Curious about how to teach or begin a mindfulness practice? These 10 Mindfulness Quotes for Teachers help introduce mindfulness basics with definitions, the benefits, and attitudes of mindfulness to support you in the classroom–and your mental peace wherever you are. Enjoy mindfulness resources, including ideas for short, simple mindfulness practices.
When I first read this quote, I thought, “Whoa! How bold!” Then I thought about my own experience of witnessing the power of mindfulness.
When I first began a short, simple mindfulness practice called TAPS with my 4th grade students, I was amazed with how my students were more attentive and productive after this two-minute mindfulness practice. I was also amazed with the calm I personally experienced. The silence of the classroom and the awareness of my present moment experience of breathing meant I was experiencing relief from the typical teacher overwhelm of an endless to-do list, high standards, and time constraints. I felt that I was a better teacher afterward because of it.
Like most teachers, my hope is that students will transfer classroom knowledge and skills into everyday situations. So I was delighted when nine-year-olds chose mindfulness to pause when a beloved eraser was lost, or when their kickball team lost a game (and they’d historically lash out at a bragging classmate). These are scenarios I witnessed as an elementary teacher– students who were formerly quick to react to maddening situations in ways they’d later regret, but then they remember they’d been taught mindfulness, and they chose to take a break to breathe instead.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Studies have shown that people who regularly practice mindfulness experience: greater attention (leading to greater productivity), decreased reactivity (leading to more thoughtful decisions), a greater ability to cope with stress, and improved health and quality of life in general (just to name a few).
Mindfulness is a proactive way to benefit everyone (whether teacher or student) with simple awareness before we react to a stimulus. Students who’ve been taught mindfulness know they’re in control of how they respond to situations. And ideally, they take accountability for their actions. With those powerful life skills, now when I see the Dalai Lama’s quote, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation”, I still think that the quote is bold, AND it’s true.
What is Mindfulness?
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues started Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction in 1979 as a way to treat patients with chronic pain. He crafted the widely-used definition of Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn identifies seven fundamental Attitudes of Mindfulness– Non-Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non-Striving, Acceptance, and Letting Go– described in his book Mindfulness for Beginners. He says that other attitudes–such as Gratitude, Compassion, Humor, and Generosity–develop through the cultivation of the aforementioned fundamental seven Attitudes of Mindfulness. You can find out more about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness books on his website.
I view the Attitudes of Mindfulness as pillars of what mindfulness entails, kind of like a guide of what I should infuse it into my everyday life. Keeping these words in mind can provide a mental reset. Stuck in the same mental habit of ruminating about that irritating occurrence of the past? Choose an Attitude of Mindfulness as an intention. Overwhelmed with constantly thinking about your to-do list (or anything else in the future)? Choose an Attitude of Mindfulness as an intention. Read more in my Attitudes of Mindfulness blog post.
Are you observing the chaos, or are you in the chaos?
Here’s a visual metaphor to understand what mindfulness does for us. Dan Harris has an amusing mindfulness waterfall drawing in his book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. An excerpt from his helpful waterfall explanation says, “The water represents your nonstop stream of consciousness, which consists mostly of “me, me, me” thoughts. Mindfulness is the area behind the waterfall, which allows you to step out of the cascade and view your urges, impulses, and desires without getting caught up in it all.”
I naturally relate this to being a classroom teacher. The abundance of standards to meet, student drama, requests of hovering helicopter parents–everyone wanting something from the teacher at the same time–can make it feel impossible to be caught up. Naturally, this can make overwhelm a normal part of the daily experience. But what if the teacher was able to observe the chaos from a “distance” behind the “waterfall”, instead of taking on the chaos so personally?
I appreciate Dan Harris’s teaching of mindfulness especially because he was a “fidgety skeptic” of mindfulness and meditation practices himself. However, his panic attack while delivering the news on Good Morning America caused him to seek support. Indeed he found that mindfulness meditation made him 10% Happier (which became the title of his first book). He’s able to share lots of science supporting the benefits of mindfulness, as well as simple practices. Check out his mindfulness app, 10% Happier.
For short (1-5 minutes), simple mindfulness practices for students of all ages, check out my blog post, Mindfulness Exercises for Children: Short Simple Mindful Minutes for videos such as this easy classroom mindfulness practice:
Beginner’s Mind is one of the Attitudes of Mindfulness, which is something we teach at the very beginning of introductory mindfulness courses. I share in my blog post, 11 Attitudes of Mindfulness, Beginner’s Mind is when we’re open, curious, and enter an experience without expectations, as a beginner would. It helps for me to think about being a child with childlike wonder, just excited to explore. I’ve noticed it’s easier for me to experience wonder, as well as Attitudes of Mindfulness such as humor and gratitude, when in the state of Beginner’s Mind.
Beginner’s Mind entails curiosity. As such an important part of mindfulness, curiosity is sometimes included in mindfulness definitions. An organization for which I teach mindfulness uses the definition: “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when we pay attention, on purpose, to our present moment experience including our five senses, thoughts, and emotions with open curiosity and without judgement.” The more we approach a subject with curiosity, the more we’re apt to learn and experience gratitude. Perhaps we may even notice our judgment turn to compassion.
