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Stuck in the Doldrums of Winter? Try Practicing Mindfulness

Thursday, March 03, 2016 by Ryan Clark, Ph.D.

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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).”

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.

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.

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:

For Adults

3 Minute Retreats
Pray as You Go
Calm
Headspace
Muse

For Students

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.

About the Author

Ryan Clark, Ph.D.

Ryan Clark, Ph.D.

Dr. Ryan Clark serves as Coordinator of Partnerships and Team Development with Notre Dame ACE Academies. He is tasked with the continuous improvement of the schools' academic achievement by creating and implementing a data-driven, focused, and coherent program of professional formation for principals and teachers. Clark served as faculty of supervision and instruction for the ACE Teaching Fellows program from 2006-2010 where he taught courses and supervised teacher formation. He has been teaching and working in K-12 and higher education for almost 20 years as a classroom teacher, administrator, and researcher.

Clark began his teaching career in Baltimore and then went on to teach in Montgomery as a member of the 3rd cohort of the ACE Teaching Fellows. He then spent several years as a middle school teacher in Portland before completing his Ph.D in Educational Policy at the University of Oregon.