How Mindfulness Fits into the American School System
In the western world, we often equate mindfulness with the image of Buddhist monks meditating peacefully under a tree. While that image doesn’t exactly mesh with the day-to-day lives of most Americans, there is still room for incorporating mindfulness into the lives of both adults and children in our schools.
Mindfulness, literally the state of being aware, can mean awareness of ourselves, our environment, the people around us or our own internal states of being. Therefore, mindfulness is not subconscious scrolling of the internet and social media. With the rise of smartphones and our inability to regulate their use in schools and classrooms, it’s virtually impossible to monitor whether we have our students’ full attention or not.
Here’s where mindfulness practices come in handy. By incorporating mindfulness-based activities into daily classroom habits, we can teach students the value of disconnecting from technology and instead to tune into their more subtle emotions and feelings. As students feel more and more pressure from parents and society to do well in school, mindfulness may be the biggest key to relief and mental health, as well as promoting empathy, focus and social connection.
Read on for our three favorite mindfulness tips and tricks for both students and teachers.
For the students:
- Encourage students to take breaks when they’re stressed. While teaching meditation might be out of reach for most teachers and traditional school systems, “breathing breaks” are a great place to start. At the beginning of each class or period, spend 30-60 seconds with eyes closed, encouraging everyone to remain quiet and listen to their breath.
- Snack time! I don’t know a single teacher who would dispute the beauty of snack time. Children just love snacks. This is also a wonderful opportunity to teach mindful eating. Make mindfulness a game by asking kids to observe their food. Ask them what it looks like, how they think it was made, where it comes from, what it feels like on their hands and tongues, what it tastes like, etc. Then, encourage them to count their bites, see how many times they can chew their food before swallowing or name the parts of their body it passes through en route to their stomachs. These actions bring students into the present moment, serve as great aids in teaching anatomy and biology, as well as promote full digestion of their meal.
- Take journal breaks. Ideally, at the beginning or end of each school day, give children time to express themselves through writing. Opt for handwriting instead of typing, as it encourages a slower pace and more thoughtfulness when choosing words. If your classroom experiences success with journaling, you may want to consider integrated arts, to further promote the creative process.
For the teachers:
- Take time to really get to know your students. If you’re not from the same town as your school or reside outside your district, do your research. Learn about the place where your students live, and strive to better connect with them to allow yourself greater insight as to why they may or may not be succeeding. By creating an inclusive classroom, students are naturally more engaged, more apt to participate and more likely to mirror that inclusiveness with their peers.
- Teach a class or a lesson outdoors. Spending time outside is crucial to kids’ development and, as a teacher, you can implement the required curriculum and facilitate students’ appreciation for the earth by taking your class outside. You can work nature into practically any lesson plan – science, literature, geography, math, history – and give children a much-needed break from the four walls of your classroom.
- Experiment with your own mindfulness practice out of the classroom. Teaching is both an immensely rewarding and stressful career. Do the three things listed above yourself before you begin teaching them to your class. In your free time, try a yoga class, go for walks, spend time outside, talk to a therapist. Your mental health is essential to a positive and nurturing classroom. By bettering yourself, you set a positive example for your students and gain firsthand experience with the mindful habits you’re aiming to impart on them.
Mindfulness is like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice over time. Try incorporating these suggestions and other practices little by little and observe how your students adapt. What are some ways you make learning a mindful practice?