Mindfulness, in my opinion, is one of the most effective things I have added to my classroom. After teaching for more than 20 years, I have been to countless PD workshops on many topics, but nothing has done more for my students than this. As a reading teacher, it has helped to get students more focused so that they can read more fluently and comprehend more. It has given my students a way to start the class that calms them, gives them a brain break, and gets everyone on the same page. Mindfulness has helped students to center before tests and quizzes so that they can access all that they have learned and show what they know. More importantly, it has given my students a tool to help them inside and out of the classroom when they are feeling anxious about all of the many things that trouble a middle school kid.
However, so often I have seen the look on the faces of some of the kids, parents, or colleagues that mindfulness is very “Buddha” or Hippie-Dippie”. They envision that we sit cross-legged, mediate, and chant “om” for an entire class period. As you can imagine, this also brings up the discussion about the fact that we are doing this in a public school and isn’t that against some kind of rule or infringing on the religious practices of students? This is why doing your research about the science behind mindfulness is so important.
The science behind how the human brain works is fascinating (well at least to me!). When I first started researching mindfulness, I could not get enough of all of the information that showed me why I was feeling anxious and what it was doing to my body. Early in the school year, I do a few mini lessons with the students regarding the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. We talk about how our brains were wired to protect us from sabre tooth tiger attacks, but then were meant to calm down 20 minutes later. However, due to so many factors, our amygdala often does not slow down and instead is set in panic mode. We have lost the ability to decipher between a real emergency and an every day scenario. Often our bodies are reacting the same way to not knowing what to wear in the morning that we would to being scared by a real emergency.
Mindfulness is learning how to focus on the moment. It is teaching our brain to focus on what we are doing in the moment and not worrying about what just happened or what will happen. In practicing mindfulness, we train our amygdala to calm down so that the other parts of our brain (hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex) can work the way that they need to. Many of the exercises do incorporate breathing. Breathing is one of the best ways to calm the amygdala and nervous system. However, not every exercise is meditation.
Knowing the science behind what you are sharing with your students is essential. First, it will help them to see the value in it. It may not be something that all of your students end up buying in to, but understanding how it can help them in their every day life will get more students on board. It is also very important to understand so that when parents want to know why you are taking time away from a subject like reading or math, you can better explain it. I have found that the little time that I have chosen to focus on mindfulness with my students have come back to me ten fold. My students are much more focused because of our study and our exercises so that they accomplish more in the time that we have. Students also do appreciate and look forward to the brain breaks and often do not want to risk not getting them. Lastly, it is always good practice to have scientific research behind anything that you are doing to build a curriculum.
Below is a great video that does a great job of explaining the science of the brain and mindfulness:
I would love to hear from any of you that are using mindfulness in your classroom. How did you get started? If you have any tips, tricks, or feedback on anything that I have shared, please share! My goal is to create a community of educators who are interested in mindfulness and who are actively using it in their classrooms.