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Connecting with Kids: 10 Minutes to Mindfulness

By Lori Jackson and Steve Peck

Who isn’t talking about mindfulness these days? We attended sessions that talked about mindfulness at each one of the six education conferences we’ve participated in this fall. Most have focused on using mindful techniques in the classroom to help students calm and settle themselves so they can be more focused on their learning. 

When we talk about mindfulness we like to think of it as a way to help students be mentally present so they can participate and engage more with the material and their classmates. Mindfulness helps people to regulate so they’re able to more effectively and efficiently manage their emotions and behavior. We see it as the “pause button” for the emotional brain. Think about it: if you are able to more effectively take a breath when you are dysregulated, you’d be much more able to manage the emotion driving the dysregulation. Mindfulness helps press pause on the emotions that are attempting to “take over” the rational or thinking brain that helps you to make good choices when you are upset or feeling a strong emotion. 

Let’s look at an example of this in action:

Your class is engaged in a fun holiday activity but it’s time to transition to math. You give the direction that it is going to be time to stop in 10 minutes, then five, and finally, one minute left; finish up your activity and clean up, please. Some of your students will likely have a difficult time stopping and moving on to the next activity. What we like to do is to use a minute of quick mindful breathing when you are making the countdown announcements. For example, at the 10-minute reminder, we would also ask everyone to pause and take five deep breaths in and out. We’d do this again at five minutes and at the last minute reminder. 

What does this do?.

For some students, hearing the countdown reminder starts to make them anxious or frustrated that their activity is almost over. Maybe they haven’t gotten their project exactly the way they want it. Others are having so much fun that the idea of stopping is upsetting to them and makes them angry or annoyed. Instead of letting those emotions begin to build and take over the thinking brain, which needs to make the decision to stop working and follow directions, we use the quick mindful breathing technique to keep those emotions in check. In turn, our students’ retain their ability to make good decisions. 

As with every technique we suggest in our column, this isn’t magic. It takes practice and repetition to be successful. However, when you use mindfulness as a tool in your classroom, this will really help your transitions.

Here’s the plan:

1. Start your classroom mindful routine by starting one for yourself first. It will be much easier to share some quick breathing techniques with your students if you are comfortable with them yourself. No need for anything fancy; just make a plan to take five or six deep cleansing breaths before you start something new. Before you start your car, before you take the first sip of coffee in the morning...you get the idea. Take one week and give it a try. Once you’re comfortable, you can take it to your students.

2. Introduce it by sharing what you did and how it worked. It’s fine if you share that it felt uncomfortable at first. It’s fine if you also share that you aren’t sure if you are hooked yet. In fact, this might help your students to help you and vice versa.

3. Make a goal with your students to insert a minute of mindful breathing into your day. We’ve had some teachers tell us they have created a mindfulness “captain” as a part of their classroom helpers. It’s this person’s job to either remind the teacher or lead the minute of mindful breathing themselves!

4. Patience and practice. Rome wasn’t built in a day...Take time to integrate this easy technique and it will pay off.

As with all new ideas and strategies, what works for one doesn’t work for all. But mindfulness definitely has its place in the classroom. Give it a try, and let us know how it works for you!

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