What is it? What Do Teachers Say About It?
Why Mindfulness Training for Teachers Is Important
Written by Valerie York-Zimmerman
Mindfulness cultivates habits of mind by deploying attention and awareness in the present moment in a nonreactive and nonjudgmental manner. Why are habits of mind necessary for effective teaching? Effective teaching requires habits of mind associated with mental flexibility, emotion regulation, and relationship management skills (Helsing, 2007; Schutz & Zembylas, 2009, Zapf, 2002). By cultivating the habit of being flexibly attentive, teachers may be better able to respond to students’ needs proactively, a key contributor to effective classroom management (Marzano, Marzono, & Pickering, 2003). In addition, teachers must problem solve “on the fly” as they interact with students of varying levels of maturity and readiness to learn. To do this in a manner that avoids unequal treatment and opportunities to learn among students with different backgrounds requires great awareness, empathy, and mental flexibility. (Chang, 2009). Emotion regulation is especially important because if teachers become overly stressed in the classroom, they cannot leave in order to compose themselves but must self-regulate in the presence of the class and the stress itself (such as a student’s disruptive behavior). (Roeser et al., 2012).
What Is MKM’s Mindfulness Training for Teachers (MTT)
MKM’s Mindfulness Training for Teachers was developed by MINDFUL KIDS MIAMI.
It is a 2-phase program which offers training to school teachers from public and private schools, grades Pre-K thru 12. MKM’s approach differs from some as it is highly experiential and emphasizes actually practicing mindfulness or being mindfulrather than studying about it.
MTT consists of:
- First Phase: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program –
a 9-week comprehensive, experiential, and internationally recognized program developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus
of Medicine, UMass Medical Center, scientist and author. The 9-week program consists of eight 2-1/2 hour classes plus aDay Retreat. There is a $500 fee unless a teacher is participating in the MKM training in collaboration with their school and being sponsored by MKM.
- Second Phase: Mindful Teachers Training Program (MTTP) – an 18-week fun and experiential training for educators preparing them to teach age-appropriate mindfulness practices, games and elements of social and emotional learning from CASEL to children and teens. These methods train kids to pay attention, strengthen focus, increase impulse control, regulate behavior, and cultivate tolerance, compassion and empathy for themselves and others. The fee for teachers from Miami-Dade is $400 (for teachers outside the area the fee is $500) unless a teacher is participating in the MKM training in collaboration with their school and being sponsored by MKM.
Research demonstrates that mindfulness training for children and teens:
- Increases Attention & Focus – resulting in higher academic achievement
- Reduces Stress – allowing kids to learn more and perform better;
- Improves Impulse Control – increasing teaching time in the classroom;
- Develops Emotional Regulation – teaching children to “respond” rather than “react”
- Builds Empathy & Compassion – cultivating greater tolerance of differences as well as
reducing cruelty, bullying, and violence leading to safer and happier schools.
MTTP is divided into four 4-week modules:
- Mindful Yoga & Movement: bring children into their direct experience and awareness of physical sensations
or their felt sense so they can learn to respond and not react automatically or inappropriately;
teaches awareness of the breath;
- Mindful Games & Exercises: teaches children how to pay attention and to increase focus;
- Mindful Relaxation: relaxes children through guided awareness of breathing, felt sensations in the body, etc.,
which they seem to crave due to over-stimulation; teaches proper breathing;
- Kindness Practices: lead to greater tolerance of cultural, religious & sexual diversity and to less cruelty,
bullying, and violence.
What Teachers Themselves Have To Say About It –
To carry out the bold intention of teaching – bettering the human condition and lifting the human spirit day in and day out – teachers need solid grounding and self-awareness. The awareness, focus, resilience, and discipline needed to be effective in the classroom, and the calm and joy needed to be truly present for students are all cultivated and enhanced thru MKM’s Mindfulness Training for Teachers.
