- Paula Cristina Azevedo, PhD
A mindful start to the school year
This year you may be considering how to incorporate more mindfulness practices into your classroom routines. Before you do this I suggest you read a blog post I wrote last year called What you need to know before practicing mindfulness with students. In this article I highly recommend that you have an established meditation and mindfulness practice for yourself before you publicly commit and introduce it into your classroom. Whether you’re starting on this mindfulness path personally or with your students I have some suggestions that will help you and your students start the school year more mindfully.
Here are just some ideas to consider on how to easily incorporate mindfulness into your own life and your students’ classroom routines and curriculum.
You may want to consider starting with a mindful start to each week with Mindful Mondays. You can start your Mondays with a quote of the week and ask students to write a reflection about the quote or use it to start morning meetings. You may want to include mindful breathing exercises and guide students on how to use the breath as a resource to take a quick break to calm the mind, body, and emotions and to connect to the present moment. The mindful breathing exercise can be used throughout the day and week to take mindful pauses and meaningful transitions from recess and lunch to learning activities in the classroom. You can use Mindful Mondays to not only teach and practice breathing exercises, but to also teach other mindful practices, such as yoga, mindful eating, patience, compassion, kindness, gratitude, and even meditation. However, be sure that you are comfortable with the more complex mindfulness practices before teaching and incorporating it into your classroom routines and lessons.
Mindful use of technology
Each school and even teacher has a different policy on the use of technology. Nevertheless, the reality is that students and teachers have technology, such as smartphones in the classroom and are using it either for academic purposes or not. One goal you may want to consider is to mindfully incorporate technology. It can be as simple as setting up classroom alarms and timers to zen like chimes and bells to help remind and support students (and even yourself) that it’s time to transition to another learning activity.
Another simple way to incorporate mindful use of technology is to notice how often you check your emails and/or social media accounts throughout the day. Just notice and reflect on what this does to your body, mind, and emotions throughout the day. You may be surprised by the frequency you check emails or social media and curious about how this is impacting your work or emotions. You may consider checking your email at designated times in the day. Also, before checking your email take a few deep breaths, quiet the mind and then read and respond to emails. Notice what happens when you just pause for a moment before checking emails and see if you can make this a habit.
You can also help your students, especially middle and high school students, learn how to self-regulate in using their smartphones and only using it when appropriate or necessary. Some teachers opt to store phones away for students, while others just ask students to keep phones in their backpacks or pockets. This of course is a personal choice for each teacher. However, taking some time in class to discuss this mindful ways of using a smartphone and helping students find techniques, such as taking a few breaths before looking at the phone and being curious about why s/he is compelled to check his/her smartphone. Your students may be surprised by what they find out about themselves and the cultural pressures around social media. In addition, giving them resources on how to redirect some of those impulses of checking their smartphone to connecting to the moment and, yes, even allowing themselves to be bored. This will be a topic that I’ll revisit in another blog post.
You may want to consider practicing with your colleagues mindful eating once a week. I know I’m guilty of having working lunch meetings, working straight through my lunch with no time to eat, or sitting at my desk responding to emails while eating my lunch. Rushing through my meal usually makes me feel physically awful, because I ate my lunch too fast, ate too much without realizing it, or if I don’t stop to eat I’m starving while teaching (which is never pleasant and exhausting). So, make it a habit once a week to mindfully eat lunch. You can do this with colleagues too.
Mindful eating is when you are present and using all your senses while eating. Before you take a bit of your meal look at the food. What colors are present? What kinds of items are you about to eat? Is the food in a package? Then you can smell your food. What aromas enter your nostrils? How is your body reacting to these smells? Then you can touch your food. Is it soft, hard? Is it light, heavy? You may even consider listening to your food. Though I understand how weird it looks to put your salad up to your ear, so you may want to just take a moment to listen with your food still on the table. Finally, you can then take one bit of your food, slowly and completely chew the food. Sense how the food feels in your mouth. How does the texture change as you continue to chew? What tastes emerge from the beginning to when you swallow? You can even count the number of times you chew for each bite. Once you swallow ask yourself, “Am I full?” If the answer is “no” then continue eating, and slowly take another bit paying attention to your chewing. Be mindful of only taking one bite at a time and chewing completely before picking up your fork to take another bite. Continue to eat slowly and silently until you are full, which may mean you notice you’re full before you complete the lunch you bought or packed.
