Last winter, I spent my Friday mornings observing middle school classrooms. Immediately, I realized that today’s students have a different educational experience than what I had. When I was in school, hardly anyone had heard of mindfulness. But now I saw it in nearly every classroom I observed!
Today, educators teaching mindfulness to students is more common. In one class, I saw one teacher lead his class in five minutes of guided meditation, each student with their eyes closed and listening to quiet music. Then I watched another teacher help her students practice mindful breathing before their exam. Integrating mindfulness in the classroom had become integrated into students’ daily routines. It was as normal as a roll call or a homework check-in.
If you are new to mindfulness in the classroom, this blog post will clear things up! Let’s dive into what it is and how it could benefit you and your students!
What is Mindfulness?
To talk about the benefits of mindfulness, understanding its definition is crucial. There are misconceptions of what the term actually means. Some think that it means you get rid of any negative thoughts. Others believe that it’s when you have to erase your mind of all thoughts. But mindfulness is neither of these things.
Mindfulness is the process of accepting your thoughts and regulating your emotions. Practicing mindfulness is being able to “focus your attention on the present moment.” It focuses on what’s going on in the now, rather than in the past or the future.
When I first learned about mindfulness, I had trouble understanding it. Luckily, my colleague helped me by describing it as “catching and releasing” your thoughts. Instead of labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad,” mindfulness helps you acknowledge them without judgment.
Those who bring mindfulness into their lives through routine practice feel more centered and in touch with their emotions and thoughts, helping reduce stress. As a result, students and educators reap the benefits of being mindful by improving their mental health and well-being.
Why Mindfulness Matters For Students
Students face demands and responsibilities in their lives, both at school and at home that lead to stress. Too much stress can hinder a student’s ability to retrieve memories, which makes focusing on assignments or preparation for state standardized tests more difficult. Educators have turned to mindfulness because it has been shown to help students both in the classroom and in their own lives.
One study conducted by the University of British Columbia found that students who practiced mindfulness had “higher levels of attention, better retention, and 15 percent high math grades” than peers who didn’t. Another study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison implemented a Kindness Curriculum that included mindfulness exercises over the span of 12 weeks. Students in this study received higher grades on their report than their peers. Altogether, studies show that mindfulness training has positive impacts on students’ learning.
But the benefits of being mindful goes beyond academics. Students in the first study reported having higher levels of optimism. In the second study, students demonstrated more empathy and kindness towards their peers. By regularly practicing mindfulness, students develop mental health and social skills. These benefits are crucial for students because they learn to improve their well-being overall, affecting them positively in all aspects of their lives.
Why Mindfulness Matters for Teachers
Students are not the only ones who can benefit from mindfulness in the classroom! As you likely know, teachers can also experience high levels of stress at school. Their many responsibilities require great amounts of time and energy. This might make it hard for educators to practice mindfulness. It could seem like too much of a challenge or a waste of time. With mindfulness, teachers can improve their mental health, well-being, and productivity.
For instance, a study by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds tested how mindfulness affects teachers who practice it. Teachers in the study enjoyed several benefits including demonstrated increase in empathy, self-compassion, and compassion for others.
At the end of the study, incorporating mindfulness into a routine also helped teachers teach more effectively, “possibly by buffering them from the impact of stressful experiences as they were happening.” The teachers could focus more on teaching during the school day, rather than on other stressors in their lives. Their growth shows the benefits mindfulness bring educators, leading to improved teaching and interpersonal skills.
With all the benefits for students and teachers, it’s no wonder educators everywhere are eager to adopt mindfulness in their classrooms! Mindfulness in the classroom improves mental health and well-being. It gives both students and teachers the tools to deal with everyday demands, reducing stress and redirecting focus to education. With mindfulness, students and teachers both improve, and you might even see a boost in student scores and progress.
Explore more on student wellbeing
- Learn about how social emotional learning prepares students for their futures!
- Discover the difference between social emotional learning and mindfulness here!
- How Mindfulness Can Help Teachers and Students Manage Challenging Situations by Patricia C. Broderick
- Learning and Memory Under Stress: Implications for the Classroom by Susanne Vogel and Lars Schwabe
- Mindfulness is all the Rage — But Does It Work? by Youki Terada