Are you interested in making your classroom more mindful by making small changes in the language you use? Simple language shifts in feedback can result in a change from defensive to mindful and accountable. Here are a few tips to informally add mindfulness into your teaching, which decreases the need for discipline.
My colorful teaching journey has given me the awareness that mindfulness is proactive, while discipline is reactive.
My background: I’ve taught Special Education, 3rd and 4th grades, and English to students from 1st grade through adulthood. While teaching and training teachers in the public and private school and non-profit settings in the United States, Greece, and Panama; there was a striking commonality: I found that students were most focused, productive, cooperative, and eager to take on challenges after short mindfulness practices, a key part of classroom management.
Naturally, this realization is a foundation of my conversations on The Arsenio Buck Show, a high-energy ESL and education podcast. (Arsenio interviews English teachers and English language learners from all over the world, giving practical English language learning and teaching tips through entertaining discussions and cultural stories.) Arsenio mentioned that his audience had been asking for us to comment on the topic of discipline techniques. I was mindful that I somewhat cringed at that topic. Then I thought about what helps to alleviate the need for discipline in the first place. Instead of discipline, which is a way to react to a problem, I think it’s more important to teach skills like mindfulness, which is proactive and decreases the need for discipline in the first place.
Here’s the 30-minute podcast episode of our discussion, “Discipline is Reactive; Mindfulness is Proactive:
Something amazingly simple about mindfulness is that it can be taught simultaneously with any other subject and age level. It is available for free to all people at all times. The skills of mindfulness enhance students’ confidence, ability to tackle difficult tasks, and their overall productivity.
Building Student Empathy Through Leadership and Role Play
A mindful approach to teaching starts with setting the culture of the classroom as a place where students feel safe to share feelings and observations. This tone can start at the beginning of the school year with being intentional about the use and language of classroom expectations (also referred to as classroom norms). Students are more apt to take ownership and feel part of a community when they’re part of the creation of classroom expectations, instead of being lectured to.
I start by having students brainstorm the classroom expectations they want in a desirable classroom setting. Then I write these expectations on slips of paper, put them in a bucket, and have partner groups of students choose a classroom expectation from the bucket that they will act out in front of the rest of the classroom. Students get to experience what it’s like to be the teacher. This increases Attitudes of Mindfulness, such as empathy, gratitude, patience, and non-judgment.
By frontloading exposure to classroom expectations and continuously using mindful language, students will take ownership of these practices! Students will start to pick up on the vibe: “We’re in a safe space. We can be vulnerable.” Fortunately, part of mindfulness is “Heartfulness”, which includes empathy, gratitude, and compassion. Give students leadership roles and more responsibility. This lets them know, “I’m open to your ideas. Your perspective is valued.”
Change your Style of Student Feedback
Language is powerful. Simple changes to student feedback can lead students to take accountability for their actions, instead of becoming defensive. For example, instead of “Stop Talking”, ask “Can you notice the impulse to interrupt?” This makes students less defensive. It puts the accountability back on students to notice their own behavior. They realize it was their own choice to interrupt. Therefore this empowers them to realize that they have the control to make different choices in the future. We don’t want to embarrass students for behavior or make them defensive, which could make them act out more.
Also, this invitation to notice can be offered to everyone in the room, instead of targeting just one student. My colleagues and I often pause a lesson for a mindfulness check in which we invite everyone, “Notice where your attention is right now.” or “Notice your body right now. How still are you?”
Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment without judgment. With practice, students begin to realize that the non-judgment part includes mindful feedback, “I’m not trying to embarrass you; I’m trying to support you in being aware of what’s going on with your body.” It’s profoundly beneficial for us all to be aware of what’s going on with our bodies. Many of us are unaware of body actions that are trying to tell us something, such as a clenched jaw or fists; tense, raised shoulders, or rapid, shallow breathing.
Here’s a podcast discussion about “Mindful Communication in the Classroom”:
Mindfulness isn’t a magical cure, but it definitely brings relief. Mindfulness makes us less reactive. Time and time again studies show that the most common benefits of Mindfulness are 1) less reactivity and 2) greater attention. (These are just two from an endless list of benefits.) I’m aware from my time as a Special Educator and classroom teacher that there are times when behavior cases are so severe that students need to be removed from the given setting. In such cases, mindfulness can at least support us in our reaction to the stressful situation. I think of mindfulness as a proactive way to benefit everyone (whether teacher or student) with simple awareness before we react to a stimulus. This can be as simple as pausing and noticing one or more of the senses before acting.
How has mindfulness benefitted you or others? In what areas could you use mindfulness support?