Mindfulness for teachers

Mindfulness for teachers

Drawing on the most current research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and education, practical tips can reduce stress and enhance teaching.

Drawing on the most current research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and education, practical tips can reduce stress and enhance teaching.

by Patricia A. Jennings — 

Think about the people who have made a meaningful difference in your life and a teacher will probably come to mind. Every day, teachers make valuable and long-lasting contributions to the lives of our children and grandchildren. However, 50 percent of teachers today leave the profession after only five years, costing school districts tens of millions of dollars as they try to replace them with a shrinking pool of new graduates.

Much of this attrition is caused by stress. Whether it is kindergarten or high school, teaching is a highly demanding profession. Not only do we need to know our content material well, but we also must monitor the entire class while focusing on one or two students at a time.

We must attune ourselves to the entire class to assess the students’ level of engagement and understanding, as well as the social and emotional dynamics of the classroom. And we need to do this without becoming anxious or irritated, without over-controlling or under-controlling. Not an easy task. Most teacher education programs do not provide the training to manage these stressors, and the result is burnout.

Fortunately, growing evidence supports that mindfulness can help. During the course of my more than 40 years of personal and professional experience as a mindfulness researcher/practitioner, teacher, teacher educator and scientist, I have learned how to apply mindfulness to teaching.

Drawing on the most current research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and education, practical tips can reduce stress and enhance teaching. For example, one easy way to reduce stress is to take three deep breaths when you notice your stress level is beginning to rise. Because teaching requires so much attention and is emotionally demanding, we often do not notice stress building until we are almost ready to explode. I find that by taking a moment to bring mindful awareness to my body, I notice the tension, and by taking three deep breaths, I can calm down before I lose control.

Another tip is to use mindfulness during “wait time.” Research has found that when we wait a few minutes after asking our students a question, more students respond in ways that reflect a deeper understanding. We can make those moments a time to get centered. I like to focus my attention on my feet and feel the weight of my body on the ground for that short time period. By punctuating my life with short mindful moments, I find that I have more energy and my teaching is enlivened.

Having seen how mindfulness has helped create success in the classroom, I encourage teachers to learn mindfulness techniques so that they can manage the stresses of the classroom, cultivate an exceptional learning environment, and revitalize both their teaching and their students’ learning.

 

Patricia A. Jennings is an internationally recognized leader in the field of mindfulness in education. She is an associate professor of Education at the University of Virginia and author of Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom. tishjennings.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 3, June/July 2015.

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