The Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness is often described as the awareness that arises through intentionally attending to one’s moment-to-moment experience in a nonjudgmental and accepting way. It brings awareness to a person’s relationship to their experiences: thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Derived from the Buddhist contemplative tradition, mindfulness has gained popularity throughout the United States in recent years. Mindfulness has successfully been used within clinical settings to treat patients with Anxiety and Depression, as well as other mental health and psychological disorders. Studies have shown it to be effective in reducing stress hormones. Participants are asked to attend to the present moment in an intentional, nonjudgmental matter. Mindfulness encourages one to embrace the present moment with curiousness, openness and acceptance. It is important to avoid multi-tasking and focus on one experience in a non-reactive manner. Mindful thinking is not about being right, but instead encourages the participant to respond in an appropriate, deliberate way based upon the situation.
|Major Components of Mindfulness|
|Observe||Notice without labeling, attend with all senses.|
|Describe||Describe facts, not conclusions or opinions.|
|Participate||Fully enter the experience as if it is the only moment that matters.|
Mindfulness allows one to describe situations in a different way encouraging descriptive and non-judgmental thoughts. For example, “This is bad” turns into “My heart is racing.” A judgmental and negative thought can be transformed into a descriptive statement without judgment. Mindfulness shows promise for youth with high levels of social and emotional difficulties. Mindfulness has the potential to safely be integrated in a variety of settings, including schools. Mindfulness has been shown to develop skills to focus, sustain, and switch attention which are important components of every child’s school day. Disruptive behaviors that arise in elementary school increase a child’s risk for future psycho-social difficulties. Mindfulness has the potential to target and prevent attention difficulties and disruptive behaviors that are likely to negatively impact a child’s education throughout his or her life. Research has just begun on the integration of mindfulness within the school setting.
Studies have been performed with children of all developmental stages within schools. Studies have shown a decrease in negative affect, stress, and negative behaviors within the classroom. Children experienced improved optimism, social competence, and attention as well as decreased anxiety. One study found a decrease in anxiety in students when provided with a coloring activity promoting mindfulness before tests. Soles of the Feet, a traditional mindfulness activity for aggressive behaviors, lead to a reduction of disruptive behaviors, in the short-term, for elementary students in a high need school. Whole class mindfulness interventions for elementary students have lead to preventive effects on stress, well-being, and behaviors. In another study, Mastermind, a mindfulness training program originally geared towards substance abuse issues, was taught within a regular education classroom by teachers. Students showed improvements in executive functioning skills, as well as, less aggression, social problems, and anxiety.
More research is needed on the effectiveness of mindfulness within schools. Small effect sizes and population sizes indicate that many of the current studies hold little weight in predicting the potential effectiveness of mindfulness on a larger scale. Some studies have also shown little to no effect on participants’ well-being within the schools. However, mindfulness practice and training has virtually no negative consequences or associated risks. Mindfulness practice can take many different forms. Yoga and breathing meditation are two popular forms of mindfulness training. Yoga poses specifically designed to be used in classroom are available. Mindfulness can also include teaching mindful attention, emotion management, and stress reduction techniques. There are specific mindfulness curriculums which are available for free or paid online. Mindfulness training can be provided to teachers so they have the capability of leading whole class during the school day.
Mindfulness is a practical skill that can be utilized throughout life and integrated into daily thoughts. Mindfulness allows for increased sensory awareness. Students are taught to take life as it comes, enjoy experiences, and relish in positive emotions. It teaches cognitive control and reflective thinking. For example, just because the student might be having a thought doesn’t mean he or she has to act on it. Students are also taught that emotions and upsetting feelings can emerge in our heads, like thoughts. Emotions accompany thoughts and are able to pass through the mind in a similar way. Acceptance is encouraged through a non-judgmental detached perspective on our thoughts and feelings. The student should not feel down or ruminate on their thoughts, feelings, or actions. By being taught not to get caught up in thoughts, students are able to return their focus and attention to the task at hand.
Mindfulness is a relatively new practice that has been expanding out into the school setting for several years now. Mindfulness offers numerous positive benefits that apply to children of all ages within the school. Mindfulness has lead to decreased aggression, anxiety, and stress. Students exhibit behaviors important for being successful within school such as, increased emotion and attention regulation. Further research is necessary in order to better gage the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions within the classroom. Teachers may need to be provided with some type of training in order to better administer mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness has the potential to greatly impact youth in the schools. Classrooms may see decreased disruptive behaviors and increased attention to tasks. Mindfulness has been shown to be a preventative measure providing social-emotional skills that may lead to a decrease in psycho-social difficulties in the future. The rates of attention and emotion issues are increasing within the classroom and teachers are reporting more disruptions to their daily lessons. Mindfulness interventions, administered within the school, may lead to solutions to these increasing difficulties with our students and within the classroom, as well as, promote the skills necessary for children to lead healthier and happier lives.
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