There is a significant amount of research about the benefits of mindfulness in education. Much of the research shows that consistent mindfulness practices in classrooms lead to lower stress levels and higher test scores. It is a hot topic and wanting to to do the best for students, we are seeing more of it in schools. There are all kinds of books and videos on breathing and mindfulness exercises for reduction of stress for kids. I have learned to practice meditation myself and I have used some mindful practices with my students and believe that at the right time and in the right circumstance mindfulness practices can be powerful. I am left wondering, however, if the practice of mindfulness in some cases is becoming routine or something to check off on a plan and not truly ‘mindful’ at all?
Let’s take yoga for example. Yoga instructors go through intense hours of study in order to practice and teach others. However, teachers pop on a kids yoga YouTube video and we’re “being mindful”. I’m not being critical. I have done it myself! My question or wondering is; what are the implications of these actions on a broader level? Yoga is about mind and body. My worry is that we are literally “going through the motions” with students and not really giving them a true mindful experience.
How about a timed meditation? Everyone drop everything and take part in a guided meditation right now! I understand the idea behind this strategy; the whole school is engaging in the practice at the same time. However, isn’t the idea that students will learn to develop mindfulness skills to help them in stressful situations? It is a starting place, but hopefully there is more in-depth practice and explicit teaching happening. Otherwise isn’t it more a kind of fast-food approach to mindfulness?
Mindfulness needs to have an environment that is conducive to practice. Norms and expectations need to be established and there has to be “buy in” from the students. Students require a variety of skills in order to truly practice mindfulness and they need to be explicitly taught so that students can use what they know in order to transfer the knowledge into other situations. Finally, it has to be modeled by the adults in the room. If there is mindfulness being practiced, everyone should be doing it and debriefing the experience and learning together. If a teacher is busy organizing the classroom library while the students are being mindful, it won’t demonstrate that mindfulness is valued.
We can’t be experts at everything. We can’t always have a certified yoga teacher come into our classroom. Whatever we are teaching it must be done with intention, done explicitly and through modeling. Going through the motions out of habit and routine may do more harm than good.