Sources say that 78% of teachers feel emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day? Turns out, practicing mindfulness through exercises such as reflective prayer can be a huge help to counteract this effect. This calming prayer is grounded in a large body of neuroscience research that shows the brain actually changes through “practicing non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (mindfulness).”
And it’s not only teachers and school leaders who benefit from mindfulness. Students can reduce disengagement and increase productivity. Even small increases in student engagement result in drastic increases in learning, proving that we should all take a few minutes to breathe, pray, and meditate.
Imagine yourself in this scenario:
“It was a dark and quiet classroom, and Sister was slowly, purposefully reciting an examination of conscience and related reflection questions to a group of 8th grade students. Sitting at their desks, heads down, students were intentionally breathing slowly. In the back of the room sat three observers: two teachers from a different school and one (extremely nervous) host. As the host, I knew that these students had recently eaten lunch and were possibly being lulled into a deep slumber right before the eyes of the two observers who had traveled far to see highly engaged teaching and learning. As Sister concluded her guided meditation on preparing to receive the sacrament of Penance, she lovingly asked them to finish up their private conversations with God and rejoin her for the remainder of class. Silently, one by one, the students began to sit up and track Sister as she began the day’s lesson. As observers, the three of us were struck by the reverence and seriousness each student had given to this exercise of faith as well as the renewed focus with which they attended to the proceeding lesson.”
In these long winter weeks of low motivation and high stress before spring break, we can tap into a mindful presence with our students. Without going too deep into neuroscience, the two main regions altered through practicing mindfulness are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the hippocampus. The ACC is associated with self-regulation (direct attention and behavior), suppression of knee-jerk responses, and flexibility when approaching different strategies. Damage to the ACC results in impulsivity, aggression, and inability to adapt behavior to different situations. The hippocampus is associated with emotion and memory and is particularly sensitive to sustained stressful situations.
The great thing about practicing mindfulness is that practicing for two minutes or two hours results in increased levels of perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, resilience, introspection, critical thinking, and sense of self.
Here are a few apps and websites to get you started:
GoNoodle - I was able to observe a “focus” video from these folks recently being used with a particularly vulnerable group of kindergartners and saw firsthand the calming effect it had on the little scholars before heading to lunch.