By Scott Sterling
Our students are stressed out.
The causes are many (too many activities, too much pressure, not enough down time, etc.), but they have very little ability throughout the day to just “be”, to clear their minds and focus their attention inward rather than outward.
The practice of mindfulness takes many different forms. Some, like yoga, may cause trouble in certain parts of the country if used in a classroom. But others, like conscious breathing, journaling, and guided meditation can not only give students a much needed break, but can also unlock brain functions that can be of use when their attention needs to return to the work at hand.
Here are a few ideas that can help you bring mindfulness into your classroom:
Breathing is an incredibly valuable practice in our lives. Not only does it oxygenate our blood and keep our life processes functioning, but it’s also a great indicator of our overall health – even mentally. When we’re stressed, our breaths are more shallow and quicker. When we’re sleeping, our breaths are deeper.
In purposeful breathing, the goal is to follow the breath from your head into your belly. This takes some focus. Once that attention has been gained, try to breath in a conscious way. A lot of practitioners count to a certain number during the inhale and then matching that number on the exhale.
Introduce the practice to students as a way to alleviate stress. Once mastered, breathing techniques can help guide students through high-stakes testing, pressure situations in sports, and challenges in their personal lives.
When we start a new unit, we tend to dive right into the material, even if you use some sort of previewing strategy. After all, we have those pacing guides to follow.
Next time, when you’re introducing a new unit, take the students on a journey through the world in which you want to envelope them. Have them close their eyes and picture the important features, events, or people that have to do with your new unit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or redirect their thoughts periodically – they will drift off to their latest text message or what happened at lunch. Be patient.
Part of mindfulness is being able to control your visualization. You’re trying to limit distract and focus on what’s going on within yourself – including your mind’s eye. In today’s multitasking world, asking your brain to think about one thing is a challenge, but one that’s important for students to master.
For all intents and purposes, classrooms are sensory deprivation chambers by design. It’s only recently that administrators and architects have realized that creating a welcoming space is actually conducive to learning. Before then, rooms were designed to make sure students had no choice but to pay attention to the teacher. Meanwhile, everything other than hearing and sight goes dormant.
Make sure to give students opportunities to activate their other senses. After all, different students are attracted to different modalities. Bring in powerful smells that tie into your studies. Textures can be a great way to have students experience what you’re asking them to visualize. If all else fails, take them outside and have them explore in a mindful, observant way. The timeless game “I Spy” is great for this.
It’s time for students to return to the skills in which humans, until recently, had mastered. Not only that, but you will see more self control, better focus, and more creative thinking. You can think of mindfulness as clearing out the pipes that make up a student’s brain.