One of the most asked questions I have gotten from other teachers who are trying to start a mindfulness practice in their classroom is “how do you get everyone on board?” The simple answer is…you don’t. Introducing mindfulness to my sixth graders has been both rewarding and challenging. As I have written in the past, so many kids at this age are incredibly self conscious. While they want to badly to learn something that will help them to relax and focus, they are very worried about image. The fact that they are so worried about image creates anxiety in them. It is all a vicious circle.
So, when we first start doing our mindful minutes and our mindfulness exercises, I need to set some ground rules so that everyone has a level of comfort. This is really no different than the ground rules you set for any activity you do in your classroom. To start, you must explain the brain benefits of these exercises to your students (see my last blog post). This will help them to understand the “why” of what you are doing. Next, you must remind them that not only can these exercises be done to help with focus and anxiety, but also can be used simply as a brain break. On most days, I can only give my students the opportunity to start class with a mindful minute. Sometimes, I will try to throw in the minute in the middle of class as well. I remind the students that this exercise could very well be the only break they are given while at school, so they should take advantage of it.
My ground rules are simple: I encourage everyone to participate to whatever level they are comfortable. I ask that everyone use the time to be still and to be quiet even if they are not participating in the breathing exercises or mindful minute. Lastly, they are not to disrupt anyone else during the exercises.
Some have asked me why I don’t make everyone participate in the exercises if they choose not to. There are actually many reasons. The first is that forcing them to participate in something like closing their eyes and breathing when they are uncomfortable is counter productive. If I am trying to help them to relax and they are worried about what they look like to others or who is looking at them rather than focusing on breathing, the exercise is useless. Also, it is VERY important that you take into consideration any trauma that any of your students have been through. Sitting quietly in room with a door closed and eyes closed may trigger some kind of fear for students based on past experiences. We know that our students come to us with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It is EXTREMELY important that you always reassure students that they are always safe in your classroom and that they should not worry. However, always give the choice of closing their eyes or not. For some, focusing on a point in the room or simply looking down at their table or desk might be more comfortable. I like to decorate my room with a variety of positive sayings and inspirational posters that can act to share a message and give students something to focus on. Another good rule of thumb is to be sure that you let your colleagues know what you are doing. You may share a room with other teachers or have teachers that come in from time to time. It is really important that they know that the times that you are doing exercises is important to you and the students. Ask them kindly to either wait at the door or come in quietly and participate if they are entering your room. If students are worried about loud disruptions, they will find it hard to relax into the exercises.
As I have said so many times before, you are not going to get all students to buy into these exercises all of the time. If you are practicing mindfulness for yourself, you will know how difficult it is to practice the breathing exercises from time to time based on where you are and who is around. Even if you are practicing in your own home, sounds and situations will occur that may make you open your eyes and look around. I do ask all of my students to simply allow everyone the opportunity to participate if they want. Therefore, I ask that they do not talk, make faces at one another, or move around during this time. Some students may need to stand for the exercises and that is fine. Some may need to sit on the floor, while others may need the comfort of a chair. Be flexible to the needs of the students. Don’t expect perfection, but do strive to create a place where as many students that are willing can take a brain break and practice the exercises of mindfulness.
Got a tip or trick for working with your students? Please share in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!