What you need to know before practicing mindfulness with students
If you’re reading this blog post it means you’ve been contemplating incorporating mindfulness practices for some time now and want to start using mindfulness with your students. That’s AWESOME! But before you start incorporating practices that you found online or in books it’s important to know a few things before you start.
As teachers, we sometimes jump into new curriculum, new strategies, and new practices with little training or even thought on how such changes may impact the instruction and learning. Many times it’s not our fault, but rather due to a lack of resources, support and/or time. However, when incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily classroom practices and routines you really need to know the practice, which leads me to my first point.
1. Be sure you know what you’re doing.
Before adding mindfulness techniques into your teaching practice you must have studied and practiced formal and informal mindfulness practices. Mindfulness cannot be learned solely from reading books or even ancient texts, but really must be experienced. One cannot truly know what it means to be mindful if you’ve never practiced it. You don’t have to be a monk or nun to experience mindfulness, but you do need to understand the basic tenets of the practice and see how the practice unfolds for you. There are universal experiences that people who practice mindfulness have, but mindfulness unfolds for each person in unique ways. In order for you to know what your students may experience it's imperative that you know what the practice is like.
This seems so obvious, but we sometimes forget that it’s really difficult to teach students something that you are not familiar with. Imagine the time when you didn’t fully prepare for a lesson on a topic that you didn’t have much previous knowledge about. What happened? Yup, the lesson didn’t meet your expectations and maybe your students were confused on what you were trying to teach them. The lesson failed because you weren’t well versed in the material and as a result, weren’t able to anticipate students’ misconceptions, their questions, or even answer questions from students.
So, set yourself for success when incorporating mindfulness into your class. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Have I studied and practiced mindfulness?
2) Do I meditate frequently?
3) Could I answer basic questions from students and adults about mindfulness?
If you answered “No” to most or all of the questions then it’s best to wait and focus on your mindfulness practice before sharing it with your students.
2. Tell your administration what you’re doing
Every school culture and administration is different. Some administrations are a bit more hands off and provide teachers the autonomy they need to be creative in their classrooms and lead within their departments. On the other hand, there are administrators who are more hands on and like to know what teachers are doing in their classroom. You may have a preference on the style of leadership that you thrive in, but no matter what leadership style your administrators use you should share with them that you’re going to start to incorporate mindfulness practices in your class. When you share with the administration your plans be sure that you’ve done your homework and anticipate what your administrators may ask you. Go prepared with resources you plan to use, strategies you’d like to incorporate in your daily or weekly routines, and finally be prepared to share some research that you’ve encountered that supports the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom, especially for teachers and students. Be sure that your leadership fully supports your efforts.
3. Be honest with students and parents
It’s also essential that you talk to your students about the practice and why you want to add it to you daily or weekly routines. It’s important to be transparent with students on your intentions and the research that supports the benefits of mindfulness practice. Just like you would introduce a unit topic, introduce mindfulness using a creative hook, video, or demonstration that will help students understand what mindfulness is.
In addition, be prepared to share with parents and guardians’ of your students about the new strategies you’ll be using and provide them research-based evidence on its benefits in the classroom and also at home. Sharing with parents your class’ mindfulness practices will also ensure that if students, especially young students, mischaracterize your mindfulness practices because they may not have the vocabulary to share what they are learning, that it won’t backfire on you with angry parent phone calls or emails. In addition, some people have some misconception about mindfulness (see my blog post on some common misconceptions here) and you can prevent some of that by clearly stating what mindfulness is, your intent, and the research supporting its benefits.
4. Be patient with yourself and your students
Any time you introduce a new routine in your class it takes time for students to get use to the new routine. The same is true with mindfulness. Some students will quickly acclimate to the new routine and appreciate the new mindfulness practice. For other students it may take some time for them to get use to the new strategies. Just be patient with them and understand that not all the mindfulness strategies that you incorporate will work for every students. Think about the various strategies you’ve incorporated through the years. Some of those strategies were successful for a group of students while it didn’t work really well for others. You learned from that experience and supported your student in the way she needed you to. The same is true for mindfulness. Some students may be hesitant in trying some of the practices, which is normal and it may just take some time for them to notice the benefits. Just don’t give up and like everything else you do in your class learn from your mistakes.
I know it’s scary trying new strategies and routines in your class, but think of all the possibilities you can create in your classroom. Is your heart warming up? Good! Then it may be time for you to take the leap in sharing mindfulness with your students. Good luck and I can’t wait to hear about your class’ mindfulness practices.