Students (and people in general) are constantly thinking about something. They come into class with a brain full of information from their past experiences. This past year I started implementing Mindfulness activities into the classroom. At Advancing Learning, Dan Woodward shared his experience using mindfulness in the classroom. It was an insightful session from someone who has a lot of experience. His slides are attached to the description at this link.
Students in his class and mine have benefited from mindfulness activities. On my course evaluations, students commented that the mindfulness activities were among their favorite in the course. Taking a moment to focus on being present by simply taking a breath can have a profound impact on their ability to be successful.
Dan views it as an incentive to encourage students to be on time. Both of us ask students not to interrupt the class during the mindfulness portion of the class. He tells students that it is not polite or respectful to interrupt meditation. He holds the door closed. I put a sign on the door, but I had a few students come in any way during a meditation. Respecting the space for meditation or mindfulness is important in order to effectively engage students in the activity. Setting these expectations with students on day 1 is recommended.
Dan argues that students need to be warmed up for class. It makes sense. It is unrealistic to expect students to come to class ready to fully engage. They have just been somewhere else involved in something else that may be stressful. He talked about how musicians practice before going on stage. Similarly, students need an opportunity to become present before engaging in class activities. Getting students into a mindset where they can be present means that class time will be more efficiently used.
Learning to focus takes practice. It is important to encourage students (and yourself) to be non-judgemental. Google does it. They have an employee whose job is to “enlighten minds, open hearts and create world peace.” They start meetings with moments of silence. See the video clip below.
Simply using a gif like the one below is a good solution for educators like me who are new to mindfulness activities. If you put a gif like this on a PowerPoint slide you can simply direct students to breathe with the gif. Slowing down breathing naturally promotes mindfulness and has a calming effect. I used it before and after discussing stressful topics in class (like exams and assignments). Simply go to Google and do an image search to find one you like.
I have also used YouTube videos to guide meditation in my class. Before bringing htem to class I always try it on my own first. Meditation is the most common way mindfulness is practiced.
The raisin activity is a common mindfulness activity. He described it as saluting our senses. The same thing can be done with any item in the classroom. All you re doing is interrupting the flow of thoughts and bringing them into the present.
Dan practices an open heart meditation before every test. It sounded like a good activity to do before a test. He had us engage in the activity during his presentation and it made a difference in how I felt. There is more information in his slides about it.
Dan also includes affirmations in his classes as a way to support positive thinking. Again, he has an example in his slides. My colleague also does this with her kids, which is a good idea. I am going to do more of that.
Why wait? Start now. Get students practicing for their own mental health.