As the research proves, mindfulness is highly effective in helping students stay engaged and focused in the classroom. Teaching students to be present in the moment allows them to address their emotional baggage appropriately so that they can be the best students possible inside the classroom. Earlier this year, my co-teacher and I completed a unit on mindfulness with our sixth grade class. The students learned how to use various mindfulness techniques to self-soothe and stay focused on the task at hand. They learned how to experience life in the moment rather than watching it play out in a series of Instagram photographs or Snapchat videos. Most of our students explained how beneficial this unit was in helping them become more effective and engaged students. They learned how to calm themselves down when they became overly excited, which prevented them from making poor choices and missing out on learning in the classroom. My co-teacher and I have observed a dramatic change in the attitudes of our students since completing this unit. They seem more open to new ideas and changes and are able to better control themselves and their choices during the academic morning. Teaching our students how to be mindful and why it’s vital to their success as students and people, has made all the difference in the classroom this year.
While we completed this unit during the fall term, we haven’t spent much time revisiting the mindful techniques learned since early November. Although we haven’t noticed much of a change in their overall demeanor and behavior in the classroom, we were beginning to worry that they may forget some of these useful strategies in the near future. And then I did some reading, that made it very evident that we need to bring back mindfulness in the classroom.
After reading about how schools in Nashville, Tennessee effectively integrated social and emotional learning into their academic day and curriculum, I was curious. Could I make a version of this model work in my classroom? As it incorporates mindfulness practices into helping students learn to be kind and compassionate, I felt as though adding components of social and emotional learning to our class day might help all of our students feel more cared for, able to focus, and engaged in the process of learning in the classroom. Recently, my co-teacher and I have noticed that a few of our students seem unable to leave their emotional baggage at the door when they enter the classroom, which makes it difficult for them to stay focused on the task at hand. They often struggle to stay on task in class. We thought that adding a piece of the SEL curriculum that some Nashville schools use might make a difference for at least those few students who are challenged by the daily expectations of our class. So, this morning, my co-teacher and I revisited mindfulness while adding in some social and emotional learning skills.
We began by explaining why we were doing this activity at the start of class, as we always want our students to understand the purpose behind what we are doing and asking of them in the classroom. Then, as the students took three mindful breaths, we had them think about all of the distracting, worrisome, exciting, and other thoughts that seemed to be clouding their brains. Having them focus on these mental clotting factors, allowed them to be mindful of what they were really thinking about. The students then shared these thoughts with their table partner, focusing on releasing them as they spoke them aloud. We concluded this first part of our activity by having the boys take two more mindful breaths, focusing on being in the present moment. We asked them to pay attention to the sounds they heard, sights they saw, and things they felt as they took their two breaths. We had volunteers share their observations after completing the final mindful breathing exercise. For phase two of our SEL activity, we had the students focus on appreciations. What have their sixth grade Cardigan brothers done to help them recently? How have their peers supported them in or out of the classroom? What have their classmates done to help them? We had several students share their noticings. The boys had very nice, complimentary words to say about their fellow sixth graders. It was amazing to listen to their kind and caring words as they spread happiness and joy throughout the sixth grade classroom. We closed the activity, by reminding them to stay self-aware and present in this joy and mindfulness throughout the remainder of the period.
The results of today’s mindfulness and social and emotional learning activity were numerous:
- The students were much more focused and on-task while working on their Africa Project today than we’ve seen since the start of the project. They were engaged in what they were doing and learning about.
- One student who frequently struggles to hear and accept feedback from the teachers, almost immediately changed his mindset and began making the changes suggested to him. I was thoroughly impressed by how quickly this change took place. He seemed to understand why he needed to make the change and did so of his own free will.
- The students were far less distracting than they were yesterday, as they were committed to completing the task at hand.
- There seemed to be a peaceful atmosphere about the classroom during the work period. The boys seemed happy and content living in the present moment. It was very cool.
- Later in the morning, I asked the students to provide me with some feedback on the SEL activity we completed during first period. Every student who shared with the class, noted how this activity seemed to help them be more focused and better utilize a growth mindset while working.
The moral of this story is short and sweet, teaching students how to be mindful in the classroom holds much power. It literally changes their mindset and helps them focus on the learning and not all of the other distractions filling their minds. So, if you are not incorporating mindfulness techniques into your classroom or curriculum, I highly suggest you give them a try with your students. A huge plus in all of this is that I have found myself being more mindful and self-aware than in past years. When I’ve felt overwhelmed in the past few months, I’ve tried some of the breathing techniques I taught my students, and found that I was able to calm myself down and focus on the present moment. Not only can mindfulness help your students, but it can also help you grow and develop as a teacher and person.