What is a mindful classroom? How does it work, and how does the concept fit into teaching and learning? Teaching in a mindful classroom can help students remain calm in stressful situations. It lets them think clearly when confronted with academic challenges. Helping them develop mindfulness early on will surely shape their demeanor in future situations, and may positively affect their character.
While the art of meditation plays an important part in a mindful classroom, it can be presented in a way that would not offend religious beliefs. Instead of clearing their minds, students are taught to be aware of background sounds without getting distracted. Moreover, mindfulness can be taught using other techniques.
Building the Mindful Classroom
So what is mindfulness? Here’s what Greater Good has to say:
- A mindful person is constantly aware of their thoughts, feelings, sensations and environment.
- A mindful person is accepting, paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging. They are not concerned with a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel.
- A mindful person is in the present, not stuck in the past or obsessed with the future.
So what does this mean, and how can it help you and your students?
The bulk of resources on the Internet mention or highlight meditation as a means to cultivate a mindful classroom. In a nutshell, meditation is breathing and thinking I am breathing in (as you inhale), I am breathing out (on the exhale).” If your mind wanders to other thoughts, return to the breath.
Students may use this technique on their own during the day. When teaching meditation, it might be good to start with guided mediations, walking them through the process. Here’s how you would do that.
- Download some meditations of various lengths. Starters could be 5 minutes. They may be recordings or scripts.
- Explore your students’ willingness and experience.
- Encourage them to give it a try. It’s up to them and shouldn’t be forced. Highlight the benefits. Stress a feeling of safety and no judgment placed upon anyone.
- Have them close their eyes.
- Begin the meditation.
- If you are skilled, you can try delivering the meditation yourself. Be sure to allow for a lot of space, and end the meditation gradually.
- Discuss feelings after the meditation, their willingness to try again, their willingness to try a longer meditation, and how they can use meditation on their own throughout the day.
- Feel free to share the recordings with students who are willing.
If meditation is not your thing, then other activities can bring to focus the mind.
This is Your Mind in a Jar
The Mind in a Jar project involves obtaining or creating a “snow globe” and having it ready when stress begins to set in. This can be made using a jar, glitter, food coloring and some kind of oil/water mixture. (Some readers have suggested distilled baby oil or a karo syrup/water mixture.)
When you shake a snow globe, all the glitter gets in a state of mass of confusion, swirling around, clouding the tiny scene. This represents your mind in stress. Watching the snow subside and fall back down to the bottom helps you to enter a state of mindfulness. It’s intended to make you aware of your thoughts, to be settling and calming, and to allow for clearer vision.
For people of all ages, this is a great strategy to bring your stress outside of your mind and into a convenient little globe where you can watch your stress fade away.
Here’s a simple sensation awareness exercise found on Mindspace. This one uses chocolate. Whatever food you decide to use, make sure there are no hidden allergies among your young ones. Stay away from anything containing peanuts or eggs if possible. Some suggest chocolate, and others use raisins or oranges.
- Each child is given a chocolate (upon determining no one is allergic) and told not to eat it yet.
- Notice the wrapper. Does it crinkle? Is it shiny? Is it colorful? How does the wrapper make you feel?
- Unwrap the chocolate. Are you excited? Or not? It’s okay if you’re not. There are no wrong answers.
- Smell the chocolate. How are your senses responding? Does your memory take you somewhere?
- Put the chocolate in your mouth. Do not eat. Think about the sensation of the chocolate melting. How does it make you feel?
- As the chocolate melts, where do you taste it on your tongue? Breathe in through the nose as you taste your chocolate. Does inhaling enhance the experience?
- Swallow the chocolate. What are your feelings?
- As you finish your chocolate off, just be aware of your feelings.
Afterwards, you can have a group discussion:
- How was this different from your general chocolate-eating experiences? More intense? Frustrating? More pleasurable?
- Were you more aware of your emotions during the exercise?
- Would this change your future experience of eating chocolate? Why?
Modelling Mindfulness Daily
The mindful classroom is developed and maintained in a constant state of practice. In addition to these exercises, simply bringing awareness of the mind at points during lessons and throughout the year can foster mindfulness in your students. Tobin Hart, a psychology professor at the University of West Georgia, writes this in Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom:
“At the beginning of class I might turn the lights off and instruct students: ‘Take a few deep, slow, clearing breaths. Let your body release and relax; let any parts of you that need to wiggle or stretch do so. Now feel the gentle pull of gravity, and allow the chair beneath you to support you without any effort on your part. Just let go and allow yourself to be silent and not do anything for a few minutes. You may want to focus on your breathing, allowing it to flow in and out without effort.’ “
Of course, we want to leave you with a starting point for further research. Be sure to check out The Mindfulness-informed Educator: Building Acceptance and Psychological Flexibility in Higher Education by Jennifer Block-Lerner and LeeAnn Cardaciotto.
Take a look at these resources for the mindful classroom as well:
- Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching
- Edutopia: Integrating Mindfulness in Your Classroom Curriculum
- Greater Good: Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids