There has been so much hype about mindfulness that it is easy to be skeptical about its efficacy in the classroom. However, my father, a biologist with a background in neurophysiology research, practiced Zen meditation for reasons not remotely related to the transcendental or supernatural. He did it because meditation is good for the brain.
He shared the practice with me as a teenager after observing that nervousness was preventing me from achieving my best performance as a pitcher in little league baseball.
His perspective is reflected in Carolyn Gregoire’s article, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion, which explores the synergy of meditation, compassion, and understanding.
Mindfulness Is All the Rage—But Does It Work?
— Bart Miller (@BarMillEDU) February 14, 2017
Early in my career, I discovered that if I asked my second grade class to pause at the door to our classroom after recess for a deep breath, coaching them to expand their abdomen for the inhalation and exhale as slowly as possible, their engagement and ability to focus was uncannily enhanced.
Last year, I encouraged my fourth graders to practice mindfulness for a few minutes after eating their lunch. They were a generally calm and thoughtful cohort and the practice seemed to benefit their focus and general mood of the classroom.
This year, I prepared for a class that already had a reputation for high energy, acting impulsively, and lacking attention skills. The plan was to practice mindfulness as a class for five minutes immediately after returning from morning recess. In the first week of school, we meditated for one minute. Then, for two minutes. I coached the students in various techniques such as breathing, counting exercises, and visualization. It also seemed to help convince them of the importance of meditation to describe how athletes, artists, and other professionals use mindfulness to improve their performance.
I was thrilled to receive an email from a grateful parent, who happens to be a physician, thanking me for introducing mindfulness to her child.
‘I think it is so important that children observe their feeling and that they themselves lead an answer for their next move from themselves and being mindful really helps them to do this.
I just want to thank you for thinking about the students’ future and offering this kind of tool that can really help them throughout their lives.’
The letter concluded by stating that they were happy to be in my class because I ‘can bring out the positive behavior and create special learning environment for everyone.’
Finally, when we could consistently sit silently for five minutes, we began using Simple Habit recordings to guide and practice. I should point out that the rules for our meditations are not strict. The students are not required to close their eyes, nor do I question them about their level of participation. As long as they sit silently, including reading a book, it is fine.
It’s difficult to assess any effect our meditation is having, although for certain it helps to instill a sense of calm in the classroom after morning recess. It is also a discreet opportunity to practice being Reflective. For that alone, it is worth continuing. But considering the possible benefits meditation can have for individuals, this could be a simple initiative with profound and lasting impact.