Mindfulness in the primary classroom: practicalities and barriers

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mindfulness in the primary classroom

Amy Malloy is the founder of NoMoreShoulds.com, teaching and promoting yoga and mindfulness for healthier, kinder minds. In this third instalment in our blog series on introducing mindfulness in the primary classroom, Amy examines some of the practicalities and barriers you may come across and offers top tips for practicing mindfulness successfully. If you missed Amy’s other articles, you can read them here

Getting started: practicalities and barriers

Welcome back to our blog series on using mindfulness in the primary ELT classroom. I hope you’ve had a chance to try a few of the tips and activities in your classroom over the past month. 

If you’ve struggled to get started, don’t worry. Mindfulness can be a hard habit to form – and you will certainly face a number of obstacles as you begin. Commonly teachers find that parents, fellow staff or even the children themselves offer resistance when they are first introduced to the practice.

Occasionally, teachers introduce some mindfulness activities successfully, only later to find their students get frustrated that they don’t “feel calm yet.”  Staff or parents may also question how fast the practice will have an effect on classroom performance. 

Today, we’ll take a look at some of the key practical steps to get past these barriers and help put your students on the road to mindfulness.

1. Choosing a space to practice mindfulness

You might feel that a lack of space is a barrier to practicing mindfulness. The good news is you don’t need a big area to get started with your students. You can begin with the children sitting at their desks, on their desks (yes, really!) or on the floor in a circle if your classroom allows that. 

Mindfulness is the awareness which comes from focused attention on the present moment, with objectivity and compassion. Meditation is just one way to achieve this level of awareness. With enough practice, it can be done wherever you are, no matter how big or small the space. 

2. Investing your time

Time will always be of the essence in the classroom. With curriculums and exam course timetables increasingly more demanding, we often feel we can only focus on the core course content.  The question is, do you focus on covering the curriculum? Or should you take a few minutes out to focus the mind first? Whether this is your question or that of senior leadership teams or parents, it is always going to be difficult to answer.

Research shows that even five minutes of mindful awareness helps students focus on the course content more easily. The practice also helps them to regulate their emotions and stress. What’s more, it puts them in a frame of mind to use their executive language function.

As a result, you will likely find that dedicating five minutes a lesson to mindfulness will help your students to relax and be more productive and efficient. With this in mind, the start of the lesson is a great time to introduce it. Alternatively, you can integrate mindful as part of your lesson plan. For example, you can lead a guided meditation and then introduce a class conversation about the meditation experience in order to practice the past tense:

  • What did you feel when…? 
  • How did you react when…?
Mindfulness in the classroom
Image courtesy of MC4ME

3. Getting buy-in

Communication is not just about speaking to someone in their mother tongue. It’s also about how people present and respond to logical and emotional arguments. When promoting the idea of bringing mindfulness into your lessons, think about what matters to the audience you are talking to. Do they understand the scientific or educational evidence for something? Or are they swayed by more pastoral points of view?

Regardless of how you introduce the topic, personal experience is the one language common to everyone. Once people try something and feel the benefits, they are far more likely to support it.

Ask your colleagues to listen to some free guided meditations with you during breaks in teaching. See what they say and how they find it. Once the culture shifts within your teaching staff, it will spread much more easily into the classrooms.

Senior leadership teams and parents alike may also be influenced by metrics around student improvement. Getting students to regularly reflect on and record their experiences and how they’re feeling can help create qualitative evidence to link to any improvement in classroom performance.

4. Building a routine

Within the field of psychology, a habit is defined as an action we perform automatically when we are in a certain context (for example, putting on your seat belt when you get in the car). The action needs to be simple and repeated regularly in the same context. After some practice, our brains start to predict the action and we do it unconsciously.

The same goes for simple mindfulness activities. At first, some conscious effort is required to become aware of our environment. Before too long, however, the brain will automatically start this process for us when we sit down in the classroom (research shows this takes anything from 21 days to 3 months). It will simply become a part of your routine, just like taking attendance.

Simplicity and consistency is the answer

There will be barriers and plateaus in practice, but simplicity and consistency is key. Trust the process and see what happens!  Do let us know how you get on – remember that we don’t run a marathon the very first day. We take a step, and then another, and then the next day we take a few more. Start small, be consistent and observe. 

Join us next time for a special feature blog looking at using mindfulness to manage expectations and stay calm during the holiday season! 

If you missed the first two articles in our mindfulness series you can read them here: 

Want to learn more? Listen to Amy talking about mindfulness in our new podcast:

Have you tried incorporating mindfulness into your primary classroom yet? We’d love to hear your experiences so far!

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