A teacher who plans to teach mindfulness to children needs to actively cultivate his or her own mindfulness practice. Only then can they be prepared to help others develop mindfulness. A current participant, Martha Holmes, beautifully expresses how she feels about the necessity of a teacher committing to become mindful themselves.
“After 25 years of teaching, I know that if you can’t transform yourself, you can’t transform your classroom. It’s like a ballet dancer attempting a difficult turn without “centering” herself. If your teaching is an extension of compassion, precision, and wisdom (which are fruits of these practices), it will manifest in everything you do. You will also become a model for your students, so you won’t have to spend too much time “teaching” them these qualities.”
The Mindful Teachers Training Program is much more than training in skills and techniques for implementing mindfulness practices in schools. It is a course in understanding and bringing compassion to one’s own experience of life. Mindfulness opens and creates space in hearts, minds and bodies, allowing for the cultivation of true presence and purpose.
According to Valerie DeWitt, a teacher who has taken the course twice, “The practice has helped me be more present to my own experience and more present to others in my personal life as well as in my teaching….My experience with teaching children in the past 12 years has shown me that one of the most important things I can share with them is the importance of the breath as a tool for self-awareness.”
Jana tells us, “I have found the MKM’s mindfulness training to be life-altering. I wish I had incorporated it into my life and work long ago! After completing the 9-week MBSR Program, I experienced a sense of equanimity that became obvious to me and to other people I came in contact with. As a cancer survivor, my oncologist noted on a recent visit my change in attitude, body language and sense of calm. I believe that mindfulness brings benefits to everyone who practices it. It is a simple solution to the complexity of daily life…. I have been a teacher for more than 30years. The MTTP has been an exceptional opportunity to gain useful, fun and meaningful skills that I can use with my students.”
The second phase of the training, when teachers experience how mindful awareness can be taught to students, is presented in age-appropriate, child-friendly ways to equip teachers with skills for creating experiences in their own classrooms whether they are teaching Pre-K or high school seniors.
The training emphasizes experiential teaching and learning, meaning not “telling” children what mindfulness is, but creating opportunities for students to experience mindfulness. MKM’s method allows for constructive and encouraging feedback which can be integrated into the classroom teaching. The opportunity to practice teaching during the training builds confidence. Teachers report leaving class enthused, creatively inspired, and with a greater appreciation for and sense of stillness.
When interviewed after a recent class, numerous participants expressed their reasons for committing to the program and, for many, noting why they’re taking the training for a second time.
Linny emphasized, “This program has helped me realize the infinite possibilities there are for applying mindfulness in the classroom. I’ve learned the immense value of silence and stillness and that I need not be constantly entertaining children. I’ve also learned that my behavior is their most important teacher, and so have become much more intentional in what I say and do.
Pat, a highly skilled and experienced teacher of very young children, shared her story with kindness practice:
“Loving kindness or sending friendly wishes is the most meaningful mindfulness practice that I have implemented in my classroom. Because of the very low language abilities of the students in my class we have simplified the wishes as follows:
- May I be happy.
- May I be safe.
- May I be healthy.
- May I be loved.
We also send these same wishes to others substituting the word “you” for “I”. We have the friendly wishes printed with accompanying photos of the children in a happy, safe, healthy or loved “pose” and have done several activities in which we have cut out the words to complete a fill-in-the-blank sheet and glued their photos to the sheet. The activities are posted so that the children can refer to them during the day.
At various points of the day, sometimes at breakfast, sometimes at circle, lining up to go to the playground, or whenever there is a transition, we send friendly wishes to ourselves and others. The children have begun to use the wishes spontaneously during the day. In situations where in the past a student may have been told, “No hitting” the alternative “May you be safe” is often enough of a reminder to prevent the aggressive behavior from occurring.
Recently one of the students became upset and started crying about a family situation. The other children embraced him in a group hug and wished him “love”. While that hug will not change the discord at home, I’m hopeful that the love he receives from his friends will help him to cope with his sadness. racticing loving kindness has truly transformed my classroom and my teaching.