Children and adolescents are experiencing stress at unprecedented levels in schools around the world. This increase in stress can result in higher rates of anger, anxiety, depression and externalization of maladaptive behaviors, including addiction, suicide, violence and bullying.
Research suggests that these factors negatively influence students’ academic performance by interrupting their thinking and hampering their learning.
Recently, the introduction of mindfulness programs in the school environment has been shown to reverse or – even in early stages – avoid the development of these pathologies and behaviors. The application of mindfulness in education is based on numerous scientific studies that have proven its potency in fostering a pedagogical community in which students flourish academically, emotionally and socially, and teachers advance professionally and personally.
The ability to reflect on one’s inner world, and on one’s own emotions and thoughts with an attitude of openness and self- compassion, brings benefits for the well-being of students and teachers, and is an essential part of mindfulness practice.
Specialists point out that this practice also serves to improve self-control, enhancing skills such as empathy and understanding towards others. In turn, it contributes to the development of natural conflict resolution and collaboration skills.
Several studies affirm that the practice of mindfulness is especially relevant for those students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a result of regular practice, these students develop a strengthened capacity for attentional and emotional regulation. They report an ability to focus for longer periods, in spite of competing cognitive demands, feeling more settled and prepared to learn.
Yet, with the momentum building for mindfulness in education, there are still several myths that are hindering a more wide-scale adoption.
5 Myths about Mindfulness in education:
1. School is for Academics (mindfulness is fluff)
Most educators know this is a myth. While there is more focus on SEL and teaching to the Whole Child, most schools and districts continue to primarily measure academic achievement. So, whether we admit it or not, academics are currently on top.
We hear all the time, “I can’t take 10 minutes out of my day to practice mindfulness, I have too much content to cover.” Yet, when a student experiences chronic stress, the part of the brain associated with learning, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), becomes mostly inactive. So as the teacher is “covering” a lesson, actual learning is replaced with fight/flight reactivity. Most educators have seen this firsthand and believe it is at the root of poor achievement scores and the increases in school violence and bullying. Mindfulness is a countermeasure to fight/flight as it reduces activity in the limbic system and enhances activity in the PFC. When students practice mindfulness, they become “ready to learn” and perform at higher academic levels. Students achieve higher GPA’s and higher test scores compared to students who do not practice. In fact, Mindfulness is a foundation for learning across subjects.
2. Teachers need to be highly trained to share mindfulness with students
While we whole-heartedly encourage mindfulness training and regular practice for educators. We also recognize the numerous programs and requirements that are on teachers’ plates. Audio-guided mindfulness platforms, such as Inner Explorer, provide easily accessible mindfulness practices that can be used in the classroom every day. Teachers do not need extra training. They simply log in, press “play” and practice with their students, participating in self-care and receiving the health and wellbeing benefits of a daily mindfulness practice. In 5-10 minutes a day, the entire student body, staff and community can be connected in a practice that has benefits across mental and physical health and academic performance, leading to a stronger classroom and school culture. In fact, Mindfulness is easier and more accessible than ever before to teachers, students and parents.
3. Mindfulness is difficult to implement and sustain
Schools like corporations are littered with “program of the month” initiatives that fail out of the gate or after a few months, once the initial training and excitement fades. This is partly due to so many competing demands on educators and partly because most people like the new and shiny thing vs. the old “been there done that” thing. Yet, mindfulness is akin to brushing one’s teeth. You practice mindfulness every day to promote mental health and wellbeing. An automated daily practice tool can help provide the simplicity that teachers need and the cost effectiveness that administrators need. In fact, In 5-10 minutes a day may be the simplest wellbeing and SEL in education.
4. Mindfulness is only for students who have serious behavioral issues or those in trauma
While mindfulness has great benefit in clinical settings addressing depression, trauma, addiction and suicide ideation, it is most useful as a daily practice, as a preventive measure. In fact, daily practice in the classroom helps to enhance memory, critical thinking, emotion regulation, response inhibition, compassion and empathy. To suggest that mindfulness only be used during trauma or crisis would be like suggesting that teeth brushing is only useful when one has a cavity. In fact, it is the daily training (like teeth brushing) that gives students the ability to stay calm, focused and work through issues before they escalate.
5. Students and Teachers won’t take it seriously
Often it takes a week or two for a students and teachers to adjust to an opportunity for stillness during the middle of the day. As students become more settled with the routine, they are more willing to fully engage in each daily practice. Students and teachers become comfortable with looking downward or closing their eyes, or sitting quietly and being guided through the inner exploration of their senses, thoughts, and emotions. As students focus and prepare for learning with mindfulness, teachers experience more teaching time as interruptions and outbursts are minimized, limiting the need to break away from teaching time for corrective measures. There may be some silliness or avoidance initially, however, within a few weeks, the class begins to rely on the time as a way to recharge and reengage with the day. In fact, teachers and students universally report that it’s their favorite time of the day.