More and more these days, teachers are engaging students in mindfulness practices, which research suggests helps develop executive functioning, self-regulation skills, and social and emotional learning in students. But how to get started? Here are a few tips:
- Begin your own personal mindfulness practice before you share it with students. Setting aside even 5 or 10 minutes a day to focus on your breath at home or during a class break, gives you credibility with your students, and let’s you know what they will be going through. Moreover, it helps you combat your own stress levels to become a more centered teacher.
- Consider the issues of time and space. Decide in advance how long the session will be (start small with 1-2 minute sessions and then build up). Make sure to put a ”Do not disturb, we’re being mindful!” sign on your door to avoid interruptions. Avoid circle seating where students can see each other (and make faces).
- Anticipate normal distractions. Especially when students are initially introduced to mindfulness, they are apt to be a little skittish, so don’t expect perfect behavior to start with. Once they settle into the practice over time, however, they’ll be wanting more of it. For kids who have special difficulties with behavior and acting out, have an aide who can provide one-to-one help, or plan to have a mindful moment room available somewhere in the school where kids can go to mellow out under the supervision of someone with mindfulness teaching skills.
- Consider using technology. This is especially important if you don’t feel competent leading the class in a mindfulness routine. There are many apps available that can guide kids through a session of mindfulness (some of the most popular include Calm and Headspace).
- Let students be involved in leading mindfulness practices. This is particularly true at the middle and high school level. Give them a timer and a bell, and let them signal the start and stop times. Members of the class can rotate jobs including helping to guide students verbally through the process.
- Provide opportunities for students to share their experiences after each session. Doing this helps students develop their social and emotional learning skills by, for example, sharing difficult emotions that came up, and it also helps to troubleshoot misconceptions or potential obstacles (e.g. students who are forcing themselves to breath deeply, or feel that the whole thing is a waste of time).
- Share your personal experiences with mindfulness. If you have your own personal practice, share times when it really helped you, or questions that came up for you during a session, or difficulties you have in doing it regularly. By sharing your experiences with your students, you will establish the trust necessary to make mindfulness a major success in your classroom.
For information on the importance of breathing to health and well being, see Breathing Techniques: A Guide to the Science and Methods.
For more information on implementing mindfulness in your classroom or school, get my book: Thomas Armstrong, Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Provoking Concentration, Compassion, and Calm.