Often the rush of day-to-day activity during the school year makes it hard to take time to slow down. Mindfulness – paying attention, non-judgmentally in the present moment – can serve as a great solution. When we bring mindfulness into the classroom, we are allowing teachers and students to take time to not only pause, but also to help students better regulate behaviors, which allows teachers to have the time to complete that day’s curriculum.
Studies have shown that mindfulness can help children with concentration, stress reduction, and improved sleeping habits. What this ultimately means is having students “ready to learn.” Readiness to learn is a precursor to social emotional learning. Social emotional expert Linda Lantieri has said that SEL works from the outside in and mindfulness works from the inside out. When combined, the effects are powerful; each makes the other stronger.
Let’s face it, all the caring and sharing in the world, although very important, may not be able to cognitively improve grades. Yet, mindfulness in school can. Studies show average GPA across a class improved 7-15% more over a control group in 3 different trials.
There is a simple reason for this. When our cognitive resources are limited due to stress, anxiety, or other outside factors like mobile phones, tablets and more, the higher-order cognitive functions in the prefrontal cortex (critical thinking, focus, managing emotions) tend to shut down and our lower-order cognitive functions in the limbic system (fight-or-flight responses) start to take over.
Our limbic system is extremely important for emergency situations, yet it can also prune out the pathways to our prefrontal cortex if it is constantly engaged. Like muscle tissue, the function of the prefrontal cortex is a “use it or lose it” situation. Continuous stimulation of the limbic leaves us with an inability to focus and pay attention, instead we react and act out. Daily mindfulness practice offers a pathway to foster harmony and balance resulting in increased concentration.
Whether dealing with poverty or violence in their homes and communities, bullying, scholastic pressures, substance abuse, depression, or anxiety, students and educators are both affected by chronic stress and need a way to mitigate its harmful effects.
Teachers using Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs report changes within themselves and their students within 30 days of using the program. Research on the Inner Explorer program shows a 43 percent decrease in teacher stress with daily usage. Of course, the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom increase exponentially with a sustained, daily practice.
This back-to-school season, bring mindfulness to your classroom. Through the stress of settling into a new school year, mindfulness can provide a strong foundation for learning, allowing students to focus and engage in the process of learning and employ their own critical thinking skills.
These are transportable skills that build beyond the classroom, creating generations of people with greater compassion, gratitude and empathy. This will allow us to build a world in which people work together, take time to understand each other and process our emotions in positive, generative ways. It is a winning combination for us all.
Laura Bakosh is a researcher, program developer and co-founder of Inner Explorer– a non profit organization helping children unlock academic potential and foster lifelong well-being.