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The Art of Mindfulness for Educators

The Art of Mindfulness for Educators

Here’s a quick question for you: how many times a day do you stop and just breathe?

Of course, we know that you breathe all day. However, when was the last time that you totally stopped—when you came to a standstill in the midst of your chaotic day, stopped what you were doing, and relaxed everything from your mouth to your shoulders to your fingertips and even down to your toes and just breathed?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are experiencing lots of new challenges. You are trying to engage students digitally over virtual meeting platforms and are trying to encourage them to do classwork rather than be distracted by other interests during online classes. To survive this moment as educators, we need to have systems in place that help us find ways to de-stress, ground ourselves in the moment, and revitalize ourselves so that we can keep doing our essential and life-changing jobs throughout this trying time.

If you are anything like me, I can almost guarantee that stopping to practice mindfulness rarely occurs in your day-to-day life. Here’s a secret: if you are an educator, being able to stop, relax, and de-stress at any given moment is essential. I know this to be true because I was a classroom educator too. Sound impossible? It’s not! The practice of finding simple and easy ways to stop and breathe throughout your day is known as mindfulness. You too can start learning how to take advantage of this incredible personal technique. We will offer what you need to know about mindfulness and present some easy tips for integrating this practice into your daily lives. When done consistently, you can begin to learn how to maintain your presence inside and outside the classroom.

So, what exactly is mindfulness?

Is it the same as meditation, or is there a difference? As the art and practice of mindfulness have gained more attention, more and more individuals and organizations are providing their insight into a working definition. For example, the American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as:

a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.

Leading mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn offers an operational definitional of mindfulness: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Essentially, these definitions really mean that mindfulness involves the process of intentionally slowing down the conveyor belt of ruminating thoughts that run frantically through our mind on a minute-by-minute basis. Now, this doesn’t mean thinking less—it’s just paying closer attention to the thoughts that are there and making space to stop ourselves from buying into each thought that comes into your mind. In essence, mindfulness is about getting out of your head and into your body, into the present moment, where peace can be found.

How can mindfulness help my life?

For many years, the art of mindfulness has been used as a treatment for chronic and acute conditions, such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic stress, and many more conditions (see the linked studies for more information). These conditions are often exacerbated by ongoing mental stress. By finding the time to actively calm down the mind, you can help alleviate some physical symptoms by reducing psychological stress.

What else happens when you reduce stress through mindfulness? Cognitive function increases, which includes a variety of daily activities such as memory recall, attention span, alertness, reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Have you seen the connection yet? When your cognitive function is high, you’ll have more clarity and be better able to be the great educator you’re called to be!

According to a study, published in 2016, examining the effect of mindfulness on memory, after practicing mindfulness the participants involved showed better abilities to recall episodic memories, which led to improvements in their cognitive performance when tested. This reality is key for educators who need to remember a million things at once and can get very stressed by the prospect of having a mind full of names, dates, assignments, and more.

To test whether mindfulness can help teachers, a pilot study was conducted in 2013. This fascinating study found that after practicing mindfulness, the involved teachers experienced reduced symptoms of mental and physical fatigue and their overall classroom organization improved. Also noteworthy, their performance in an attention test also improved, and the teachers reported an increase in self-compassion.

How can I begin to apply this practice right now?

If you are an educator who struggles to find time to relax, you’re not alone. The great news is that you don’t need to force into your busy schedule a weekend at the spa to relax. You can find the refreshing peace of a vacation away right now—in your own mind. That’s probably a stretch, eh? But, you get the point.

To start the process, simply stop where you are. Breathe in and out, slowing down your breathing with each breath. Stop and feel your racing thoughts come to a halt, and feel present. What can you hear? See? Smell? Touch? Be in your mind; let your mind be still. Keep breathing. You’re doing great. Keep practicing; you got this, you amazing educator!

As we adjust to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, things can feel overwhelming. Take a look at few strategies to help regulate your emotions and soothe yourself when things in the environment feel out of your control.