With mindfulness practices being all the rage in school these days, some teachers are bound to respond with a feeling of doubt or even exasperation, thinking: ”I already have enough on my plate, curriculum-wise, and I see mindfulness as just another thing I have to incorporate into my classroom.” This objection is understandable, because teachers are under huge amounts of pressure these days to fulfill a long list of academic and non-academic needs in their students. However, I’d like to suggest three ways in which mindfulness will actually make teachers’ burdens lighter not heavier.
1. The brief time it takes to engage in mindfulness (as little as two to three minutes per session) will pay off in terms of students being able to better focus on classwork. This is particularly true when students are coming into a class from recess, PE, or another classroom. It sometimes takes teachers several minutes to redirect students’ attention from their previous activities to their present tasks. Mindfulness can shorten this transition time, and thus actually make more time available for actual classroom work.
2. Mindfulness can be used to tackle students’ test anxiety. Many kids choke when they’re in the middle of a test, especially if that test is a high stakes standardized exam. A brief mindfulness session (one to two minutes) just before the tests are handed out, where students can focus on their breathing, will help calm and center them, so that they’re able to do better on the test. This in turn will be reflected as increased student achievement and greater student confidence.
3. Mindfulness actually improves the cognitive functions that are needed for classroom success. Research studies indicate that mindfulness practices improve executive functioning, emotional self-regulation, working memory, and a number of other processes essential for clear thinking in the classroom. Students who are well organized, can deal effectively with conflict, and are able to retain information, function better in the classroom than those who let their emotions derail them, who are disorganized in their thinking, and who have difficulty remembering what they’ve learned. By sharpening students’ learning skills, mindfulness makes the job of teaching much easier.
In conclusion, mindfulness takes only a few minutes out of the day to practice, but it can save far more time for teachers in terms of a smoother running classroom, and more alert, calm, and focused students.
For more ideas on using mindfulness practices in K-12 classrooms, see my book Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm.