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Teachers: Use Mindfulness to Help Students' Academics


High school can be stressful for teens, from academics to part-time jobs to relationships. To help teens manage it all, some educators are using mindfulness - a secular meditation technique rooted in Buddhism.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment without judgment, says Amy L. Eva, an education content specialist for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California - Berkeley. Over time, individuals develop the ability to detach from whatever they are dealing with so they are not coming down on themselves often, she says. That could be especially important for students who worry about grades.

"CHS Mindfulness and Yoga! #Breathe"
- @Coventry High School (@CoventryOakers)

While Eva says mindfulness hasn't been directly correlated with improving academics, research has shown it can decrease anxiety and improve attention.

"I loved mindfulness," says Allison Kammerman, now a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Virginia. When she was a junior at Woodson High School in Virginia, her English teacher guided her class through weekly 10- to 15-minute mindfulness sessions. Her teacher would ask the class to find a comfortable position to sit, then tell students to try to focus on their bodies and the exercise - not their thoughts.

The effort was a part of a mindfulness program at the school, says Mary Beth Quick, a yoga and mindfulness teacher in Virginia who spearheaded the initiative. Kammerman says she was very busy in high school, but the mindfulness sessions gave her time to focus on herself.

While Eva cautions that mindfulness isn't a cure-all, the practice may help all participants - including teachers - feel more alive, focused, attentive to each other and engaged in the classroom.

Educators interested in incorporating mindfulness into their high schools can follow these three steps to get started.

Step 1. Explore mindfulness: Teachers need to experience mindfulness before they can pass on techniques to students, says Eva.

One option is Mindful Schools, which offers online courses for teachers, she says. In addition to the Greater Good Science Center at UC - Berkeley, the University of California - Los Angeles Mindful Awareness Research Center and the University of California - San Diego Center for Mindfulness offer resources for teachers, Eva says.

She also recommends teachers explore books, such as "Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom" by Patricia Jennings and "The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-being in Teachers and Students" by Daniel Rechtschaffen.

Step 2. Consider how to bring mindfulness into class: Quick, the Virginia yoga and mindfulness educator, says teachers can incorporate mindfulness through regular formal one- to three-minute guided sessions.

During this time, Quick says teachers can instruct students to notice what's happening with their breath, thoughts and mind - and tell them to focus on one specific thing to allow their body and brain time to rest.

Or teachers could include mindfulness informally, she notes. For instance, if students seem scattered, teachers can ask them to stop and spend 30 seconds paying attention to their breathing or sounds in the room. Or they set a timer to go off once an hour to serve as a moment to breathe.

Step 3. Establish a mindfulness program: Eva says that mindfulness works best as a sustained experience. Beyond the classroom, she says schools could establish formal mindfulness program in advisory periods, study hall, standalone courses or health classes.

She recommends schools have a mindfulness practitioner teach educators how to lead the practice.

At Woodson High School over the past several years, practitioners have led both students and teachers in mindfulness for 25 minutes once a week for eight-week periods, Quick says, allowing them to develop the skills needed to continue the practice on their own. She says the school ended these sessions in 2017, mindfulness has become part of the school culture.

Former Woodson student Kammerman says she continues to use mindfulness in college and she recommends all high school teachers try the meditation technique.

"It's not very hard to take five or 10 minutes out of your class, once, twice a week, to help your students," she says. "For those of us who enjoyed mindfulness you could really see a difference."

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