re talking about meditation in some form or another. Borrowing from Buddhism and ancient yoga techniques, the type of meditation associated with mindfulness mainly focuses on breath, which we’ll explore in greater detail a little later.
As far as mindfulness in the classroom is concerned, think of it as a way of hitting the reset button and bringing your students back to a place of calm.
Aren’t you feeling more relaxed already?
Best Practices for Mindfulness in the Classroom
One of the many great things about mindfulness is that you can practice it with students of all ages. Keep in mind that younger students will need a little more guidance, while teens can be entrusted with more responsibility.
For high schoolers, try handing over some agency by putting them in charge of when the class needs a mindfulness break. Depending on how long your class is, choose one or two students to ring a bell when they feel the class is ready for a break.
The Mindfulness Bell website is great if your students have their own tablets or laptops. The bell can also be set on a timer, which would work well for younger middle schoolers.
When the student rings the bell, the class should close their eyes and do a minute of meditation, while they focus on their breathing and freeing their mind from thought. One helpful exercise is to visualize any intruding thoughts as bubbles floating away. When the minute is up, you can go back to whatever you were doing before in class.
If your students are resistant to closing their eyes, you can project the Breathe with Calm screen or this amazingly relaxing video of snow falling:
For an added bonus, use the video in Live Mode on Edpuzzle with an open-ended question so your students can write reflections on their meditation experience afterward and then discuss them with the class.
If you’re looking for auditory rather than visual stimuli, try A Soft Murmur, which has tons of nature sounds to choose from that you can mix and match for your meditation.
But what about the younger students who can barely sit still? The possibilities are endless! Positive Psychology offers a few fantastic ideas.
A great one for engaging preschool and young primary students is by using “breathing buddies.”
Have your students lie face up on the floor with a stuffed animal on their stomachs. Ask your students to focus on filling up their bellies with air as they breathe in through their noses, watching their breathing buddy go up, and then watching it go down as they exhale.
Another exercise is designed to get your students to concentrate on sound. While your students’ eyes are closed, ring a bell, and ask them to raise their hands when they can no longer hear any sound from the bell.
Then, repeat the exercise, this time asking them to focus on any other sounds they hear after the bell sound disappears (the sound of their breath, of another class playing outside on the playground, the footsteps of another teacher walking down the hallway, the hum of the projector, etc.).
When about a minute has passed, ask them to open their eyes and talk about what they experienced. As you practice this over time, your students will be able to maintain their quiet meditation for longer!
The Benefits of Mindfulness in Education
It’s important to remember that the endgame of mindfulness isn’t just to make your students be quiet. The impacts of mindfulness in the classroom are actually much more profound.
Mindfulness studies have shown the following positive effects on students:
- Reduced absenteeism
- Lowered blood pressure
- Less general anxiety and depression
- Improved social skills
- Increased self-esteem
- Better behavior and fewer suspensions
- Increased assessment scores
- Decreased substance abuse
- More energy and better sleep
- Fewer aches and pains
- Decreases in eating disorders
- Increased brain function
- Better ADHD behavior
- Less test anxiety
… and the list goes on! What’s more, mindfulness can be a game-changer for students at low-income, high-risk schools.
In an article from the Child Mind Institute, Randy Fernando, the Director of Mindful Schools, an organization dedicated to introducing mindfulness into low-income schools, says, “If we can get the kids who have the most trouble, it helps them, it helps the teachers, and for a lot of these kids it’s the first time they’ve felt peace.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the same article mentions the impact on a wealthier private school in Nantucket, which used mindfulness as a way of helping students cope with stress to reduce the rates of teenage suicide.
The bottom line is: mindfulness can be used at any school, for any age, at any time. This versatility is also one of its greatest strengths.
Obstacles and Arguments Against Mindfulness
Whether or not you think of mindfulness as a trend, as with any new idea for the classroom, there have been critics.
Some families may worry about any possible religious connotations. In reality, mindfulness is a completely secular practice.
One teacher explains, “There is a wide mix of faiths in my school, with some very devout Christian and Muslim pupils, and I have to say, this has not been a problem when teaching mindfulness. I think the fact that we present the method as part of a healthy lifestyle, as opposed to a religious practice, has helped with this.”
If this becomes a stumbling block in your class, explain to the parents that mindfulness will in no way conflict with their religious beliefs.
The next concern has to do with trauma and the fact that practicing mindfulness could be triggering for some students. While focusing on the present moment is at the heart of mindfulness, for students who are experiencing trauma in their home lives, it has the potential to do more harm than good.
Youth psychologist Sam Himelstein explains that having students close their eyes, for example, is something teachers should never force them to do, as it may make certain students feel unsafe.
If a student expresses anxiety or objects to sitting in a certain position, lying down or closing their eyes, provide alternatives, like focusing on a screen with a calm image, or walking in place.
Every student’s mindfulness practice can be adapted to their comfort level, so all of your students feel safe and refreshed when they finish.
Takeaways for Mindfulness in Education
At the end of the day, mindfulness is just as much for teachers as it is for students. After all, as teachers, we need to lead by example, and that starts with practicing mindfulness for ourselves.
Equipping your students with life skills that will help them stay happier, healthier and more focused is why mindfulness in the classroom is here to stay.