Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness in the Classroom

By Sarah Crawford

November 22, 2019

As an educator in a large urban district, I receive students every day that have experienced or are experiencing trauma, poverty, personal and familial difficulties, stress, anxiety, depression and a range of other physical, social, emotional, economic, and academic needs. In order to be able to teach and reach these students equitably, I work hard to prioritize and address their SEL needs first and foremost. I believe that I have a moral obligation to teach and take care of the whole child and that starts with meeting their SEL needs. 

Consequently, I am always looking for new ways to help my students understand and manage their emotions, improve their attitudes and beliefs about themselves and others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. This year I wanted to try to bring mindfulness activities and awareness into my classroom to help me accomplish those goals. In order to do this, I knew I needed to personally practice being mindful myself and then use those experiences and strategies to teach my students how to be mindful as well. So, I took a six week course this summer through Mindful Schools that walked me through the foundations of being mindful and taught me different strategies to try with students. I also chose to read Dan Siegel’s, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mindand Patricia Jennings’s, Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, as anchor texts for my new learning. I threw myself into mindfulness and meditation and really saw personal growth and positivity come to fruition, which made me all the more eager and excited to try it out with my students. 

All of this has led me toward today, the day in which I truly implement consistent mindful practices into my classroom on a daily basis. I will document the journey for you over the next three weeks in hopes that some of what I share may be of use to you and your classrooms. 

To begin this journey, I gave my 90 students a mindfulness pre-assessment that would allow me to understand their thinking about mindfulness and ascertain whether they have any experience with mindfulness outside of school. In order to assess their schema and opinions on mindfulness, I asked them to rate their understanding of different components of mindfulness on a five point Likert scale that consisted of “strongly disagree”, “disagree”, “neutral”, “agree” and “strongly agree”. The statements I included were, “I know what mindfulness is”, “mindfulness is another word for meditation”, “I am open to learning more about mindfulness”, “I practice mindfulness on my own”, “I think practicing mindfulness in school is useful”, “I am often stressed out or anxious”, and finally, “I want to learn new ways to cope with anxiety or stress”. 

The results from this initial assessment can be seen below in Figure 1:

 Figure 1: Results of Mindful Pre-Assessment Given to 90 Students

 

Statement

% that agree/strongly agree

% that are neutral/unsure

% that disagree/strongly disagree

I know what mindfulness is.

42.5%

36.2%

21.2%

Mindfulness is another word for meditation.

31%

34%

35%

I am open to learning more about mindfulness.

83.8%

11.3%

5%

I practice mindfulness on my own.

22.6%

22.3%

55.1%

I think practicing mindfulness in school is useful.

68.7%

22.5%

8.8%

I am often stressed out or anxious.

73.7%

13.8%

12.5%

I want to learn new ways to cope with anxiety or stress.

78.8%

16.2%

5%

 

There were a few statistics in here that really stuck out to me and furthered my rationale of utilizing mindfulness in the classroom. The first being that 73.7% of the students tested, indicated that they are often stressed out or anxious. That is a staggering number of kids who are worried or overwhelmed and are struggling to cope with their loads. As an educator, this statistic was extremely concerning and increased the urgency in my plans to support students well being through mindfulness. 

            The other statistic that really stood out to me was that over 2/3rds of the students believed that practicing mindfulness in school would be useful and almost 80% wanted to learn new ways to cope with their stress and anxiety. This was important because it meant that the students were motivated to make a change and improve their current states of well-being and it showed that they were open to trying new strategies to get there. 

            So, after analyzing the results of the pre-assessment, I created a three week “unit” of mindfulness that provides students with an arsenal of mindful strategies. The first thing I did with all of the classes, was a talking circle (some call them peace circles) that centered around stress and anxiety. We discussed the causes of stress and anxiety, the feelings we associate with them, the effects of them on our bodies, minds and relationships and any strategies that had been used to try to combat those effects. We also discussed what mindfulness actually is, the different parts of our brain and body that it can help regulate, other positive effects it can have in our lives and some of the different mindful practices we were going to try. It was a great way to kick off our mindfulness work together and established a common language and understanding for all of us to refer back to throughout the coming weeks. 

            Throughout the rest of this week, we listened to four different meditations from the Calm app. Calm provides educators with a free annual subscription to their app and encourages them to use it both personally and professionally. They do a really great job of organizing meditations into different age categories and provide each level with meditations that are appropriate to their cognitive abilities. These initial meditations introduce students to what mindfulness is and how it helps in our everyday lives. They do this through the use of relatable and modern analogies and references that the students can connect with. 

            The students loved doing these meditations and kept asking me when and if we would be doing one during the course of the period. They would cheer when I told them to get into their comfortable mindful positions and be eager to discuss how great and relaxed they felt after each session. I was delightfully surprised at how much they enjoyed the meditations and their eagerness to do them every day!

