Mind-Body Tools for Teachers: A Proposal for Incorporating Mindfulness Techniques into Teacher Education
by Andrea Hyde - September 28, 2015
This is a proposal to teach classroom-based mindfulness techniques to teacher education candidates as part of their teacher education programs. While mindfulness, including yoga and meditation, is growing more popular in a range of educational settings, the majority of K-12 programs are delivered to schools through external personnel from yoga or mindfulness service organizations. In many cases, these programs are provided at low or no cost to schools, or individual teachers might take trainings ranging from about $600-$2500. A more sustainable, affordable and ethical scenario would be to develop the capacities of teachers to employ mindfulness techniques for their own wellbeing, and that of their students, during their teacher education programs.
This commentary is a proposal to teach classroom-based mindfulness techniques to preservice teacher candidates as part of their teacher education programs. I have prepared this proposal based on the work I have done in aligning school-based yoga curricula with state standards, national standards and initiatives (Hyde & Spence, 2013) as well as my work in teacher education in Illinois. This proposal is informed by my own scholarship in school-based yoga and mindfulness programs (Hyde, 2012) and in consultation with others who are working with yoga and mindfulness programs in schools, researching mindfulness and teaching. While mindfulness, including yoga and meditation, is growing more popular in a range of educational settings, the majority of K-12 programs are delivered to schools through external personnel from yoga or mindfulness service organizations. In many cases, these programs are provided at low or no cost to schools, or individual teachers who might attend training at costs ranging from $600-$2500. A more sustainable, affordable, and ethical scenario would be to develop the capacities of teachers to employ mindfulness techniques for their own well-beingand that of their studentsduring their teacher education programs.
SCHOOL-BASED MINDFULNESS PROGRAMS
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). In a mindful state, we are more consciously aware of ourselves and what (or who) we are engaged with. This offers us time to recognize, experience, and reflect on our thoughts, ideas, judgments, and feelings in a non-reactive way. When we shift attention inward, our brain waves slow down and the right brain is activated for greater creativity (Siegel, 2007). This practice allows us to feel more peaceful, and, when practiced regularly, to develop self-awareness and self-regulation (Vago & Silbersweig, 2012).
Mindfulness programs that involve the secular practice of yoga and meditation are increasingly more common in schools. They appear as self-care classes and resiliency building classes for teachers; as health and physical education, learning readiness, social-emotional learning, and prosocial behavior interventions for students. These programs teach mind-body exercises, found to help students focus their attention, reduce stress, and increase self-regulatory behavior (Davidson et al., 2012; Flook et al., 2010; Greenberg & Harris, 2012; Mendelson et.al., 2010; Napoli, Krech, & Holley, 2005; Oberle et al., 2012; Razza, Bergen-Cico, & Raymond, 2013). This last item, self-control, has recently gained attention as psychologists have found it to be one of the greatest predictors of school success (Baumeister & Tierney, 2012). These same practices have been found to increase teachers occupational well-being (Roeser, Skinner, Beers, & Jennings, 2012), reduce stress, decrease burnout (Jennings et al., 2013; Laravee, 2012), and increase self-regulation and self-compassion (Frank et al., 2013).
This benefit alone would be a compelling reason to provide mindfulness instruction to pre-service teachers. Job satisfaction for teachers is at an all-time low (Markow et al., 2013) and teachers experience high levels of occupational stress because of how much they care and how much they are taught to care about the students they serve (Laravee, 2012). A recent study of the reasons for teacher attrition notes that 42% of teachers leave the profession each year. Those teachers who received the least amount of instruction in teaching strategies were the most likely to leave (Ingersoll et al., 2014). Public school teachers are beset with increasing demands for implementing standardized curriculum and assessing students performance. We must do whatever we can to affect progressive change against over-testing and scrutiny, and promote teacher autonomy and professionalization. Teacher educators should find a way to support and promote teachers resiliency if we want them to have the best chance of surviving the profession.
