Let’s face it, mindfulness is one of the newest trends in education. Research with adults has shown that it is an effective way to increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, handle unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and reduce stress. What’s more, emerging research with students is starting to show the same results. However, as with many trends, mindfulness has spawned a broad range of interpretations as to its nature and benefits.
My concern is that teachers are being asked to teach mindful practices without adequate preparation. They are often simply told about the advantages of incorporating mindfulness into the classroom and shown a few accompanying activities. To truly embody mindfulness and effectively teach it, teachers need to understand and explore the practice for themselves.
Think about it, would you hire an instructor to teach swimming who didn’t know how to swim?
Similarly, when teachers try to incorporate mindfulness practices into their classrooms without seeking a personal understanding of the practice, they are asking students to engage in something they have not experienced firsthand. In a nutshell, to teach mindfulness, teachers need to be mindful; they should walk their talk.
In fact, teachers themselves have a lot to gain from engaging in mindfulness. It is apparent that one of the most important skills for 21st century teachers is the ability to adapt and be resilient. Mindful practices are specifically designed to cultivate the self-awareness necessary for one to recognize the physical, mental, and emotional effects of challenging events and the ways to step back, reflect, and respond to a situation more skillfully.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness training reduces “burnout,” the physical and/or emotional exhaustion that has contributed greatly to the departure of nearly 50 percent of teachers from the profession within their first five years. Specifically, these studies have shown that mindfulness training:
• strengthens the immune system, leading to fewer sick days;
• fosters social connections and enriches interpersonal relations, resulting in more productive and focused meetings;
• enhances resilience, allowing teachers to better deal with the stress created by the many demands of a typical school day;
• helps teachers model positive behavior, supporting students behaviorally, emotionally, and academically; and
• promotes greater satisfaction in work and life.
The Mindfulness for Teachers class that I taught at the Suzhou Singapore International School in the spring of 2015 is a case in point. I designed the course both as a personal practice for teachers and as a way to bring mindful techniques into the classroom. The twelve participants included teachers from Pre-K to Grade 12, as well as a counselor and other specialists.
Through videos, meditation, and movement practices, reflections, and discussions, we moved through a modified version of Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World and an accompanying workbook that I designed. A key factor for the success of this course was the establishment of a technology-free zone in order to offer teachers an optimal environment to practice mindfulness.
Comments from participants were positive, both in terms of the personal and professional focus of the class:
“The most useful PD that I have ever done. You really do need that ‘time out’ for yourself to help you charge your batteries and keep a good perspective on life. It’s now a way of life for me and I do something mindful each day.”
“It was something in my week I really looked forward to and will miss!”
“It was a wonderful way to end my work day. I felt that by allowing myself the time to ‘stop and be’ I was more energized and understanding of my needs, which in turn helped me to cope better with the stresses that come with work.”
“This was a PD I looked forward to and felt was practical and meaningful personally and in terms of student application.”
“In a period of life that has been both personally and professionally stressful, this time gave me ways to help the students I teach, and a self-check to stop to deal better with situations.”
Teacher and writer Cheri Huber sums up the need for teachers to develop a personal mindfulness practice. “Being kind to yourself lets you be kinder to others—and that just might be the finest gift you can give the world.” This cuts to the heart of why it is so important to make teaching mindfulness to teachers a priority. Brenda Lyons has taught internationally for over 30 years. She is founder and director of Mindful Movement and runs training sessions for teachers and administrators, as well as workshops for students. Contact her at: email@example.com.
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02/17/2016 - SteveAJ
Great article I like the removal of technology to help focus and agree that much more research into any pedagogical doctrine is required prior to introduction to the classroom so as to enable one to "walk the talk". I am getting the book you referenced now, thanks for the article