This entry’s material is taken from “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom” (WW Norton 2015) by Patricia A. Jennings.
Already, teachers are returning to their classrooms to prepare themselves and their students for a year of growth and learning. Soon, the fresh-from-vacation students will be watching and listening to their teachers and class members to get a sense for how they will fit into a new class. A teacher who has a few tricks of mindfulness in her toolkit stands a fair chance of making a positive impression on her charges right from the start that will continue throughout the year.
In her essay for Greater Good – The Science of a Meaningful Life, author Patricia A. Jennings discusses Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers. I will share briefly her ideas on how mindfulness can make better teachers.
- Mindfulness helps teachers understand their emotions better. Sometimes teachers get so caught up in what they have to do and how to do it, they lose the present moment. Disruptions to the teacher’s plan can cause the teacher distress, even anger at the interruption. Jennings suggests that before a school day even starts, teachers take time to center themselves. Her method is to stand with feet shoulder width apart, relaxing the knees. Bring attention to the point about two inches above the navel and an inch into the body. Focus on this point and feel gravity pull your body into the earth. This simple exercise can help teachers to recognize their own behavior and emotional patterns and choose a response to create connection to students that resonates with positivity.
- Mindfulness helps teachers manage students who present challenges. Students respond to their environment, sometimes in negative and disruptive ways, for any number of reasons. Non-judgmental awareness is an aspect of mindfulness that involves acceptance of things as they are in the present moment. Becoming aware that we might be judging the moment is to become mindful that we can also select a response that can ease a situation and free us from the stress of judgment.
- Teachers’ recognition of their own emotional responses to children can help them to also understand why students are behaving as they are, and then can actively cause a shift from annoyance, threat or hurt, to compassion.
- Mindfulness can create the scene for a positive learning environment. Rather than try to control a student’s behavior, teachers can control the space in which all students learn. This could be as simple as setting up the furniture to curb running, or providing spaces for students to experience a quieter moment alone. Knowing what is going on in the classroom is aided by the practice of mindfulness, allowing teachers to see potential problems before things escalate out of control.
- Relationships with children benefit with mindfulness. Building trust gives students a reason to respect adults as teachers, gives students the message that they have value. When teachers can value even the non-academic talents of their students, they are building healthy self-esteem that goes far in creating a productive classroom environment.
- Mindfulness helps us slow down when things are speeding too fast. Pausing for a moment of mindfulness when concerned about finishing a lesson in short time, helps teachers to feel what is really going on in the classroom, assess the level of engagement and what students need in the moment, and serves as a model of mindfulness to students. Teachers rush due to anxiety about completion of teaching a lesson, but pausing during review and questioning gives students time to ponder and absorb information to deepen understanding.
- Mindfulness helps teachers to build community. Teachers model prosocial behaviors which guides the child’s need to belong and fosters a sense of community. Collaborative learning fulfills needs for social interaction and the opportunities to experience the needs of others in the group, which promotes empathy. Service projects which focus on individual student strengths further promote a sense that sharing is caring.
If you are interested in creating a mindful and empathic classroom, I would love to talk to you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To health in educational settings,