Introducing Mindfulness in Your Classroom
In part two of our brand-new blog series on mindfulness, we take a look at introducing mindfulness into your classroom. Firstly, we’ll take a look at the basics of mindfulness and why it works well in the classroom, before we move on to how to make paying attention a positive, how to set your mindfulness ground rules and your first full mindfulness activity for your pupils.
What is Mindfulness?
‘Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.’
Sounds simple, right? But how much time do we spend reflecting on the past or worrying about the future? It’s no different for children. Whilst their worries may seem insignificant to grown-ups, when you’re young, problems often seem overwhelming. Bring playground politics and bullying into the mix and its no wonder that some pupils struggle to concentrate in the classroom. In addition, up to one in ten children suffer from diagnosable mental health problems, on average that’s three pupils per classroom.
So, using mindfulness in the classroom can be a useful tool to help pupils to focus. In its simplest form, mindfulness is:
• Paying attention
• On purpose
• In the present moment
• Without judgement
A simple way of thinking about the effect that mindfulness has on us, is that we become a witness to our thoughts and feelings, rather than letting them embody who we are. From a ‘witness position’ we can see the impact that events and people have on us, but by taking a step back and looking at it as a witness without judgement, it gives us a choice on how to react.
A great way to explain this to pupils is through the puppy mind analogy. When we first bring a puppy home, they are untrained, naughty and disruptive. This is our mind before we practice mindfulness. But with patience, kindness and repetition, our puppy will become well behaved and in control of its own actions. This is how we train our minds with mindfulness too.
There is increasing evidence that having a mindful classroom can have many benefits for pupils and teachers; ‘[studies demonstrated…] a range of cognitive, social, and psychological benefits to both elementary (six studies) and high school (eight studies) students. These include improvements in working memory, attention, academic skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety, stress, and fatigue’ Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students.
The Mindfulness in Schools Project splits the benefits for pupils into four key areas:
Wellbeing and Mental Health
As well as helping them to recognise worry, manage difficulties and cope with exams, developing a more mindful awareness also helps children and young people to appreciate what is going well and to flourish.
Concentration and Cognition
Mindfulness trains us to understand and direct our attention with greater awareness and skill. This may improve the capacity of children to concentrate and be less distracted, as well as their working memory and ability to plan.
Social and Emotional Learning
Mindfulness is often taught in the context of PSHE. It helps to develop a greater awareness of relationships and how to manage them (including difficult ones at home), as well as offering a richer understanding of things like self-esteem and optimism.
Mindfulness may help the young to self-regulate more effectively, manage impulsivity and reduce conflict and oppositional behaviour. It should not, however, be used as a disciplinary tool.
For some pupils being told to ‘pay attention’ may seem to be as punishment, as they only hear it shouted at them when they are distracted or messing about. For this reason, it’s good to discuss attention in a positive way before you start to practice mindfulness in the classroom.
What do your pupils pay attention to without thinking about it? The TV, video games, books, their friends? By pointing out that ‘paying attention’ isn’t only a thing that they do in the classroom, but that it is something that they do naturally all the time, you can remove any feeling of punishment from the term.
Using ‘mind anchors’, e.g. something to pay attention to, can help pupils to focus during mindfulness exercises. Here are six anchors to try with your class:
• A part of the body, e.g. feet resting on the floor or fingertips resting on the desk
• Breath; either counting breaths or noticing the way the air travels in and out of our bodies
• An object; use all five senses to properly look at an object (see The Raisin Meditation)
• Movement; ask pupils to pay attention to the sensations as they make particular movements
• A sound (or mantra); concentrating on a sound is an easy way to help children focus
• Nature; paying attention to a particular area e.g. birdsong or the way leaves move in the breeze
Pupils can benefit not only from paying attention, but from receiving attention too. Spending even a short time with a pupil can boost their mindset and make them feel ‘seen’ and valued. Why not try the following activity with your class:
Over the course of three days commit yourself to spending 20 seconds with each of your pupils, without trying to teach them or change them. This could be as simple as complementing their pencil case, asking them what they did at the weekend or asking them their favourite colour. The important thing is to give them your full attention for that 20 seconds without any judgement. In a class of 30 pupils, this means that you could speak to 10 pupils per day. Over the course of the three days, you will have made all of your pupils feel more valued in just 10 minutes.
Setting Your Mindfulness Ground Rules
Before you start to work on mindfulness with your pupils, it would be a good idea to set some ground rules. You could discuss these as a class before you start. Here are some ideas:
Personal Bubble – ask your pupils to imagine that they are surrounded by their own personal bubble of mindfulness. They should try not to pop anyone else’s bubble by distracting them whilst you are doing mindfulness exercises.
No Judgement – pupils will not be judged by you, or other pupils, for their experiences or thoughts whilst being mindful.
Eyes Closed/Open – whilst the class has their eyes closed, you should keep yours open for fairness and safety. Explain this to your pupils before you start.
Silence – Encourage pupils to enjoy the silence of mindfulness.
Sharing – Taking part in post-mindfulness discussions about their experiences or thoughts during exercises should be voluntary.
Respect – Pupils should be open minded and respect each others’ experiences.
Your First Mindfulness Classroom Activity
Once your pupils have an understanding of the concepts of mindfulness and the rules that you have set, it’s time to do your first mindfulness activity. There are lots to try, and some great guided videos on YouTube too, but why not start with a nice simple one like the 4-7-8 breathing exercise created by Dr Andrew Weil:
How to do it
Adopt the ‘noble’ posture: feet flat on the floor, hands on lap, spine relaxed but upright.
Prepare by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. You’ll need to keep your tongue in place throughout the practice. Exhaling during 4-7-8 breathing can be easier for some people when they purse their lips.
The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:
• First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
• Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
• Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
• Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
When you inhale again, you initiate a new cycle of breath. Practice this pattern for four full breaths. The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most critical part of this practice. It’s recommended that you only practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths when you’re first starting out. You can gradually work your way up to eight full breaths.
We’d love to hear your feedback. Why not let us know in the comments section at the bottom of this page? Next week, in part three, we’ll be discussing Metacognition and ‘talking about thoughts’.
Did you miss part 1 of our mindfulness series? Click here to find out how to harness classroom energy to help your pupils to improve their learning, and how you can boost your own energy levels with mindfulness.
In our first guest blog from Ross McWilliam, creator of the CUPPA confidence mindset books, we take look at teacher well-being and self-care. Click here to find out more.
CUPPA books have arrived at PTS! Created by Ross McWilliam, a children’s mindset expert, the CUPPA series of books is perfect for helping pupils to develop their confidence and resilience. Find out more here.