We’ve all been there. Recess ends, and a line of sweaty, overexcited children files back into the remote classrooms and plugs into the videoconferencing tool with a din that shakes loose any bit of calm you’d reclaimed while they were on a break. The students finally take their seats, but that’s when the real struggle begins: How do you pull their attention to the lesson at hand?
Of course, this is an age-old challenge for classroom instructors. But COVID-19 and the resulting social uncertainty and stress have made it even harder for students to concentrate and make progress on their lessons.1 And that’s why so many K-12 instructors are turning to the power of mindfulness to both improve their own mental health and performance and instill the next generation with the tools they need to achieve success amid uncertainty.
Mindfulness, or the discipline of repeatedly bringing one’s attention to the present moment, can deliver remarkable benefits to anyone who practices it. Here are three important ways teachers who model this practice can deliver those benefits to today’s students:
1. Mindfulness helps students improve attention, focus and memory
Attention, focus and memory are three key traits necessary for academic, professional and personal success, and mindfulness helps with all three. For example, researchers have found that using attention to complete tasks helps children learn to self-regulate and allows them to gain control over their own learning.2 In the same study, researchers also found an 18% reduction of inattentive behaviors during mindfulness practices, and when interventions were removed, students were less able to pay attention.
In a series of mindfulness sessions designed to enhance memory, Texas A&M University researcher Marta Monteiro found that students showed a 40% to 50% increase on standardized measures of attentional skills.3 If learning new skills requires control of attention, then students will need strategies from teachers to learn to maintain focused attention.
Achieving focus and being present in the moment are necessary, observable components of attention, such as when a child makes eye contact with the materials they’re using or the person speaking. Another researcher, Rose Bringus, commented that focus requires discipline and that when practiced successfully, it’s as if the rest of the world does not exist; the child becomes totally absorbed within a task4 — an invaluable skill for teachers to impart on students in a world full of distraction.
2. Mindfulness helps students improve emotional stability
Part of being human is accepting that emotions are with us in every experience and at every moment. Mindfulness gives students the power to respond and not react to negative experiences. Teachers who teach mindfulness can offer students control of their impulses and help them become aware of oncoming emotional responses.
Children from underserved, urban communities are especially prone to reacting to afflictive experiences. One study focused on schoolchildren in those communities was aimed to determine if mindfulness could help disadvantaged and chronically stressed youth by enhancing self-regulatory capacities.5 Activities included yoga, breathing exercises and guided mindfulness practices. The results were promising: One fifth-grade girl noted that she could remain calm when feeling stressed out or angry, and other students in the study noted less rumination, fewer intrusive thoughts and lower emotional arousal.
3. Mindfulness helps students improve academic performance
All these benefits of mindfulness to essential skills such as attention, focus, memory and emotional stability combine to allow students to achieve greater academic performance. The research bears this out, as well. In one study, 91 schools in 13 states used mindfulness practices and reported a decrease in rule infractions (50%), suspension days (38%) and absentee days (25%).6 Other benefits included increased GPAs and students getting into more prestigious schools.7
Most important, research found that mindfulness programs can be suited for students of all ages. One public elementary school (K-6) used a five-week mindfulness program that showed improvement in academic-performance categories such as paying attention, self-control, participation in activities and caring/respect for others.8
Teaching lifelong skills for lifelong students
Teachers have a unique opportunity to step beyond the curriculum and give students tools that will really affect their quality of life. By adopting and sharing mindfulness practices, teachers can share valuable lessons and crucial skills that will help students succeed both inside and outside the classroom.
So the next time you step into the virtual classroom, ask your students to close their eyes and imagine sitting next to a river. Tell them that a leaf falls from the canopy overhead, hits the water and begins to float downstream. That leaf represents a thought. It might be a conversation they had earlier in the day or a scene from their favorite film. Instead of putting all their mental effort into the leaf, you tell them to acknowledge it and watch it float by — along with the everyday stressors and anxieties preventing your students from making the most of their education.
Are you fulfilling your potential in the classroom?
Mindfulness is just one of the many life skills you can learn and impart to your students with a Master of Science in education online from Eastern Oregon University. Contact us to learn more about bringing mindfulness into the classroom, English for Speakers of Other Languages, and trauma in educational communities — all towards the purpose of forming more meaningful, life-changing connections with your most vulnerable students.
1 “Almost everyone is concerned about K-12 students’ academic progress,” Brookings Institute, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2021/03/23/almost-everyone-is-concerned-about-k-12-students-academic-progress/
2 Wilson, A.N., and Dixon, M.R. (2010). “A mindfulness approach to improving classroom attention.” Journal of Behavioral Health and Medicine, 1(2), 137-142.
3 Monteiro, M.P. (2015) “The Impact of Mindfulness Based Attentional Skills Training Program on School Related Self-Regulation Skills of Elementary School Children,” Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi https://tamucc-ir.tdl.org/tamucc-ir/bitstream/handle/1969.6/653/Monteiro,%20Marta%20dissertation.pdf?sequence=1
4 Bringus, Rose (2016). “The Effects of Mindfulness on Students’ Attention.” Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website: https://sophia.stkate.edu/maed/187
5 “Feasibility and Preliminary Outcomes of a School-Based Mindfulness Intervention for Urban Youth,” Springer Science + Business Media, http://hlfinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Feasibility-and-preliminary-outcomes-of-a-school-based-mindfulness-intervention-for-urban-youth1.pdf
6 “Infographic: Meditation in Schools Across America,” Edutopia, http://www.edutopia.org/stw-student-stress-meditation-schools-infographic
style="font-size:11px;"7 “Meditation Helps Lower Truancy and Suspensions,” Edutopia, https://www.edutopia.org/video/meditation-helps-lower-truancy-and-suspensions
8 “Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behavior Among Lower-Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children,” Journal of Child and Family Studies, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10826-013-9784-4