by Christine Peace, Behavior Coach
The new school year often presents new ways to help our students grow. In particular, one concept worth integrating into our day-to-day routines is mindfulness. However, as many of our students might be unfamiliar with it, starting with an introduction to mindfulness may be greatly influential in finding success throughout the year.
Defining Mindfulness, Dispelling Myths First, we must define mindfulness. Depending on the age group, I prefer to start with asking the students to list words that come to mind when they hear mindfulness. Common responses include: meditation, yoga, sitting still, and making your brain quiet. To the best of my ability, I then acknowledge each of the responses as true and dispel any myths. For example, the last response, making your brain quiet, can be a discouraging belief. While mindfulness can be that, it certainly has many more facets (we will discuss different, more specific mindfulness practices in a future article). From there, I go over a few different definitions of mindfulness, including my own as well as some from famous authors and thinkers.
My definition of mindfulness for teens, “A practice towards being fully present in the moment.” My definition of mindfulness for kids, “What’s happening right now? That’s mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” Pema Chödrön, “…isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” Amit Ray, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” It's a Practice Anytime I do a beginner lesson on mindfulness, I emphasis that it is a practice. Like playing a sport, an instrument, or preparing to give a speech, mindfulness requires repetition for improvement. If you attempted to play an instrument for the first time today, would it sound any good? Would you be able to master it by tomorrow? Highly unlikely. Thus, practice is pivotal.
Benefits Another key to introducing mindfulness is talking about its benefits. Both kids and teens are likely to wonder “why are we doing this?” So, knowing what motivates our students, and what is beneficial for them, can be vital in cultivating their interest in mindfulness. Further, this is another point in which I explore what they think and what possible benefits come to mind for them. I then point out that research has found the following benefits, among others (see references below):
o Increased immune system o Increase positive emotions o Lowers Stress o Physically changes the brain o Helps improve sleep o Stronger relationships o Decrease in behavior concerns o Adaptable thinking o Planning o Self-monitoring o Self-control o Working Memory o Time Management o Organization o Increased self-esteem o Stronger resiliency o Improved academics o Improved executive skills
We will end the list here to avoid running off the page, but you get the picture. Yes, mindfulness is beneficial, but remember our students are complex, just like us. How do we approach mindfulness, mindfully?
To be clear, not every student will be at a place in their journey where mindfulness skills are accessible to them. I practice and teach from a trauma-informed perspective, which means I offer choices. I may offer brief practices for the group and longer practices for those who are interested. Alternatively, I may state, “If this practice doesn’t feel right for you, that’s okay, just please remain quiet for your peers during this time.” It's okay if a student doesn’t want to participate, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to intentionally interrupt the practice for others.
Mindfulness for You
We know kids are intuitive, and can pick up on the degree to which we are invested in our lessons. Thus, if we aren’t practicing mindfulness ourselves, it will add an extra barrier in planting the seed for them. So, consider this, what’s one way you can incorporate mindfulness into your week? It’s okay to start small. Maybe take 30 seconds on your lunch break just to breathe. If you already have a mindfulness practice, perhaps you can increase your 10-minute daily meditation to 11 minutes. What other suggestions do you have for incorporating mindfulness in the classroom?
Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn J., Schumacher J., Rosenkranz M., Muller D., Santorelli S.F., Urbanowski F., Harrington A., Bonus K., Sheridan J.F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med, 65(4), 564-70. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000077505.67574.e3. PMID: 12883106.
Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041–1056. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M.L., et al. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3, 291–307 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0094-5
Pernet, C.R., Belov, N., Delorme, A. et al. (2021). Mindfulness related changes in grey matter: a
systematic review and meta‐analysis. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 15, 2720–2730 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-021-00453-4
Zelazo, P. D., Forston, J. L., Masten, A. S., & Carlson, S. M. (2018). Mindfulness plus reflection
training: Effects on executive function in early childhood. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00208