Faculty Focus


Master Teachers Are Mindful Teachers

Plants growing at different heights in the ground

*This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on November 27, 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved. 

Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening now, in the present moment. The present moment is the space between stimulus and response. A mindfulness practice can widen that space to allow more conscious choices rather than thoughtless reactions. This awareness can improve mental focus and academic performance. Mindfulness mysteriously seems to cultivate emotional balance, kindness, and compassion. These qualities enhance the learning process.

Mindfulness examples

  • Never tell the class that they are getting out early today. The minute you do that, they are energetically out the door with anticipation of class ending at any moment. They have their pen in one hand and their car keys in the other.
  • Or, try the above as an awareness exercise. Tell your class that they will be getting out early and then just before class is over, ask them how knowing this changed their attention.
  • While speaking, make use of the pregnant . . . . pause . . . to focus . . . . attention.
  • Announce to the class that you invite one person per class session to raise their hand and ask, “What are you feeling?” Model using descriptive adjectives: enthused, intrigued, demoralized, rejuvenated.
  • Take roll or hand back tests by having students responding with either “present” or “here and now.” Or, ask them to share something they are grateful for.
  • If using an attendance sheet, tell students they must sign it using their non-dominant hand.
  • At the beginning of class, have students write in their notes, “If I was going to be distracted by anything today during class, it might be ______________. I choose to set this aside during class today.”
  • When students break into small group discussion, notice and point out how seating arrangements affect energy flow and feelings of inclusion or exclusion.
  • Draw a partially closed circle on the board and ask how it feels. Then, close the circle and ask how that feels.
  • Suggest that students write a word, phrase, or initials at the top of every page of notes as a reminder of an intention. For example: BHN (Be Here Now), NG/NB/JI (Not Good, Not Bad, Just Is), Notice, Peace, Gratitude.
  • If continuing class after giving a test, have students hand in the completed test and pick up an almond, box of raisins, or some type of food and do an eating meditation while waiting for others to finish the test.
  • When the energy in the room has dropped to an unbearable level, stop the class and do a physical activity. Tell them to “freeze” and then ask, “What are you feeling right now?” Then, ask them to cross to the other side of the room and introduce themselves to at least three people on the way. When they are seated again, ask, “Now what are you feeling?” Point out the rise in energy level.
  • Model accepting what is. When classroom technology breaks down, “Oh, well, it’s not good; it’s not bad; it just is.”
  • A quick focusing technique: Look down at your feet, notice your shoes, the floor, where you are located. You are usually somewhere in the vicinity of your feet.
  • Take your own pause during class while erasing the board, distributing handouts, or while students work in groups.
  • During your own mindfulness practice, just notice, “ah, thought” or “ah, feeling.” Don’t label it or judge it, even if it is a pleasant thought or feeling.
  • Model making a process observation: “We seem to have touched a nerve.”
  • During a break in the classroom action, try Ten Conscious Breaths—or even three.
  • Metta: “May I accept things as they are. May I be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. May I have ease of well-being. May I be protected and safe. May I be happy.”
  • Say Metta for your students, your colleagues, for that really difficult student. Any compassionate quote, scripture, affirmation, or poem will do.
  • Acknowledge your transition time on the way to and from school.

Discussion questions

  • What is your previous exposure to or experience with mindfulness in the classroom?
  • If you have implemented mindfulness strategies in the past, what worked and what didn’t work? Why?
  • How can you imagine using mindfulness strategies in one or more of your courses?
  • What further information and support would you need to begin using mindfulness strategies in the classroom?
  • What are you feeling?

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Kris Roush teaches psychology at New Mexico Community College and blogs at http://www.movedandshaken.com/