November 27, 2019

We only have a three day week this week, with Thanksgiving break starting tomorrow! I thought that this would be an appropriate week to introduce the students to journaling, specifically gratitude journaling. Each day I had the students start off their morning completing the prompts, “I am so lucky, here is just one reason why…” and “Something I can do to make today great…”. Then in the evenings they were to fill out the bottom half of their journal page by answering, “Each act of kindness ripples out into the world. Here is one nice thing that I did today…” and “My brain grows by making mistakes. Here’s something that I failed at today…”. I had them use the same prompts for all three days to keep it consistent and so that they could track their personal successes and areas of growth. 

It is important to note that we still did an 8 minute meditation these three days. So students were still practicing mindfulness with these guided meditations, in addition to their journaling. I collected these journals today, after three days, to briefly read through their comments and reflections. Most of the students took this activity seriously and devoted time and energy into their responses. I gave them a quick exit slip associated with the practice and found that 84% of students found gratitude journaling to be helpful in maintaining a positive outlook and 78% said they want to continue doing it independently. Some important feedback I received was that it may have been more engaging if I would’ve allowed them choice in their prompts or picked different options for each day. 

December 6th 

This is the final week I will be gathering data and blogging about our experiences with mindfulness in our classroom. This week we continued to do a meditation from Calm each day. I decided to do the first meditation in several different topics to show students the wide variety of options they had to choose from. We did guided meditations on confidence, saying yes to life, exercises on finding stillness within, releasing anxiety, and staying on track. The students really enjoyed the variety of the content and found it interesting that there is literally a meditation for any problem you are grappling with or for any positive behavior you want to introduce. 

Along with the meditations, I encouraged the students to continue journaling this week. I took their feedback and gave them different options for all five days of the week. I made this activity optional and encouraged them to see it as a personal entrance and exit slip to their day, instead of something else to add to their “to-do list”. I was glad to see that 84% of the students continued to journal in some way (not everyone did all of the days or both morning and evening), which was more than I was expecting given their exit slips said only 78% would be interested in continuing the practice independently. 

Finally, I introduced the students to mindful eating and mindful walking. I brought a healthy snack in for them and we listened to a guided meditation on mindful eating while we ate together. We also took 3 short walks around the building, both inside and out, to practice mindful walking. We listened to a great meditation on Calm called “A Mindful Walk” and then we practiced noticing our bodies and the things around us as we walked throughout the week. The students found these activities to be a bit awkward and uncomfortable to do in the school setting and around their peers. I did have a few of them find more success doing them independently at home.

Overall, it was a week full of mindful activities and I really started to feel that the work was paying off. Some of my peers commented on how a few of our very anxious kids seemed different this week and that the general vibe of my very anxious 8th grade class was much calmer. I noticed small things too as I was mindfully observing (see what I did there) my class. I saw kids taking deep breaths, closing their eyes for a few seconds, sitting up straighter, stretching, taking a brain break and encouraging those around them more often. I am really glad we devoted so much time to mindfulness over the past few weeks and I can’t wait to see what the future brings. 

December 9, 2019

Students took the post test today about mindfulness and I wanted to share their results. The post test was extremely similar to the pre-test in structure. The statement prompts were the exact same, except the final two were changed to reflect their learning. 

Figure 2: Results of Mindful Post-Assessment Given to 87 Students

 

Statement

% that agree/strongly agree

% that are neutral/unsure

% that disagree/strongly disagree

I know what mindfulness is.

96%

4%

Mindfulness is another word for meditation.

3%

97%

I am open to learning more about mindfulness.

93.2%

5.8%

I will continue to practice mindfulness on my own.

73.5%

22.5%

4%

I think practicing mindfulness in school is useful.

79.8%

14.2%

6%

The Mindfulness activities we did in class helped me to deal with my stress and calm down.

89.4%

8.6%

2%

The Mindfulness activities we did in class were useful.

90%

7.5%

2.5%

 

This data was really exciting to me! Almost all of the students now know what mindfulness is and that it is not another word for meditation. 93.2% of them are open to learning more about mindfulness and almost 3/4ths of them will continue to practice mindfulness outside of school! Additionally, 80% of them think practicing mindfulness in school is useful and 90% of them found that the activities useful and that helped them reduce stress and anxiety. These were drastically different numbers than their pre-assessment. 

            While this quantitative data confirmed the usefulness of mindfulness in schools, the qualitative data was even more significant. I was told countless times over the past three weeks by students that they had tried a meditation at home, with their family, while they were walking, as a way to fall asleep and to just get out of a bad mood. They would come in excited to talk about and share how they felt, they were paying attention to how people around them were feeling and they were in a generally better mood. I saw their stress and anxieties decrease and their positivity increase. One of my students who lives in an underserved neighborhood often has a hard time falling asleep. He was so excited to use my login for the Calm app (that’s probably against the rules, soooo don’t share that) and fall asleep to a sleep story or meditation every night. He reported falling asleep much faster, sleeping through the night and getting more high quality sleep. His teachers could tell the difference too, because he wasn’t struggling to stay awake through all of his classes or short tempered from exhaustion. Just seeing the progression and success of this one student made the whole three weeks worth it. 

            Overall, I would highly recommend that all educators try to incorporate mindful practices into their classrooms. You can start very slowly, experiment with different strategies or allow the students to pick what they feel they would benefit the most from. I can promise that no matter how you begin, you will be very happy that you did! 

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