*Today’s blog post was written by Paul Solarz, a recently retired 4th & 5th grade teacher and author of Learn Like a PIRATE. You can find him on social media at @PaulSolarz or at learnlikeapirate.com. Be sure to check out his projects: Blue Apple’s State of Sustainability and Take a Stand.

School systems throughout the world are adopting and implementing mindfulness programs for their students’ mental health needs at a rapid pace. Since COVID took its toll on students’ academic, social and emotional well being, many school districts have prioritized their students’ and teachers’ mental health over things like new technology, progressive pedagogy and research-based curriculum advancements. But what is “mindfulness” and why should it share precious class time with academic instruction when students’ academic skills have deteriorated tremendously since the lockdown?

Mindfulness education teaches its students to live in the present, rather than fixate on mistakes from the past or worry about things that may or may not happen in the future. Mindfulness training helps us appreciate what we’re doing right now (e.g. eating, walking, interacting with others, working, etc.), rather than just going through the motions while thinking about other things. Most of us today do a lot of multi-tasking due to our busy lives, but mindfulness teaches us to give our complete attention to one thing at a time, and to declutter our mind in order to achieve a sense of calm and contentment.

Here are just three mindfulness strategies that teachers can use throughout the week to both empower and inspire their students:  

  • 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding: This simple strategy can help your students by using their senses to bring them into the present. First, have students put away anything that may be distracting and find a comfortable place to sit. Then, have them identify 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they taste. By slowly engaging each of their senses, students are drawn into the present moment and taught to anchor themselves in the here and now.
  • Guided Meditation: Through guided meditation, students are encouraged to close their eyes and imagine what the narrator is describing to them. For example, one meditation that teaches students how to clear their minds of the “monkey chatter” in order to focus on the present asks students to imagine they are sitting by a stream while leaves gently fall from the trees. Any time a random thought enters their mind, they are asked to identify the thought and then set that thought on a leaf and let the leaf float downstream, allowing the student to bring back their focus to the present moment. This particular skill strengthens students’ concentration and teaches them how to stop focusing on unhealthy thoughts and worries.
  • Mindful Walking: Moving your class outdoors can have a profound effect on student engagement as well as mindfulness. Start by bringing your students to a flat, open path of 10-20 paces. Have them walk at a comfortable pace while being cognizant of their breathing. Remind them to intentionally feel the changing sensations in their feet and legs. Feel their contact with the ground. If their mind wanders, let it return back to walking. When they are done, have them stand still and recognize their new neutral position. Repeat as many times as needed. 

Over time, these strategies are intended to teach students the skills they need in order to be the masters of their minds. It’s through this daily or weekly process that students are able to learn WHY mindfulness is important, HOW to be mindful in our daily lives, and that we are in control of our thoughts, feelings and emotions, not the other way around! Instead of allowing stress, negativity and distracting thoughts to take control of our focus and energy, we become overtly aware of these psychological troublemakers, and use mindful strategies for controlling them rather than making excuses for why we can’t be successful. While at the same time, students learn that some emotions are too complex and powerful for us to control ourselves, and it’s then that we need to seek professional help to manage them.

What do you think? Does mindfulness training seem like a good use of students’ class time? Or is that time better spent on more academic endeavors? Do you think mindfulness instruction is here to stay, or do you think it’ll just be another memory from yesteryear?

*Image courtesy of Pixabay via Wikimedia Commons.