If this mindfulness practice seems daunting to do for lunch time then consider practicing mindful eating when you a eat snack. You may even introduce this to students if you have a designated snack time in class. If you practice mindful eating with children or teenagers consider taking the first bite mindfully together and you can guide your students in this practice and then allow them to eat as they usually would and wiggle around. Just be sure to modify the practice for your students’ needs.
Mindful body checks and movements
I love mindful body checks and movements and it’s so easy to incorporate this in a class, especially since most teachers already do this type of exercise in class to get the “wiggles” out of students or to wake up and motivate students. I love using music and instruments to get students moving. One way to do this is to use a drum and ask students to move to the sound of the drum. So, if the drum beat is slow students are moving slowly and if the beat is fast they are moving quickly. It’s of course important to set ground rules for this kind of activity since space in classrooms are limited and safety is always a priority. So, just remind students to remain in an imaginary circle and keep their hands to themselves. If space is really a challenge or students have difficulty self-regulating you can ask students to pretend that they are trees and imagine that they have roots coming out of their feet and can’t move their legs but can move the rest of their bodies. You can also include simple yoga moves, such as standing poses, forward bends, down dog, cat tilts, baby pose, and some balancing poses like baby dancer pose and tree pose. Finally, it you want something that requires no movement, but still allows students to connect with the body, you can incorporate a body scan. Students can sit up or lay on the floor and you can guide them to sense how each part of their body feels at the moment. Starting at the feet and working your way up to the top of the head. If you’re interested on how to practice the body scan I wrote about it in a blog post here.
Mindful opening and/or closing routines
Creating and maintaining mindful opening or closing routines in a class is one of the simplest ways to incorporate mindfulness, because many of us already have routines established. For example, you may want to consider standing outside your classroom and greeting students into class. Another routine you can consider is creating a mantra or a saying with your students and starting the class with that phrase, such as “My body is calm and my mind is on.” I know many elementary classrooms have morning meetings everyday, which includes calendar work and an opportunity for the teacher to give a message, and for students to share. You can incorporate mindfulness breathing, as mentioned earlier, or a one-two minute meditation practice, a body scan, yoga, or once a week ask students what they are grateful for. These mindful moments during morning meetings can make the meetings more meaningful for teachers and students and even give you and your students interesting insights. Finally, one struggle teachers and students can’t escape is cleaning and organizing the room during transitions. You can mindfully ring a bell or chime indicating to students to pause, take three deep breaths, and clean their area of the room. You may want to consider having a class discussion about respecting communal spaces by keeping it clean and organized for everyone before you implement this practice. This type of discussion and activity is especially helpful for younger students who are still learning about self-regulation and social skills.
Communication is an exchange and connection between people and has two elements to it: receiving information and providing information. We can elevate our communication skills by working on being more mindful, or bringing an awareness, on how we communicate and our patterns of communication. The next time you communicate pay attention to your body's reaction when you listen compared to when you talk. Pay attention if you typically listen more than you talk or vice a versa. Do you talk quickly or slowly? Do you pause a moment after someone speaks and before you speak? What type of words do you use? What are you hearing the person say to you? As you incorporate more mindful communication into your own life, you may want to consider incorporating this practice in class by guiding students on mindful communication practice. I’ve written about this practice in a blog post called Mindful Communication. You can find more information about this practice there.
Finally, you can include mediation in your own mindfulness practice, with colleagues or include it in your classroom with your students. Before you start practicing mediation with students you must practice meditation on your own and/or with others, such as friends, family member or colleagues. You can read all the mindfulness and meditation books out there and yet still not know what meditation really is. To understand meditation you must experience it. You must commit to practicing meditation. This is essential, because you cannot begin to guide and teach students about meditation without actually experiencing it first. To help you start your mediation practice I created a Back-to-School Mediation Week program. In this FREE program I provide tips on how to meditate and seven guided meditations. The program started last week, but it’s still available not too late to start. Just sign up here and you’ll immediately gain access to the program. Also, if you think a friend or colleague would enjoy this free program.
This blog post is not an exhaustive list of all the ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your work life and with your students. The beauty about this is you can be creative, have fun with it, and learn from your experience and those of your students. I hope this has inspired you to start your school year on a mindful path. To help you maintain a mindful practice this school year I created this fun handout for you. You can post it near your desk to remind you of all the ways to be a mindful teacher.
If you have questions about any of these practices don’t hesitate to contact me via email or message me on Facebook. Be sure to stay in touch by signing up for email updates, like my page on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.