Educators have long sought innovative strategies to foster a positive learning environment in their classroom. While there have historically been a handful of tactics employed by teachers with varying levels of success, today many educators are implementing to 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?
The practice of mindfulness is rooted in ancient Buddhist teachings, but today, the application of it can be seen in schools, prisons, hospitals and beyond. In a general sense, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our 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.
Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindful education is loosely defined as the purposeful inclusion of mindfulness and mindful meditation principles, theories and practices into education with the goal of helping students learn:
- Techniques to calm and focus the mind
- Mindful communication
- How to apply mindfulness skills to everyday life
Pivoting toward a mindful education and creating a mindful classroom calls for incorporating those aforementioned concepts and principles into your day-to-day teaching practice and class routines.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less symptoms of depression, less distress and urgency, greater compassion and empathy, and are more effective in their teaching, according to study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
- 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 you diffuse a tough situation and get to the root of the student’s distress.
- 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.
- 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.”
- A university study published in Consciousness and Cognition found that mindfulness teachings can decrease test anxiety, reducing mind-wandering/daydreaming and ultimately improving student’s performance on exams.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mindfulness studies also suggest that the practice helps us focus better, improve our memory, all while enhancing our attention skills and decision-making abilities.
- 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, there are few steps to take to create and sustain a mindful classroom.
- Implement regular mindful practices — Mindfulness takes practice, so help you and your students stay on top of their new skills by regularly taking time to practice. Implement mindful breathing, take mindful pauses during the day, play calming music or sounds in the classroom, or even consider letting students practice mindful movement, like stretching or yoga.
- Set intentions — A great way to start each day for both you and your students is to practice goal setting. They can be long-term goals and short-term goals, but purposefully outlining experiences and feelings you are striving for each day can help you teach purposefully and can help students follow your lead and become more mindful.
- Use mindful objects in the classroom — This can be a poster or a mind jar or any other display, but have a signal that everyone in the classroom knows means it’s time to stop and be still. Taking just moments in the day to refocus and center everyone can help create a calming energy and more positive environment for everyone.
- Perform regular sound checks — This is especially important after breaking out into group work or when students come in from recess. Energy is usually high and so are the volume levels, which means both need to be recalibrated. To bring things back down to a calmer level, consider using a sound check bell to reset the classroom space.
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 little by little. The principles of mindfulness that you should cover include meditation, awareness, acceptance and, of course, mindfulness. When teaching students how to practice mindfulness, try to incorporate mindful breathing, guided meditation, relaxation imagery and the body scan. Positive Psychology recommends delivering mindful content in short weekly (or more frequent) sessions that involve both the principles of mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness.
Classroom Mindfulness Resources
Because mindfulness and meditation are very popular right now, there are many quick reference resources for those looking to implement these practices into their lives or their classroom. However, 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.