5 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness with Your Students
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, March/April 2022 Issue
By Amanda Ferraioli
Education around the world has transformed for teachers and students alike over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirteen years into my teaching career, I feel like a first-year teacher again. The weight of mounting demands feels unbearable. Teachers are struggling to provide engaging, effective lessons while educating students who have received varying levels of instruction during the most trying times of the pandemic.
In the midst of these challenges, teachers also have to navigate the social and emotional needs of their students, along with ever-increasing class sizes and varying levels of support from administration, all while adhering to COVID-19 regulations. Many days it feels as though there isn’t a spare moment to breathe, let alone add anything else to our already-overflowing plates.
Although our plates might be full, however, many of our cups are empty. To be our best teacher-selves, it is important that we find ways to fill those cups. And not only do we need to fill them, but we must make sure we are putting in the effort to fill them with things that are positive, life-enhancing, and will make a lasting impact on ourselves and those around us.
One of the best ways to do this is by incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives. We can have our cake and eat it too by encouraging mindfulness in our students at the same time. Now is the perfect opportunity for teachers and students to develop consistent mindfulness practices, together.
Mindfulness is the mind’s ability to be fully present. Being mindful means being grounded in the moment. Each of us has the ability to access mindfulness amidst the daily stresses with which we are presented. Mindfulness techniques allow us to return to a calmer, centred space in our minds and hearts.
What does this mean for teachers in the classroom and their students? Promoting mindfulness allows teachers and students to practice coping strategies, learning to think through problems instead of immediately reacting to them, and developing empathy that, ultimately, brings us closer together. Mindfulness returns us to our bodies, brains, and hearts, helping us to clear away the cobwebs that build up as we become engrossed in our lives.
Mindfulness exercises promote social and emotional well-being while helping us to form close relationships in a safe and nurturing learning environment. Educating students in mindfulness and providing them with opportunities to practice will enhance their focus, ability to regulate emotions, social skills, and self-esteem.
As a second-grade teacher and yoga and mindfulness instructor for both adults and children, here are my favourite easy ways to incorporate mindfulness in the classroom.
1. Quiet Time
Developing a short period of quiet time in the classroom gives space for reflection and creativity. During this time students may colour, draw, read, solve number puzzles, make cards, write stories, and engage in the creative process. Placing Quiet Time after an especially rambunctious activity, such as outdoor recess, allows students to settle both their bodies and minds. Play calming music, maybe a video of a crackling fire, and let imaginations shine.
Five minutes is truly all that is needed to reap the benefits of this calm, centred environment. While kids are actively creating, exploring, and engaging in independent activities, teachers are given the gift of time to connect with individual students. Forming bonds with each student is what a masterful teacher values, but this can be difficult enough in a regular year, not to mention during a pandemic.
Quiet time allows teachers to learn the interests and hobbies of each student and use that knowledge to form deep and meaningful connections. Teachers will enjoy watching children’s interests flourish and observing how their students face or solve problems. Valuable information is gained during this time that goes beyond the curriculum and standardized test scores.
2. Gratitude Journal
Give each child a journal. Model for students how they can use writing to reflect on positive experiences, collecting and recording them in one location. Creating a gratitude journal can be done in many ways. Teach students to record the date or the month of the year and write their bulleted gratitude list underneath. Have students write down a specific family member, friend, place, or pet and what about them triggers gratitude.
Gratitude journaling has positive, lasting effects on the brain. It allows us to focus on the gifts in our lives and develop clarity, while helping to reduce stress. Students will also learn to develop a growth mindset, facing challenges with resilience and persistence.
Write alongside your students and you will begin to reap the benefits of this exercise with them. Keeping a consistent gratitude journal with your students will help you to maintain the same growth mindset during the many challenges and changes with which we are faced.
3. Sing a Song
Gather students for a Morning Meeting or Sharing Circle by playing music with positive, uplifting lyrics. Prepare a Song Lyrics folder for each student with the songs you will cycle through. Students can either sing along or listen to the song as they read the lyrics.
Find songs of different styles, artists, and generations. Encourage students to present you with song ideas that encourage positive values such as friendship, persistence through hard times, and gratitude. Sing with your students and feel the togetherness that comes with a group of voices joining as one.
4. Yoga Brain Breaks
Get moving in between lessons! Help students become more mindful by leading them in gentle yoga movements to align their bodies and minds, focus their attention, and train their breathing. Involving students in daily yoga activities is a great way to practice balance, both inside and outside of the classroom walls.
Students will learn to notice and listen to their bodies when they need a break. Yoga poses like mountain pose, tree pose, and the warrior poses are more grounding, while star pose, cobra, and bridge pose focus on opening the body.
Teach students to breathe in and out while they learn to sharpen their focus, decompress, and find inner peace. These same calming breaths can also be used to show students how to de-escalate and find their centre during especially challenging circumstances. Practicing yoga and breathing consistently allows students to maintain these strategies and use them as tools throughout their lives. And what better time to begin using them than now?
5. Meditation or Guided Imagery
In between lessons, incorporate meditation or guided imagery to help children focus their senses on the present moment, increase their attention spans, and develop a keen ability to concentrate. Books such as Breathe Like a Bear and Peaceful Like a Panda by Kira Willey are excellent resources to guide an educator through leading these exercises.
Visualization is a powerful technique that will benefit students academically and personally. Students who practice this skill are better able to create sensory images during read-alouds, develop mental images to assist them in solving mathematical story problems, and imagine possible solutions to ambiguous issues.
Guided imagery also helps improve confidence, practice goal setting, and develop a strong foundation for imaginative play. Teachers will feel these same benefits while leading the activity. It is a great way to get ready to conquer the rest of the day, look ahead to the future, and envision the possibilities!
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Mindfulness activities are growth opportunities for both teachers and students. In these unparalleled and unprecedented educational times, incorporating consistent mindfulness practices is a simple and easy way to support the social and emotional needs of our students and staff. These practices nurture a bond between the teacher and students, which will create a safe, supportive environment that encourages individual thought and collective creativity.
Now is the time to support one another, both students and teachers alike. We are stronger together.
Amanda Ferraioli is a 2nd grade teacher in Malvern, PA, as well as a certified yoga, mindfulness, and meditation instructor for children and adults. Amanda is always learning and growing as an educator, because she is a mom of three entertaining and energetic children, ages 7, 5, and 1!