Mindfulness for the Classroom
As an educator, you want your classroom to be a positive, productive environment where your students can learn and grow. One way to achieve this is by using simple tools to create a mindful classroom. Mindfulness is a popular topic, especially in schools, and while it may bring to mind a classroom of students silently meditating, it can also include many other practices like breathwork, mindful movement, and visualization exercises.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present in the moment, focusing on your actions or surroundings, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It doesn’t have to involve silence or stillness — but would definitely be a plus in a class full of rambunctious students!
By incorporating mindfulness practices into the classroom as a regular part of your teaching, you may help your students reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and attention, and develop a sense of compassion and empathy toward others.
Just as importantly, by participating in a classroom mindfulness practice right alongside your students, you’ll be supporting your own wellbeing and taking care of yourself as an educator. Teachers are asked to do more and more each year, and it can become overwhelming. Rather than thinking of a mindfulness practice as just one more thing on your list, rest assured that it can benefit you, too, with some studies specifically demonstrating that mindfulness can reduce teacher burnout.
There are many strategies for creating a classroom culture of mindfulness, and most of them require just a few minutes a day.
Setting the Tone at the Beginning of the School Day
The way you begin the day with your students does a lot to set the tone for how the rest of it will unfold. Each one of your students arrives in class each morning with a different emotional landscape. One may have overslept and had a rushed morning — skipping breakfast, running for the bus, and forgetting their homework. Another may be having the best day ever because they just found out they made the basketball team, while their classmate beside them navigates the difficult landscape of social anxiety or difficulty with peers.
Managing all these different emotional states isn’t easy, especially when considering that you arrive feeling different each day, too! A morning mindfulness practice can help the entire classroom ease into the day and get ready to learn, no matter what they’re feeling, and help you get into a good mindset to teach.
Starting the day with a mindfulness practice can encourage your students to become aware of how they feel, reduce stress, and increase their cognitive control. This morning practice doesn’t have to be complicated. You might begin by leading your students in a brief breathing exercise — you can use guided practice or lead it yourself by having your students close their eyes and take a few deep breaths. With younger children, having them imagine they’re blowing up a balloon or blowing out candles can be helpful to retain focus and engage in deep breathing practices that can help shift their nervous system into a more relaxed state.
Another option is to have your students write in a gratitude journal. Each day, have them start the day by writing down three things they are grateful for. This practice can help them develop a positive mindset, but the effects aren’t just limited to mental health. Gratitude journaling may even improve physical wellbeing — one 2019 study found that teens who kept a gratitude journal made healthier food choices.
Regular Mindfulness Breaks
Even when you begin the day with a mindfulness practice, your mood, focus, and awareness can often fray as you navigate the school day. It’s important to incorporate mindfulness breaks throughout the day to help stay focused and come back to awareness.
Again, this doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can have your students take a few minutes to do a breathing exercise or a brief meditation after transitions like returning from lunch or recess, beginning a different subject, or switching activities. You could offer a few minutes for a quick yoga stretch or mindful movement dance if the class seems particularly restless or antsy. Mindful movement is a great way to connect with the body and focus on physical sensations.
You can also try some mindful listening with your students. Try asking your class to close their eyes for a few minutes while you play nature sounds or soothing music. Ask them to notice the different sounds and sensations they experience.
You can experiment with mindfulness breaks and see what works best — it may change throughout the year. The goal is to simply choose regular times during the day to bring students back to that mindful place where they are building an awareness of the feelings and sensations of their mind and body.
Mindfulness as a Classroom Tool
Creating a mindful classroom is a great way to encourage mindfulness in students for focus and awareness, but it’s also an incredible tool for resolving conflict, reducing test anxiety, supporting students with diverse learning needs, and for consciously cultivating a positive classroom atmosphere.
Mindfulness for Classroom Conflict Resolution
Conflicts are bound to arise in any classroom, and mindfulness practices can be a powerful tool to resolve them. When conflicts arise, encourage your students to take a few deep breaths and notice their thoughts and feelings before reacting — often, journaling can help encourage expression and self-reflection. This can help them respond in a more thoughtful and compassionate way. You can also have them practice mindful listening. This involves listening to the other person without judgment and speaking from a place of compassion and empathy. By incorporating mindfulness into conflict resolution, you can help your students develop the critical social and emotional skills they’ll need to succeed in the world.
