How to bring mindful moments into your classroom
Let me preface by saying I am not a mindfulness expert. I do not have a special certification in mindful teaching, but I do have 14 years of experience teaching students who struggle with trauma, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and mood disorders (to name a few). This post and those that follow are based on practices I’ve set up in my classroom from which I’ve seen real results. Not all of the activities I share with my students are specifically mindfulness techniques, but they have all been scientifically proven to help reduce stress and improve quality of life.
If I can give students tools that reduce their stress levels and help improve their quality of life, even for the 90 minutes they are with me every other day, then I feel like have done something special and made a positive impact on my community.
Zen Time is 10 minutes at the beginning of class during which students can partake in any of the following stress relieving activities: reading, writing, meditating, yoga, drawing, or coloring.
Some of the results of implementing “Zen Time” in my classroom have been:
- Students who are more engaged during academic time.
- Students coming to me to discuss issues they wouldn’t discuss with most teachers because we’ve built a relationship of trust that values all emotions.
- Students expressing desire for more Zen Time because they “need it.”
- Students telling me that they’ve used the Zen Time strategies to get through difficult situations at home or work.
- Students who are now in college telling me that they’ve taught friends the Zen Time strategies they learned in my class because they knew said friends were struggling.
- Students telling me that Zen Time was they reason they got out of bed and came to school that day.
How I introduce Zen Time in my classes
You can’t just say, “Hey, I’m going to give you 10 minutes each class to be mindful or do something relaxing.” Students won’t know what to do with that. You have to teach them techniques and practice them together. I introduce the techniques in short mini-lessons over a period of two to three weeks.
I start with a question.
We use a digital platform called Schoology in my school district, but you might use Google Classroom, Edmodo, or something else. I find asking a question digitally rather than verbally offers more space for all students to feel open to responding. It also gives them more think time because they can form their response and make edits before submitting it for the rest of the class to see.
The question I ask is: “On a scale of 1-10 how stressed would you rate yourself right now/recently? Why? Do you do anything to help relieve that stress? If so, what? (Keep it school appropriate)”
Here are some of the responses I received to this question from just a single class (25 kids) a few weeks ago (high school seniors):
It seems all you have to do is ask to find out how stressed your students are and how little they know about how to relieve that stress. If you ask this question and receive responses like I did, then it’s very possible that some version of Zen Time could greatly benefit your students.
The next step is to introduce the idea of Zen Time and try a technique.
You can introduce the techniques in any order, but I like to start with meditation (partially because it’s the one I personally like the least and am not very good at). When we try it I can tell students about how I struggle with it and how it doesn’t work very well for me (yet), which gives them permission to struggle with any of the techniques and look for the one that feels natural to them.
With every step I provide them research about why the technique can work to reduce stress and improve mindfulness. Then we learn a little about the technique, try it as a whole class, and debrief on how it went for us.
Here are the slides I use to introduce meditation with links to the outside resources I use.
One of the most important aspects of the practice is the debrief. Make sure to talk to them about how it felt to try meditation (and each of the techniques as you try them). If you try the two different guided meditations I link to in the slide show, ask which they liked better and why. Ask what they struggled with or what went well. Make sure to ask how they feel after trying it. Just TALK ABOUT it. This will help something that may be very abnormal for them feel more normal.
My next post will walk you through how to use reading for relaxation during Zen Time. After you’ve worked through each of the strategies, your ultimate goal is to be able to provide 10 minutes each class period for students (and you) to use whichever technique they like best in order to clear their minds, decrease stress levels, and help them be more prepared for academics (and life in general).