Mindfulness practices, well supported by brain sciences1 and field-tested for feasibility and satisfaction by teachers (Jennings, 2015), also align well with state and national social-emotional learning standards, health and physical education standards, Universal Design for Learning, classroom management, school safety/anti-bullying programs, and wellness/anti-obesity initiatives. They further help to fulfill a new coordinated school health model which incorporates the ASCDs whole child principles (ASCD, 2007; 2014). Chronicled most recently in Tish Jennings (2015) Mindfulness for Teachers, teachers who practice mindfulness are more aware of their own emotions, more skillful in working with stress, more efficient in planning and delivering lessons, and can, therefore, be more effective in responding to individual students and orchestrating classroom dynamics. Teachers who are good at regulating their emotions are more likely to display higher job satisfaction (Brackett et al, 2010). Mention of mindfulness practice is virtually non-existent in teacher education. We have been making some slight progress, in attending to social-emotional learning for the students they teach.
MINDFULNESS AND SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING
When feelings are not well managed, thinking can be impaired . . . in terms of basic brain functioning, emotions support executive functions when they are well regulated, but interfere with attention and decision making when they are poorly controlled (p. 3).
Simple training in attention via mindfulness techniquessuch as breathing exercisecan reduce stress, calm, and focus students; it has even been found to reduce the effects of trauma associated with poverty (Bose, 2013). Children living in poverty exhibit symptoms of what the National Child Traumatic Stress Network calls secondary traumatic stress (NCTSN, 2011). Among the recommendations for the prevention and treatment of secondary traumatic stress are self-care groups (for example, yoga or meditation) and mindfulness training. Those working in yoga service organizations that serve the majority of poor Black and Hispanic youth are seeing the possibilities that mindfulnessespecially mindful movementhas for developing positive school behaviors and coping skill which could help to prevent drop outs (Walton, 2013).
MINDFULNESS IN EDUCATION: A NEW FIELD
PROPOSAL FOR INCORPORATING MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES INTO TEACHER EDUCATION
Simple body postures and movements integrate, soothe, and energize the body and mind by releasing tension and stress, activating coordination and awareness, and stimulating circulation. Mindful movement develops awareness, strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and focus.
Mindful games and activities release mental tension and explore physical challenges in a noncompetitive way that enhances fitness, teamwork skills, and creative thinking.
Relaxation exercises bring the mind into the body. This slows down the nervous system, activating the relaxation response (Benson, 2000), a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress. These exercises can be done sitting up or lying down, in silence, or accompanied by a guided meditation script or music.
MBTT AND THE REVISED IL LEARNING STANDARDS FOR PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HEALTH (ENHANCED P. E.)
Curriculum: fitness activities, individual lifetime activities
Grouping: all students have an opportunity for success
Fitness Emphasis: students design an individual program based on personal goals; students learn to maintain and improve their own fitness to optimize health and well-being; students understand how levels of fitness affect health and cognitive function
Instruction: teacher as coach/guide; students progress at individual pace and self-assess
Social Skills: students develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success; students use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships; students demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts
Grading and Assessment: based on self-improvement, self-assessment; used to monitor and reinforce student learning
Games: emphasis on participation and getting everyone active
Technology: other fitness technology (e.g., apps)
1. Too numerous to list, but see the following: Garrison Institute Contemplative Teaching & Learning Research Database: http://www.garrisoninstitute.org/contemplation-and-education/; Mindfulness in Education Research Highlights: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/mindfulness_in_education_research_highlights; and Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living Research Highlights: http://www.kripalu.org/article/1456/
2. Language is significant is making this initiative welcoming or unwelcoming to students. We should think carefully about what to call this and how to talk about it. This proposal is in keeping with the ASCDs call to educate the whole child, which acknowledges the spiritual (as distinct from religious) nature of human beings, including students. The content of all of the MBTT workshops is in keeping with the democratic principles of public schools; it is secular yet welcoming to students who express a religious belief. We do not use terms such as spiritual or religious in these workshops. They are based in responsible, empirical research (including overwhelmingly positive self-report and observational data) and reflect the latest findings of neuroscience.
3. I have aligned the Yoga in Schools curriculum with PA standards, for example.
4. Initial teaching certification program students.
5. To address IL SEL standards, and to support health and physical education standards, universal design for learning, classroom management, school safety/anti-bullying programs, wellness/anti-obesity initiatives.
6. If we claim that these workshops will address IPTS SEL Standards and must evaluate our efforts to this purpose.
7. And IPTS Standard 1. Diverse Students, Knowledge Indicator C; Standard 4: Learning Environment.
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MBTT Aligned with IL Physical Development and Health (PDH) Standards and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards. Tools Modified from the Yoga in Schools Health and Physical Education Teacher Professional Development Curriculum ©2013 Yoga in Schools
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