Mindfulness in education: when less really is more.

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How often do you get to the end of your day and wonder what even happened between dragging yourself out of bed and that final bell (or, as is more and more the case, several hours afterwards)? How long do we spend on autopilot? And how much of that time are you trying to do more than one task at once? More alarmingly, what affect is it having on us and, indeed, our students?

If you are like I was, the answers to the above are obvious and realistically, it will only end in stress, inefficiency and in not being the teacher our children deserve. I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to take part in a Mindfulness course run by Dawn Green of Your Mind Matters Ltd. I can’t say enough about the course and it’s content however you can find out more here. In short, I have become calmer, less anxious, more energised and my work has improved because of it. Mindfulness gives you the ability recharge your frazzled batteries by way of meditative techniques. Much of the course is practical but it is the shift in mindset and approach to work which has had the greatest holistic impact on my life, particularly minimalising multi-tasking. In the course, we follow the teachings in the book Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams. The way in which teachers live their lives means that we are often multi-tasking, spreading ourselves too thinly and emotionally it can be very challenging. A lot is asked of us and we will not last in the profession if we don’t look after our well being. I mean, why are so many leaving teaching? The purpose of this post is to outline how I have implemented mindfulness in the classroom:

  • One track mind – I would always have my email open when teaching, or when planning lessons (as well as my phone out for the latter) and this tiny distraction will through us off course and actually reduce our productivity (as well as raise our stress levels). The fix? Turn it off. Focus on one task at a time, do it and do it well. This also applies to our students. Focus on one task at a time, do it well, complete it and then move one whether this be no talking in the classroom or having the TV on when revising. In theory, you can do better quality work in less time.
  • Mindful meetings – I now hold a 3 minute breathing space at the beginning of meetings which allows staff to switch off from the stresses of the day and sets the tone for the meeting. Also, I now insist on turning off distractions (mobiles and laptops) whilst delivering notices or discussions.
  • Mindful teaching – I have used the 3 minute breathing space with my form at the beginning of the day, rowdy groups coming in from lunch and in the middle of our double lessons and this has had a very positive effect on behaviour and most students have said how much they enjoyed it. Sure, they’re not doing work for three minutes, but I have noticed the calming effect it has had on all of the groups with which I have tried it.
  • Mindful revision – I found a very useful resource on Twitter (originally posted by the @HecticTeacher) and have adapted it for our current year 11 students who are at risk of burn out before they even enter the exam hall – hopefully the videos (linked by QR code) on this mindfulness bookmark will help them reduce stress and anxiety as well as focus during a very tough time for them. You can download it here and feel free to adapt it.
  • Finding space for yourself – As I have said above, I can often go through the whole day without really stopping to think and now I have started to use the first 10 minutes of lunch time to meditate (I usually use the body and breath meditation here) and I feel this has had a positive impact on my stress levels and efficiency for the rest of the day.
  • Mindful music – I have started to play ambient music in the classroom whilst students are completing a large task in which focus is paramount, there is an article here that talks about mood changing music but I cannot recommend enough Marconi Union – Weightless (a song created to reduce anxiety levels) or Music for Airports by Brian Eno.

All comments and feedback welcome.

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