Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction in the Classroom
Unfocused Students and Time Management
One of the greatest challenges that even seasoned teachers face in the classroom setting is time management. In their efforts to increase student productivity, facilitate the development of critical thinking skills, and engage in thoughtful, directed conversations designed to get students absorbed in the curriculum, the inevitable disruptions arise. These peer disturbances can run the gamut from texting, passing notes, and idle chatter to, in much worse cases, blatant interruption of the teacher, or at it’s most extreme, verbal and physical assaults. Of course, the previous scenarios are by no means the norm for every classroom in every school, but classroom disruption is a common enough occurrence that many teachers continue to struggle with time management.
Why Do Disruptions Happen?
There are a variety of factors that are potentially the cause of classroom disruption. For instance, some students do not feel motivated enough to be fully aware of what they need to do to keep up with classroom activities. This lack of motivation could be due to volatile home/community environments, or a lack of social support for their educational goals. They might face linguistic barriers to understanding the curriculum, or they could be facing peer pressure to fit in and underperform. It could even be due to a lack of nutrition. The list of reasons for disruption goes on ad infinitum, but the question remains what can be done to drastically shift the culture of unengaged classrooms to places where students are active, attentive participants, and teachers can efficiently manage their time?
Science Has Something to Say About How to Fix This!
Recent studies in social psychology and neurobiology suggest that cultivating mindfulness amongst students might be the key to getting them to settle down (Sibinga et al., 2009). Mindfulness is an idea that springs from the Buddhist tradition of thought (Sauer et al., 2011). It simply suggests that by quieting the mind through deep breathing and intentional focus on relaxation, a person can calm himself or herself enough to be fully present with where they are and what they are doing (Bowden et al., 2012). When they are finished, they can focus entirely on the task at hand because racing thoughts no longer distracts them from being present in the moment. Research conducted on MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction with social workers and health professionals has found that taking a small period of time at intervals each day to meditate and breathe deeply greatly reduces the production of stress related hormones such as cortisol (Ruotsalainen et al., 2008). The benefits of this relaxation technique are myriad; overall physical health and quality of life has been shown to greatly increase, along with productivity and positive associations with the work environment. In addition, MBSR techniques facilitate the growth of people’s prosocial behaviors or, their willingness to help others and behave with compassion. In the same way that these professionals learned to do, students who have difficulties with focusing can learn to relax and let go of what is bothering or distracting them for the time being.
How Can Mindfulness Work for Teachers in the Classroom?
So how exactly might Mindfulness Based techniques work in the classroom setting, you might ask? If you are a teacher, imagine yourself at the front of the classroom. Each day that you begin class, instead of launching headlong into the day’s tasks, you can ask the class to sit still, close their eyes, and take ten really deep breaths in silence. You should be able to hear their breaths. Instruct them to let their shoulders and bellies completely relax, while continuing to sit up straight. As they breathe, calmly ask them to imagine a color that they feel soothed by to help them clear their minds. Remind them gently that they are there for a purpose: to focus and be present with you and their peers while engaging themselves in the act of learning. This exercise will take only a few minutes to complete. That may seem like a lot to sacrifice during a 50-minute class, but think of the time that this MBSR technique could save you in the long run. If the energy of the classroom seems to build back up toward being overly excited or disruptive, you can ask everyone to stop what they’re doing, sit still, and complete the exercise again. At first, some students may laugh or not take the exercise seriously. But as you incorporate this practice into your everyday routine, hopefully you will find that your students are calmer, centered, and present enough with you that time management is no longer an obstacle to teaching what you love.
Sará Benin attended Pitzer College in Claremont, California where she received her B.A.’s in Afro-Diasporic Studies and in Linguistics. During college, she taught pre-school through AmeriCorps Jumpstart at Para Los Ninos in Pomona, California. Afterwards, she completed her M.A. degree in African-American Studies and Political Science at U.C.L.A. Throughout her academic career, she remembered her transformative experience working with bilingual children through AmeriCorps Jumpstart and felt strongly that education was key to solving the political and identity crises that many students face, especially in low-income areas. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at U.C.L.A. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and a graduate student researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology. Her research interests have returned full circle back to her love of science: she is currently researching how yoga and meditation can potentially increase mindfulness and empathy in high school students through the theoretical lens of interpersonal neurobiology. In her spare time, she loves watching her daughter Dahlia grow and laugh, reading about fashion, and spending as much time as possible at the beach.