Mindfulness practices make teachers, students happier
Rebecca Forman’s two children were in kindergarten when her husband bought a backup car for the school week when his first SUV broke down. She put kids in the car, expecting it to be fine. Then, they missed school early, and when they arrived, they were delayed. So rather than cancel classes, they got on the bus and rode with the kids, out of their bus-driver’s sight, driving to the class. Then, after the lesson was over, everyone piled off to the bus and drove home.
“It wasn’t the best plan,” Forman admits. But it was an example of how, as she thought about her time teaching in Australia, she found her own practice, of being present while teaching the same lesson, and she likes to think it showed her kids that “you have to be present at the end of the day.”
A number of studies have found that practicing mindfulness meditation makes you more present, less anxious and more engaged in the task you’re doing. That leads to increased energy and emotional resilience. The science suggests that people who have experience with mindfulness tend to be more attentive, present and resilient when they face stress.
When Mindfulness Works for Teachers
There’s evidence, too, that when teachers start meditation practice, it affects them in the classroom, says Forman, who’s now a part-time clinical teacher of psychology at Duke University. She started practicing mindfulness as a way to relax herself. “I didn’t set out to help anyone else learn it,” she says.
Her husband, who had been a spiritual leader in a Christian church, was supportive but mostly skeptical of her intentions, so she trained in a mindfulness program at Duke. It didn’t take long before she had a sense that her practice was helping her in the classroom. She was more energized. Her ability to stay focused seemed better. And she developed more patience.
Doctors and researchers are starting to realize that mindfulness meditation has benefits even beyond a productive classroom, suggests Wendy Smalley, a clinical psychologist who runs the mindfulness practice, called Momentum, at the University of Michigan’s Counseling Center. Smalley, whose study of it was published in June in the journal Psychology of Anxiety and Depression, has been asking mindfulness students, who come to the university to be mentored and do graduate school work, what helps them feel calmer and more engaged in their work. “As mindfulness research has expanded,” Smalley notes, “more evidence is being put forth that mindfulness practice not only affects brain function, but that there are physical changes that take place in our brain when we practice mindfulness.”
A number of university schools now have meditation and mindfulness practices where faculty can learn in a controlled setting. But it’s important to remember that meditation and mindfulness, the mindful practice of being fully present in the moment, is “a vehicle for change” in how people interact with others, Smalley adds. “Mindfulness changes the way we think, and change our actions. It’s one more way for people to integrate their world with this beautiful piece of the world, and give you the capacity to try to be more compassionate with those around you.”