Using Mindfulness for Test Prep
Test anxiety is common among students. To help calm their nerves before the big exam, students can tap into mindfulness practices to help them relax and improve performance. One way to use mindfulness for test prep is to have your students practice deep breathing before a test to reduce anxiety. Another option is to have them practice visualization. Before the test, have them close their eyes and visualize themselves taking the test and feeling calm and confident. By incorporating mindfulness into test prep, you can help your students manage their anxiety and perform at their best.
Mindfulness for Students with Diverse Needs
Everyone can reap the benefits of breathwork, meditation, and other mindfulness practices but studies have shown that they can also be quite effective at addressing the diverse needs of students with learning disabilities. Many students who struggle with dyslexia, ADHD, and other diagnoses experience anxiety, depression, inattention, aggression, and conduct problems, making it tougher to learn and sometimes challenging to teach.
A 2017 study examined the effect of mindfulness interventions on elementary students with learning disabilities, and found that mindfulness interventions can “reduce the frequency of symptoms and problem behaviors often found in children with learning disabilities in elementary schools.” Teachers participating in the study also reported that their students seemed less aggressive, had lower rates of misconduct, and were better able to pay attention. These results were supported by a 2021 meta-analysis that found mindfulness programs reduced aggressive behavior, especially in students with behavior problems.
Building a Classroom Culture of Compassion
Finally, mindfulness can be a powerful tool for building a classroom culture of compassion. By practicing mindfulness, your students can develop greater empathy, emotional control, and positive social behavior. One way to build a culture of compassion is to have your students practice loving-kindness meditation. This involves sending positive thoughts and wishes to themselves and others.
Another option is to have your students practice mindful listening and speaking. This involves listening to others without judgment and speaking from a place of compassion and empathy. By building a culture of compassion, you can help your students develop important social and emotional skills that will serve them well beyond the classroom.
A further way to help build a culture of compassion is to emphasize examples of interconnection and interdependence with the environment and others. Roundglass Neuroscientist Rebecca Acabchuk says this method can be particularly effective when used to teach subjects like the environment, biology, and even trade partners in social studies. She explains, “When students come to realize the various ways life is interconnected and appreciate that their actions can have an impact on others and the systems they depend on for life, it can help them become more respectful and compassionate towards others and inspire them to want to make a positive contribution in the world.” Acabchuk likes to sum up this mindfulness concept with the mantra of “OM” meaning all is one.
Above all, creating a mindful classroom is something your students will not only benefit from, but also enjoy. A 2022 study published in the “Journal of Child and Family Studies” examined student’s perceptions of mindfulness programs. In it, study authors share a quote from a 6th grade student that provides a simple reflection of how the practice shifted their classroom environment: “When we started doing the mindfulness activities at break, our class like didn’t ﬁght as much as we used to. Then as soon as we stopped doing them as much, everybody started ﬁghting over every single thing.” The study also gave some advice for making mindfulness in the classroom work for you and your students:
- Make it fun! (Engagement is key.)
- Be flexible and creative about how you deliver mindfulness practices.
- Show students some ways to bring mindfulness into their lives outside of the classroom as well.
Creating a culture of mindfulness in your classroom can have numerous benefits for your students and your classroom culture, but remember that you have a crucial role in the process. In many ways, mindfulness is an inside job. If you develop your own mindfulness practice, you’ll experience the benefits firsthand and be better equipped to authentically guide your students along their mindfulness journey.
By starting the day with a centering practice, incorporating regular mindfulness breaks throughout the day, and using mindfulness tools with your students to ease test anxiety and resolve conflict, you’ll begin consciously shifting your classroom toward becoming a space of ease and wellbeing.
- Ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom:
- Schedule mindfulness activities at key transition points in the day to address student-specific issues like conflict or learning needs.
- Integrate mindfulness concepts like interconnection into subject area discussions.
- Boost your own practice to help you model it for others.
- Give students ideas how they can use these tools on their own, inside and outside the classroom.