Integrating Mindfulness in the Classroom: Benefits and Seven Activities for Students

Students in the classroom practicing mindfulness.

Educators have long sought innovative strategies to foster a positive learning environment in the classroom. While there have historically been a handful of tactics employed by teachers with varying levels of success, today many educators are implementing a new solution — mindfulness in the classroom.

Born from the broader concept of mindfulness practice, a mindful classroom has been proven to increase productivity, decrease stress, and cultivate a caring and peaceful classroom. But how can you make your room a mindful classroom? Here are just some of the benefits of a mindful classroom, plus 11 ways to incorporate this positive pedagogy into your teaching.

What Is Mindfulness?

Why Teach Mindfulness in the Classroom?

Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom

How to Apply Mindfulness to Your Classroom

Classroom Mindfulness Resources

FAQs

What is Mindfulness?

The practice of mindfulness is rooted in ancient Buddhist teachings, but today, its application is widely seen in schools, hospitals, and beyond. In a general sense, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, bodies, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. It means to truly be in the moment without distractions or consideration of past or future events.

Another closely related concept is contemplative pedagogy, which shifts the focus of education to include first person approaches. Students are encouraged to connect to their lived experiences of learning, becoming more aware of their values and sense of meaning. In turn, this fosters a deeper understanding of self, relationships with others, and larger communities.

Why Teach Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindful education is loosely defined as the purposeful inclusion of mindfulness and mindful meditation principles, theories, and practices into curriculum with the goal of helping students learn:

Pivoting toward a mindful education and creating the appropriate classroom environment calls for incorporating those concepts and principles into your day-to-day teaching practice and routines. Their value becomes especially clear when you consider the latest data around kids and mental health, as well as teacher stress and burnout.

The most diagnosed mental health disorders among children ages 3-17 years in 2016-2019 were:

15.1% of adolescents ages 12-17 years had a major depressive episode in 2018-2019.

But by having an awareness of their body, thoughts, and surroundings, students learn to calm themselves and reduce the larger impacts of stress. It comes down to lessons in independently controlling attention and honing attention. The same is true for teachers.

However, cultivating a moment-to-moment awareness helps teachers calm their own minds for clear personal gain, therefore creating a classroom environment that children thrive in.

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Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom

Aside from prioritizing the mental and emotional health of you and your students, a mindful classroom has proven to have a number of benefits.

  1. A study published in the Frontiers of Psychology showed that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems, aggression, and depression among students and improves their happiness levels, self-regulation, and ability to pay attention.
  2. Mindful practices, both in the classroom and out of it, are also shown to improve our ability to communicate. Because mindful teachings help us to better understand our thoughts and feelings, that in turn also helps us communicate those things more effectively and successfully.
  3. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, less distress and urgency, greater compassion and empathy, and are more effective in their teaching, according to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
  4. Not only should mindfulness in the classroom help students who are consistently disruptive or “difficult” learn more about their behavior and emotions, it should also help you as a teacher work with them. Mindfulness teaches us nonjudgmental awareness and how to reflect on our own emotions, which can help diffuse a tough situation and get to the root of the student’s distress.
  5. Mindfulness has even been proven to have positive effects on our brain and immune functions. A National Library of Medicine study found that after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness and can improve our quality of sleep.
  6. A report from the SUNY Brockport found that “positive and effective relationships can be developed through the implementation of mindfulness as a pervasive practice and holistic value throughout the whole school.”
  7. A university study published in Consciousness and Cognition found that mindfulness teachings can decrease test anxiety, reduce mind-wandering/daydreaming, and ultimately improve students’ performance on exams.
  8. Several studies, including one published in the Journal of Research in Personality have found that mindfulness increases our overall positive emotions while simultaneously reducing negative emotions and stress.
  9. Mindfulness can also trigger physiological changes, as it has been found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
  10. Mindfulness studies also suggest that the practice helps us focus better and improve our memory, all while enhancing our attention skills and decision-making abilities.
  11. A University of Utah research team found that people who practice mindfulness have higher self-esteem, a stronger sense of self, healthier body image, and are more receptive and resilient to negative feedback.

How to Apply Mindfulness to Your Classroom

As any teacher knows, tackling a new skill or trying a new process should first start with learning. Before you begin implementing mindfulness into your classroom, seek out resources or take a mindfulness in education course — doing so will help you build out a reliable plan and set yourself up for success.

After you’ve done your homework, here are several steps to take to create and sustain a mindful classroom.

Transitioning to a mindful classroom is not an overnight event. It starts with you, the teacher, explaining the concept to your students before implementing the practices over time. Some principles of mindfulness to cover include meditation, awareness, acceptance, and patience.

When teaching students how to practice mindfulness, try to incorporate mindful breathing, guided meditation, relaxation imagery, and the body scan. Some experts recommend delivering mindful content in short weekly (or more frequent) sessions that involve both the principles and the practice of mindfulness.

Classroom Mindfulness Resources

Because mindfulness and meditation are very popular right now, there are many quick reference resources for anyone looking to implement these practices into their lives or their classroom. Some reputable resources include:

FAQs

What is mindfulness in the classroom?

Mindful education involves integrating meditation principles, theories, and practices into education with the goal of helping students learn techniques to calm and focus the mind that can help them develop empathy, self-awareness, and communication skills.

What are the benefits of mindfulness for students?

Enhanced concentration, self-awareness, and emotional regulation abilities are benefits of mindfulness. The benefits that students experience from mindfulness practices in the classroom last far beyond their formative years and will actually benefit them long-term.

What are some examples of practical mindful activities?

Breathing exercises, guided meditation, nature walks, and intention-setting are all simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into a classroom environment.

How does mindfulness impact the school environment as a whole?

Once students have a grasp on basic mindfulness concepts, they become second nature and therefore integrate into all aspects of their social lives, from sports teams and clubs to casual social interactions.

Does mindfulness in the classroom benefit teachers as well?

Yes. Teachers, who historically experience high rates of career burnout, are able to find stress relief and enhance their emotional well-being by practicing mindfulness alongside their students. Everyone in the school community benefits when educators are grounded and have a grasp on their thoughts and emotions.

If you would like to learn how to properly develop and practice mindfulness in the classroom, consider taking the Introduction to the Mindful Classroom course from the University of San Diego. This course will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to fully implement mindful concepts in your classroom, and help students and other staff realize the benefits of mindful practices.

Consider this USD eBook, “18 Signs a Student is Struggling,” to help quickly recognize and act on signs of emotional distress.

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