The practise of mindfulness is gaining popularity around the world and with good reason. Proven to reduce anxiety and target the challenges of burnout, mindfulness can help you improve your overall wellness and daily life.
So it makes sense that many Australian schools are starting to explore the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom. This could translate to class activities like breathing exercises or quiet time before a test, thousands of teachers across the country are trying mindfulness approaches like these to help improve focus and support students to navigate the pressures of school.
Here at Jacaranda, we are really excited about how mindfulness can support students’ academic studies and general wellbeing. So we sat down with Maddie Cole, Teacher and Assistant Student Wellbeing Manager at Swinburne Senior Secondary College, to find out how mindfulness works for her students and why she believes it should be practised in every classroom.
Teacher and Assistant Wellbeing Manager
Swinburne Senior SC
What is mindfulness?
According to Headspace, “mindfulness meditation practise is one way to truly experience the current moment and integrate that awareness into your everyday life.” This means through meditation techniques and exercises, students can learn to recognise and handle negative thought patterns to become more self-aware.
- Mindfulness focuses on self-awareness and being present in the moment
- It has proven physical and psychological benefits
- The practise improves attention and focus
There are many different ways people practise mindfulness, here are just a few:
- Observe and focus on deep breathing
- Go for a nature walk
- Practise meditation using an app or online tools
- Focus on doing one thing at a time
Maddie explains that to her, mindfulness in the classroom is “an opportunity to take a minute, just breathe and forget those pressures. Only then are students ready to learn.”
Why mindfulness is a great fit for schools
Recent research suggests that mindfulness can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase students’ ability to stay engaged. The findings demonstrate an opportunity for mindful practises to boost students attention span and give them new ways to better cope with negative emotions. This is a proactive way to help them to stay on track academically and avoid behaviour problems.
A study on mindfulness in the classroom also found that students become more focused and caring after practising mindfulness over a period of at least five weeks. And in New Zealand, during an extended 10-week mindfulness program students were able to:
- Develop their ability to focus and enhance academic performance
- Resolve conflicts in the classroom
- Feel more calm, peaceful and happy at school
- Promote a greater awareness of their emotions and the feelings of others
Don’t forget about you – the teacher
Teachers tend to place their own needs behind those of their students, that’s just the nature of most educators. But it is very important teachers like yourself to consider how mindfulness can support you and your colleagues.
A recent study found that Australian teachers are more stressed than ever; anxiety is almost three times higher among this profession than the population’s average. Increased workload, difficulties with staff and parents and time pressure being cited among the biggest stress triggers.
With retention rates dropping in the industry and an estimated 40% of teaching graduates leaving within the first five years, we might see improvements in the coping abilities of school staff through mindfulness.
This is something Maddie can relate to, “I heard this really interesting saying, ‘If you are well, your children are well.’ And that really applies to teachers. When I haven’t been looking after myself, I don’t feel like I’m doing my best to support my students. Sometimes we’re expected to be superheroes and ‘on’ all the time. If we can look after the health and wellbeing of teachers and staff, that’s the first step,”.
Maddie’s top 4 mindfulness practises for the classroom
Bringing mindful practises into everyday classroom activities is becoming more common. A quick 10-minute daily practise can improve concentration, transforming the classroom environment. Maddie knows this firsthand. “I’ve seen calm in a place where everyone is running around. It’s a moment of peace, taking away that external pressure and stress to say ‘Alright, I’m ready to get started now.’ And it can come in many forms.”
With this in mind, here are some of Maddie’s practical strategies you might like to adopt with your students:
1. Set aside time to focus
“Something I’ve been doing is allowing students 30 minutes to take notes rather than going through the powerpoint and writing at the same time. I adapted this as a form of mindfulness, so when it’s time to go through it, students have their pens down, their laptops closed and are actually listening. The difference is just incredible. I really recommend it.”
2. Colour-in to calm down
“Before a SAC, I’ve been noticing an increased level of anxiety and stress. We usually give the students time beforehand to get themselves together, but all they were doing was testing each other and freaking out more. So I started bringing some mandalas for 15 minutes of quiet mindfulness. The idea is that they’re not talking about the SAC, they’re taking some time to calm down and reset [before they begin the assessment].”
3. Suggest meditation apps or videos
“I use this app called Buddhify but there are other free apps or YouTube. Take 10 minutes to first practise breathing. Every day for two weeks try and focus on learning the basic skills, then use this to become regular practise. I encourage my students to download an app or use video, I find that guided mindfulness meditation is really useful because you’re thinking about what is being said rather than all the mental chatter that goes on.”
Here are some of our favourite mindful app recommendations:
Try calming exercises and breath techniques specifically for kids aged between 3 and 17.
Find balance with guided meditation options and mindfulness techniques to use during the day.
Reduce anxiety and manage difficult emotions with over 200 meditations to choose from.
The Mindfulness App
Perfect for beginners or gurus with a five-day guided practise and introduction to mindfulness.
4. Get outside and active
“You really can’t look past exercising. When there are behavioural issues or sometimes other things going on with my class, we actually go for a walk around the park. Getting up from your studies and doing something physical takes your mind off it. For those kids that don’t love meditation, exercise is a form of mindfulness they can do. That’s where mindfulness has really evolved. Whenever we’re not stressing, overthinking or worrying, that’s being mindful.”
Maddie’s final piece of advice to teachers
If mindfulness is new to your school, don’t overlook it. “Let it be something that becomes normal and schools can really start approaching mindfulness as part of the everyday.”