Curiosity can help us stay attuned to an anchor. In mindfulness practices we choose an anchor– one sensory experience on which to settle the attention-— perhaps the breath, sound, or awareness of any of the senses. Attention will inevitably wander, so we can can just bring ourselves gently, non-judgmentally back to the anchor.
Search Inside Yourself
As elementary school teachers, I remember my colleagues and I being told that if an intervention isn’t working for a student, why provide the child with more of the same thing that isn’t working? I feel like that same rationale is relevant for any human looking for greater fulfillment. We probably won’t find that fulfillment from more of the same external mess that already distracts us: material possessions, most media, comparing ourselves to others, and the opinions and expectations of others who aren’t “daring greatly” (to quote Brene Brown).
Enter mindfulness. So often we’re in auto-pilot habits, doing instead of being. Mindfulness practices allow us greater awareness of senses, thoughts, and emotions– pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. (These words–pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral–are called “Feeling Tones”.) Often, labeling experiences makes them less overwhelming. Sometimes this labeling with curiosity can cause a “neutral” thing to feel more “pleasant”.
Often beginners of mindfulness practices become aware of physical discomforts that they’ve been too busy to notice. Or people think it’s normal to be stressed out constantly. Once we take the time to sit still, we can notice physical sensations of what our bodies are trying to tell us. Many times it’s a plea for self-care.
Acceptance is an Attitude of Mindfulness. Tara Brach wrote a book called Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame Within Us. She teaches that acceptance is a prerequisite for change. She says, “Whatever we can’t embrace with love imprisons us.”
Tara Brach also writes about R.A.I.N., a practice we teach adults in introductory mindfulness classes. This technique personally brings me relief when experiencing strong emotions. (R.A.I.N. stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-Identification, which I summarize in the 3-minute YouTube video below.)
As an overwhelmed elementary school teacher, I experienced that most of us teachers had compassion for most everyone else. But I didn’t always transfer that compassion to myself. I’ve learned through these Attitudes of Mindfulness that self-compassion heals self-judgment (and the perfectionism of feeling caged by too many standards).
I view compassion as a tool for healing judgment. This means that I shouldn’t judge myself for the emotions I feel. Rather I should acknowledge them, label them, and let them pass. Self-compassion has been especially supportive in my journey of releasing perfectionism and adopting positive self-talk. When I’m being hard on myself, it’s helpful for me to remember that I’m human, and my struggles are the struggles of humanity. For example, I’m not the first person to spill, lose things, lock my keys in my car, or say things I regret.
Kristin Neff is a Mindfulness Self-Compassion guru. I recommend her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Enjoy the power of her TED Talk, “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion”:
Being, Instead of Doing
This sentence of Macrina Wiederkehr’s book Seven Sacred Pauses struck me while I was personal retreating in a cabin in the woods. A larger excerpt with this quote states: “Our being is often crowded out by our doing. Each day we are summoned to be creators of the present moment. Artists know the value of white space. Sometimes what isn’t there enables us to see what is. Perhaps you are being called to the spiritual practice of bringing a little of the white space–of nada–into your workday. There in that white space you will find your soul waiting for you.”
This means that we need to take pauses to be fully aware of what’s going on. Being busy all the time doesn’t allow us time for the greatest clarity. As teachers we’re taught to teach our students to reflect, or to reflect ourselves on things like assessment data. But what if we checked in with ourselves for the sake our own health, multiple times a day? This can be as simple as pausing during a difficult conversation to notice your body sensations. Or, can you find the time to sit silently for one minute observing your breath or one of the senses? The quiet stillness will allow us awareness, and perhaps self-reflection and clarity about our priorities and best steps moving forward. The more we practice being present with mindfulness, the more we’re strengthening the parts of the brain that allow us to experience greater attention and decreased reactivity (among other benefits of mindfulness).
Patience is another Attitude of Mindfulness. When we’re living busy lives without pausing and being present, we’re unable to access our deepest levels of thinking, and our intuition. Taking the time for mindfulness allows us greater awareness to allow us better choices.
Mindfulness, like most things in life, improves with practice. It takes patience. It may not be easy or feel comfortable. Mindfulness is about present moment awareness, so that includes the entire spectrum of emotions. Mindfulness isn’t all peace and calm with sunshine and roses (though calm can definitely be a side effect of a mindfulness practice). Fortunately, mindfulness does bring relief from strong emotions. (For this I recommend the R.A.I.N. technique mentioned previously.)
When the attention wanders, as it inevitably will, we just gently, non-judgmentally bring the attention back to an anchor, such as the breath, the sounds around us, or any aspect of the five senses.
I tell my students that a mindfulness practice is like other healthy habits, such as brushing your teeth. The best results happen with a daily practice. The important thing is to be consistent with a mindfulness practice. It’s better to practice two minutes a day than forty minutes once a week. Fortunately, mindfulness can be practiced while doing activities we already do every day, such as walking, washing dishes, or brushing teeth.
Finally, mindfulness is about attitude, attention, and intention. Praise yourself for your baby steps of effort, and your open, curious, beginner’s mind.
What are your favorite Mindfulness Quotes? How do you teach mindfulness? How can I support?