Have you ever said or done something and later regretted it? Or have you ever driven somewhere and, once you arrived, had no recollection of driving there? Have you ever planned out what you were going to say instead of listening while someone else was speaking? Of course you have; we all do these things. We spend much of our lives in our heads thinking about the past or future instead of living in the present moment. But guess what? The present moment is where much of the good stuff happens!
Surely, at times, there is good reason to live in the past or the future. While life is full of good stuff, it is also full of uncertainty. With uncertainty come anxiety, stress and imbalance.
Fortunately, there is a tool that can help you live in the moment and manage the negative emotions that can come along with it: Mindfulness—awareness of the present moment— supports practitioners by providing insight while going through those ups and downs.
About 25 years ago, I took a mindfulness course designed to teach people how to get out of their own way. It helped. A lot. But once the class ended, I let my practice lapse. My days were always so busy with to-do lists and responsibilities. Who had time to sit and do nothing? Yet, 15 years later, when a colleague mentioned the kids she worked with at a Title I school were living with incredible turmoil, my immediate reply was, “They need mindfulness.”
Why Bring Mindfulness Into the Classroom?
Mindfulness is not just for stressed-out adults. Mindfulness creates readiness to learn, a proven, major predictor of academic success. In 2007, as part of Park Day School’s Community Outreach Programs, in Oakland, California, a few community members and I decided to try out the idea that kids living with serious stress might benefit from mindfulness.
The first lesson was taught by a man with decades of mindfulness experience in a third-grade classroom at a Title I school. The session lasted 15 minutes and consisted of ringing a bell three times. The first time, the students just listened to the bell. They loved the long, enduring sound of a gorgeous chime. The second time, he instructed the students to listen to the bell with their eyes closed, and he asked them if they heard a difference between the first and second time. The third time, he prompted them to raise their hands when they could no longer hear the bell. The fourth time, he asked them to listen to “no bell,” just the ambient sounds in the room. At that point, an 8-year-old raised his hand and said, “I think if we do this every day, we aren’t going to fight anymore.” That lesson and comment helped contribute to a growing movement to bring mindfulness into schools.
After more than 40 years of experience, I believe mindfulness should be taught daily in every classroom, from preschool to grad school. When kids learn mindfulness, they learn to pay attention. Also, practicing mindfulness promotes impulse control because we create space between how we feel and what we do about it. When we realize we are angry, instead of acting on that anger, we recognize it and create space to make wise choices. This is the basis for good classroom management. The benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction have been researched and proven for decades; teachers and students benefit equally from less stress in the classroom and in their lives. Finally, because mindfulness makes us aware of our own emotions and those of others, students and teachers become more empathetic. This creates more kindness and compassion, resulting in stronger communities. Our hearts send many more messages to our brains than vice versa, and taking time to pause makes it much easier to pay attention to our hearts.
Fortunately, opportunities to practice mindfulness in the classroom abound. Three models exist:
- Teachers take courses to learn mindfulness themselves before teaching their students;
- Mindfulness teachers can teach your students;
- Digital audio programs enable teachers to learn mindfulness with their students.
The movement is well on its way. I’m hopeful that, sooner than later, mindfulness will be taught every day in every classroom in the country.
Grossman, the director of program development and outreach for Inner Explorer, is the co-author of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress and the co-founder of Mindful Schools.