You are an educator. Each morning, you must be ready to face all the emotional ups and downs the day will bring, preferably with a smile and sprint pace. From standardized testing and differentiating instruction to unannounced visits from administrators, you deal with high levels of stress and hardly any down time. This stress and long working hours have contributed to the increase of teacher burnout rates throughout the United States, with educators being expected to change the world with less support, resources and time.
So how do teachers cope?
The answer may lie in mindfulness, according to a new study done by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM). Mindfulness is the practice of paying careful attention to your thoughts, feelings, and environment. Read on for ways you can incorporate mindfulness practices into your classroom every day, bringing compassion and positivity back to your teaching practice.
Take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or any other difficult emotions in the classroom. Challenging situations often trigger physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating. By taking a moment to breath slowly, you can avoid panicking and impulsive reactions. Plus, by encouraging your students to stop and breath with you, you’ll model appropriate calming techniques they can use to combat overwhelming emotions, both at school and at home. Turn off the lights in your classroom, and ask your students to lie on their backs or sit in a cross-legged position. Just a few minutes of focused breathing each day can have a positive impact on your mindset.
Stay in the moment when you’re leading a lesson, teaching small groups, conferencing with a parent, or meeting with your administrator. Make eye contact with the person you’re listening to, and focus on their body language. Avoid interruptions, lean forward toward the person talking, and ask thoughtful follow-up questions to show you’re engaged in what they’re saying. This active listening makes children and parents feel heard, which is essential for fostering a learning community that’s engaged, respectful and connected. Better relationships with parents and students leads to positive interactions and increased helpfulness during and after school hours.
Stop and Think
Give yourself a moment to pause and think before responding to challenging behavior, tricky situations, or difficult questions. If you can’t think of an immediate response, simply reply, “I need to think on that. I’ll get back to you [at this specific time or date].” This shows someone that you’re taking the situation seriously, and gives them a tangible date or time that they can expect your thoughtful response. Too often, teachers are expected to come up with immediate solutions to issues that arise. By using Stop and Think, you can ensure that you have the time to respond thoughtfully without making anyone feel like their concerns or difficult situation is being dismissed. This practice is beneficial for oral conversations and email responses.
Focus on the physical sensation of your feet on the ground when you feel overwhelmed or stressed out. Imagine that you have roots coming out of your feet that are literally grounding you to the floor. This visualization fosters a sense of calm and control, like an immovable tree withstanding a storm. Often, stress is a symptom of feeling overloaded, like running too many apps on a computer at once. By paring down your focus, you can clear your mind and use your clarity to make better decisions.
Take a Drink
Sip a glass of water or tea when you need to pause during the day. Focus on the sensations of the liquid hitting your lips, in your mouth, and going down your throat as you swallow. Taking a moment to divert your attention from one emotional sensation to another can help your body relax and allow you to get on with your day with a more positive mindset.
Use Positive Affirmations
Say positive affirmations in your mind throughout the day, especially when you feel emotionally drained. When we repeatedly internalize different thoughts or statements about ourselves and the world, they become true in our minds. These perceptions are powerful enough to become the lens through which we see every opportunity and action in our lives, bringing more positivity or negativity to everything that happens to us. Promote positive thinking with affirmations such as:
- "I can do this, I am enough."
- "Be present. Be here now."
- "I am happy and peaceful."
- "May I be held in compassion."
- "I am kind to myself and others around me."
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Write down positive situations that you’re grateful for. For example, “Today I woke up healthy. I made connections with Susie during guided reading and I noticed the great gains she has made in her reading fluency. I ate lunch with a dear friend and supported her during a difficult time.” Cultivating gratitude is scientifically proven to improve our health, relationships, sleep, self-esteem, mental strength and ability to be empathetic.
By implementing these mindfulness practices, you give yourself the compassion you deserve and need to provide the best classroom experience for your students. By paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and staying present in the environment you teach in, you can keep your composure during difficult situations and set a positive example for how students, parents and administers within your learning community communicate with each other.
Mindfulness Resources Online
- Just Breathe: When Teachers Practice Mindfulness by Edutopia
- How Mindfulness Could Help Teachers and Students by The Atlantic
- Can Mindfulness Make Us Better Teachers? by the Greater Good
Mindfulness Books for Educators