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Chances are you’ve heard the term mindfulness, but do you know what it actually means? Specifically, do you know, as a teacher, what it can mean for your students? How do we practice classroom mindfulness?
To be mindful is to be wholly connected to the hearts of others. We feel their pain as our own pain and wish for their joy and infinite spiritual development. Interestingly enough, this is also the most profound aspect of social-emotional learning.
Mindfulness in the classroom means using a student-centered approach that focuses on ensuring learners are motivated and empowered to improve constantly. As teachers, we guide that learning by responding proactively to student performance, being present for our students and aware of what’s happening with them, and using the best formative assessment practices possible.
How to Practice Classroom Mindfulness
What is a mindful classroom? How does it work, and how does the concept fit into teaching and learning? Most importantly, what does it mean for our learners?
Let’s begin with a quick bit of background on how this applies to classroom instruction. We discussed the concepts of mindfulness in our bestselling book, Mindful Assessment.
In terms of learning, the key to mindfulness is being fully in the moment and seeing possibility rather than finality as a benchmark for progress:
“In practicing aikido, the sensei would never simply tell a student, ‘That was 74 percent.’ Instead, the sensei would watch mindfully and comment on what needs improvement, demonstrate it, and then provide the opportunity to improve. Similarly, a parent teaching a child to cook would never say, ‘That was 74 percent.’ Instead, like the sensei, the parent would watch, demonstrate, and allow the child a chance to get better. These acts of mindful nurturing and guidance are examples of natural learning, and we perform them instinctively.”
A good way to describe mindfulness is to say that it is based on both awareness and acceptance. When you are being mindful, you are focusing your awareness on the present moment.
In addition, you are accepting of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without critique or judgement. This is why mindfulness meditation is so often used as a therapeutic technique.
A mindful classroom is developed and maintained in a constant state of practice. Contemplate the following list offering some simple methods you can use to practice classroom mindfulness right now. Which of these are you already doing? Which would you like to begin bringing to your own practice?
Hear the Pain, Not the Words
Human suffering wears many faces, and our suffering is openly displayed in how we speak under stress or in times of uncertainty. The fact is at many points during their academic careers, students will experience duress and anxiety of every definition.
In times like this it’s important, as a teacher who will lead them safely, that you recognize the pain behind the words they speak.
A mindful classroom is developed and maintained in a constant state of practice.
The logic behind this is simple. In the midst of suffering, our words can deflect away from our true feelings. We either say things we don’t mean or don’t intend, or we don’t say enough. However, if you really listen to the pain behind the words, you’ll see evidence of a deeper issue than any words could express.
This is the beginning point for change to take place through your own awareness. Once you hear the pain, you can open a safe doorway for students to express the frustrations and fears of the moment, whatever they may be about.
Provide Actionable Feedback
Learning is a journey, not a destination. Along that journey we must provide learners with constant, honest, and enabling feedback. This mindfulness practice helps them understand where they are, where they can go, and what they must do to get there.
Think of feedback in terms of the care you would give to a precious seed you are growing in your garden. The seed is the learning, the soil represents the mind of the learner, and the feedback is the water and nutrient content you provide to promote its growth.
With feedback, we want to make sure that our learners’ minds are nurtured and empowered to bloom.
Seeds grow much stronger and healthier in rich soil that is well cared for. If we neglect the soil by not watering or nourishing it, and simply leave the seed to fend for itself, it may struggle and survive for a while. However, without the attention it needs to sprout and thrive, it will ultimately wither and die.
With feedback, we want to make sure that our learners’ minds are nurtured and empowered to bloom. We do this by cultivating an environment of optimum growth conditions through high-quality feedback that encourages and inspires them.
Ask Three Important Questions
As part of how you practice classroom mindfulness, we urge you to pose these questions to your students regularly.
What are you curious about?
What subjects and topics interest and excite them? What do they want to know, discover, or learn about? Asking these things tells our learners we care what they think and feel about their own learning pathways. Knowing we cherish their independence as they do is what drives them to succeed.
What are you concerned about?
Our learners care about what’s going on in the world, locally and globally. They have a high awareness and strong opinions about the state of things in our world. Asking them to share these ideas and concerns opens the doorway to deeper paths of inquiry and problem-solving potential.
What do you want to create in the world?
In as much as they are aware, today’s learners are also highly creative. They don’t just have ideas about what concerns them; in many cases, they believe they know how to change it. This question provides a logical progression from the second question. It’s how we achieve transformational learning by encouraging creative expression and application.
Mindful Assessment for a Mindful Classroom
If we unify with our students when we practice classroom mindfulness, then our thinking becomes about teaching in response to learning, with assessment as the method through which the learner understands how to improve.
This happens through the practice of assessing learning mindfully; that is, being conscious and in the moment, seeing the situation clearly, and using assessment to confirm or create clarity on how to improve.
Our bestselling book Mindful Assessment has all you need and more to make this kind of environment a reality in your classroom.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 14, 2019, updated September 29, 2021