I believe that practicing mindfulness helps teachers protect themselves against burnout, deal with stressful situations, and keep a healthy level of emotional engagement in their job (and students). So some of you might be wondering, what the heck is mindfulness? The state of being mindful involves focusing your attention in the present moment while calmly acknowledging that current moments thoughts, feelings and sensations. When we are mindful, we’re connected to the here and now, we’re observing our emotions...and not judging them or becoming them. Meaning we’re not categorizing our feelings or thoughts as good or bad….just noticing that they’re there. Here’s a cool video that explains the concept of mindfulness in a quick fun 2-minute clip.
I learned of this concept of mindfulness during a training for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which centers most of is therapeutic’ness (I know, not a real word) on this here and now technique. As a teacher, how can this practice help you inside and outside of the classroom?
Mindfulness helps teachers:
1) Better understand their own emotions. Practicing mindfulness can help teachers recognize their personal emotional patterns and responses to those patterns. Ease into strengthening this skill by asking yourself How am I feeling? Before you begin your day. Notice…are your thoughts racing? Are you hungry? Are you anticipating something specific? This will give you insight into emotional behavioral patterns. When you are feeling anxious or stressed (rapid thoughts, tense muscles, nervous stomach for example) perhaps you are more likely to lose your temper. I know that for me, when I am feeling this way, it is easier for me to take one of my student’s miss-behaviors personally. Once you recognize the patterns, the next step is to work on preventing them and making different choices in the moment!
2) Improve classroom management. I think we all have particular students who can push our buttons and get right to us. Being mindful helps us connect with what may be causing our student to misbehave. To do this, stick to the facts, and only the facts. Leave out any judgements. For example – one of the TOP student behaviors that pushes my buttons really quick is when a student talks back to me. In these cases, I must be extra mindful of judgmental thoughts that reinforce feelings of anger and frustration. Non-judgmental introspection helps us shift from a negative appraisal of a student’s behavior to a more compassionate one.
3) Slow down. I believe the biggest benefit to being mindful is how it helps slow everything down into real time. Teachers have so many metaphorical balls in the air at the same time. Lesson plans, grading, engaging 25 (plus) students, safety concerns, did I eat lunch? I wonder if Jim understood the…why is she crying? Did I touch something sticky..? It’s so much. Integrating mindfulness into daily life helps give us a reason to slow down and pause; breathe, notice, reflect. It gives us a chance to think through our responses. It teaches patients and doesn’t feed into chaos.
For further information about how to integrate a mindfulness practice into your classroom, I like the following books: