Jennifer Walsh is a beloved English/language arts teacher at Forsythe Middle School who has taught for 29 years. She uses many unique techniques in her classroom, but one of the most effective is her emphasis on mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the breath in a quiet environment so as to bring more calm, clarity and focus to one’s mind,” explains Walsh.
Walsh has developed successful techniques for students to achieve calm and focus in the classroom.
“Every Wednesday, the students participate in some kind of guided meditation that is led by me,” described Walsh. “We begin the year with learning about the ‘anchor breath’ and how to do a body scan. We focus on breathing and stillness for the first few weeks and then we move into more guided practices including relaxing music as well as mindful coloring. Students learn to respond to a singing bowl in order to begin and end the mediation time.”
The outcomes of these exercises are overwhelmingly positive and even therapeutic.
“Students love the opportunity to slow down and focus for a brief period of time each week,” says Walsh. “They offer up observations when we are finished that are insightful and honest. I have had students return to thank me after they move on. Additionally, I am reminded by students if I don’t have mindfulness on the board on Wednesday. They make sure I don’t leave out mindfulness time each week.”
And there are additional benefits as well.
“Students seem to love the opportunity to learn how to alleviate stress and rest their minds by learning how to focus their attention in certain directions,” described Walsh.
Walsh explained that mindfulness is not only relevant to English/language arts, but other classes as well.
“Mindfulness is pertinent to all subject areas,” explained Wash. “It is a skill that more and more students appreciate because we are in a time right now where stress, anxiety and depression are at an all time high for students at the secondary level of instruction. We spend a great deal of time teaching subjects, but we don’t spend enough time on teaching students how to navigate the difficulties that may arise in our overly stressful world.”
Using mindfulness in the classroom is a relatively recent implementation for Walsh.
“I have taught mindfulness to students for the last four years,” described Walsh. “It has made a huge difference in the way students interact in my classroom as well as how they deal with the stresses of everyday life.”
Walsh recommends that other teachers should incorporate mindfulness techniques into their classrooms.
“I think we have a duty to teach these skills to students,” she says. “Because we have made school into a ‘pressure cooker’ with testing and increasing pressure, students need to have more opportunities to learn to take care of themselves.”
In fact, perhaps the entire k-12 and even college curriculum should be transformed to have more opportunities for mindfulness.
“Well, I truly believe these skills should be taught to kids from kindergarten onward,” stated Walsh. “If all teachers dedicated some time each day to reminding students how to alleviate stress in different ways, we would be in a much better place with student mental health as they progressed upward in their education. Knowing how to calm the mind is a basic skill I think all students should have. No one has to go through a ton of training to learn how to create a mindful atmosphere in a classroom. It helps with behavior difficulties as well as focus in a classroom.”
My Personal Experience With Mindfulness in Education
As a mother, my son had the pleasure of having Ms. Walsh as a teacher for two years in middle school. He enjoyed her mindfulness techniques as well as her emphasis on giving students the choice to read what they wanted to in class and at home. I often joined my son in reading time at home and read some of the same books that Ms. Walsh recommended to him.
When I first started working as a teacher in a traditional classroom in the 1990s, I used some similar techniques as Ms. Walsh to promote relaxation, focus, and anxiety-free learning. I also promoted reading by having students make their own choices of the literature they read. Also, I often employed breathing and focusing techniques in the traditional classroom. Currently, as an online teacher I am creating and implementing ways to make the content and work required for courses less stressful and more mindful as well.
As a graduate student, I investigated mindfulness techniques related to education as well. For instance, while earning my Master of Science in Mathematics Teaching and Learning, I studied ways to alleviate math anxiety. While earning my Master of Arts, I studied relaxation drama exercises and yoga positions to employ in the classroom. Furthermore, as an Ed.D. student, I continue to research ways to make online learning and learning in general more mindful, focused, and less stressful for students.
In a recent graduate research project, I investigated reactions to play and freedom largely because I believe, from my experience as an educator and mother, that education generally has become too testing-heavy and stressful. There needs to be a greater integration of play and freedom into the curriculum—along with mindfulness.