Mindfulness in the classroom: it starts with the teacher

mindfulness in the classroom

This school year has been harder than most for me. I have a big class, lots of kids with lots of needs, and I feel like I’m constantly stressed out. For some reason, the pressures of teaching and taking care of my students, plus adhering to all the other expectations that come with teaching in an elementary school these days, have left me feeling exhausted – even more exhausted than a normal kindergarten year. I’ve had more moments of disillusion this year than I have in the past (Am I really cut out for being a teacher? Am I losing my ability to be patient with my kids? Should I find another profession?)

It’s led me to a lot of soul searching. After lots of journaling, talking with colleagues, and reflecting, I’ve concluded is that yes, I still want to be a teacher, and am as dedicated as ever to teaching and reaching my students. But it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to step back and deeply appreciate those beautiful moments that come with teaching young children. Their sense of wonder, the joy they bring to the smallest of tasks, the lessons they teach me about happiness and humanity.

What I need are more strategies for making my days slower, happier, more joyful. Yes, stress will always be part of teaching. But if I learn how to manage this stress in a way that’s healthy for both me and my students, I know that my days will be more joyful, and peaceful, again.

After lots of reading, I’ve figured out a potential strategy for managing this stress. Enter: mindfulness! I feel lucky to have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon that is circulating the teaching field these days. Mindfulness in the classroom is a subtle but powerful concept that has brought hope back to the way I think about teaching. Our district requires us to do a professional development project each year, so I decided to take on mindfulness as my project this year. I plan to study mindfulness for teachers, students, and the curriculum – and share what I learn here.

The first lesson I’ve learned seems to be the most important: You can’t teach mindfulness to your students without practicing mindfulness in your life first.

Yoga, meditation, and journaling are all habits I use to bring more mindfulness into my life. Others use running, biking, walking, or restorative breathing. I’ve also heard of people who write a word like “awareness,” or a mantra like “breathe and let go,” on a stone, and put it on their desk in their classroom. This reminds them to take a pause and notice their body, notice how they are feeling, notice what they need to recenter themselves.

My favorite resources for learning the basics of mindfulness in the classroom, and how to adapt it in your own life first, are listed below.

Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom by Meena Srinivasan

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This book is written by a former teacher from India who now works on social-emotional development in the States. I love her short, informative chapters, her stories of the classroom, and her straightforward advice on bringing mindfulness into your life. She also provides an entire unit (geared towards 6th grade but adaptable for other ages) on mindfulness that would be perfect for the beginning of the year. I loved this book and it only took me about a week to read it.

Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, by Patricia A. Jennings

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This book was a longer read, and full of tons of strategies and habits for adapting more mindfulness into your life and classroom. This is a good one to read after you’ve had a basic introduction (maybe from the previous book I mentioned). The author really emphasizes how teaching is an emotional profession, much more than most jobs, and the stress level can be very high – and mindfulness strategies can really target the emotional stress that teachers experience every day.

The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen

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I have to admit I haven’t read this one yet! It’s got a long waiting list at the library, so I’ll get to it eventually! The author is pretty well known in the field as a mindfulness educator, and I’ve heard a few interviews with him (including this one from the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science – another awesome resource for learning more). I have no doubt it’ll be a good resource.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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This was my first introduction to meditation and mindfulness. The author is well-known as one of the first to bring mindfulness meditation to a larger Western audience. The book is really easy to read, with short chapters that give lots of practical advice on how to develop a mindfulness practice. He has tons of other books, but this one is a sufficient introduction to developing the habit. It’s also really cheap and you can often used copies at thrift stores!

Next week I’ll share some of my tips on how to teach mindfulness to your students. And eventually I hope to share what I learn about the benefits of mindfulness and working towards a more peaceful classroom. Thanks for reading!

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