Tony didn’t write for fifteen minutes and you didn’t notice and you have an Everest pile of marking, and a meeting you are presenting at the end of the day.
Sound familiar? Teaching can be really stressful; it’s often a culmination of small occurrences that build up throughout the day and create a knot in your shoulders and an uncontrollable urge to exhale at the end of the day.
Mindfulness for teachers can help. In this article we’ll outline what mindfulness is, the benefits of the practice, plus some examples to get you started.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is defined as the following by the NHS:
“Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander.”
For teachers, this can be a short and practical practice that can be incorporated into even the craziest schedules. Not only that, but that pent up stress throughout your day could be relieved by just a short and simple mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness exercises help you to be in the present moment, rather than concentrate on your ever growing to-do list. Mindfulness helps us to untangle the growing mess of thoughts in our heads and let go of unhelpful thoughts. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend mindfulness as a way to prevent depression and the NHS stresses the benefits of mindfulness for those susceptible to stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness for teachers can help:
- Stress and anxiety
- Low mood, sadness and depression
- Feelings of loneliness and anger
The benefits to mindfulness stretch beyond your individual wellbeing too. If you’re happier in yourself, that will no doubt have a positive impact on your performance in the classroom. In this piece written by an educator for the University of California’s Berkeley Greater Good Magazine, a whole host of classroom-related benefits to mindfulness are suggested.
- Better communication with students
- Better able to deal with difficult students
- Setup a positive learning environment
The evidence of its benefits is there for all to see too. A 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin looked how mindfulness can impact the wellbeing and working life of teachers. This was their conclusion:
The results of this pilot study suggest that a mindfulness intervention adapted for educators boosts aspects of teachers’ mindfulness and self-compassion, reduces psychological symptoms and burnout, increases effective teaching behavior, and reduces attentional biases.
At a basic level, mindfulness involves taking some time to sit and be in the present. Well, what on earth does that mean? The best way to control your brain to be in the present, to begin with, is to concentrate on your breathing.
- Slow down your breathing.
- Fill your mind with the feeling of your lungs being filled with air and then the movement of your body as you exhale.
- Focus only on your breathing.
- If your mind wanders (it may do this a lot to begin with) don’t berate yourself for it. Notice the thoughts and then send them on their way, bringing your focus back to your breathing.
- Start by doing this for one minute. Build up the time you spend on this mindfulness practice – aim for ten minutes.
Once you have mastered this simple mindfulness practice, you may find that it comes in very handy during points of high stress in the classroom and beyond. If you feel overwhelmed with your workload, take 5 minutes to focus on your breathing; the workload is still there, but you will feel mentally more equipped to deal with the situation.
The mindfulness bodyscan can really help you to physically and mentally relax. It can be better to lie down for this one in case it works so well it sends you to sleep! Lie down and guide your focus through your body.
- Begin with focusing on your breathing.
- Throughout this practice, notice the touch and pressure of the surface below you.
- Move your attention to different areas of the body either systematically from head to toe or sporadically).
- Take note of feelings of tightness, pressure, temperature and anything else.
- Work your way through your entire body.
Again, if you find your mind veering off to something else, accept the thoughts and then draw your focus back to the body part.
Mindfulness can be applied to a wide range of activities: gardening, eating and all sorts of exercise. It’s common to distract ourselves from the workout that we’re doing, but being more mindful of our exercise can be great practice of mindfulness and make your exercise more enjoyable.
- Use the breathing practice that was first mentioned during exercise to control your breathing during cardio.
- Try a body scan to take note of any pains, aches and potential weak points for injury.
- If you’re out in nature for your workout, use mindfulness to take note of everything you can see, smell, hear, touch and even taste.
Designate an everyday occurrence as a trigger for a moment of mindfulness. In school it could be the school bell for lunchtime or a notification you commonly get on your phone. Alternatively, it could be something on your journey home, like hitting the same traffic jam every day or watching a traffic light flick over to red.
Whatever it is, use it as a signal for a moment of calm. Bring some attention to your breathing and take a nice steady inhale and exhale. It doesn’t need to be anything extensive, just a brief moment to recognise your breathing and give it some attention.
Just be sure that, if you do choose to have your mindful moment in the car, you do so when you’re not moving!
Practice makes peaceful
On a final note, mindfulness needs practice. To begin with, you will find your mind wanders all the time. Try not to get angry with yourself over this. The distracting thoughts and the control to let them go is all part of the process and will help you let go of thoughts that stress you out. The more mindfulness you partake in, the more controlled and calm you will feel.
Mindfulness can help stress, anxiety and depression, but if you are feeling like you can’t cope, always seek the support of a healthcare professional. The NHS has great mental healthcare resources and can point you in the right direction if you’re struggling.