Mindfulness for Educators

By Anjail Kenyatta

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There’s no question that educators face stress in many different forms. From managing online classroom dynamics to figuring out how to delineate between working from home and living at home, to simply completing a to-do list, there may be times that the stressors seem interminable. In those moments, gratitude and joy may be difficult to spot amid the chaos. This is when mindfulness can help. As a “natural human capacity” that fosters our ability to observe, participate in, and accept life’s moments from a position of loving kindness (Albrecht et al., 2012), mindfulness can refine our perspective so that we are better able to find calm, gratitude, and, yes, even joy in our busy lives.

As educators strive to teach students to be self-aware, in control, and mindful in and out of the classroom, they shouldn’t overlook the importance of mindfulness for themselves. Research indicates that mindfulness training for educators can lessen anxiety and reduce stress and emotional exhaustion (Flook et al., 2013). Practicing mindfulness will also improve self-regulation and self-compassion while simultaneously reducing the psychological effects of burnout (Flook et al., 2013). Mindfulness can help teachers communicate more effectively with students, which in turn creates a more positive learning environment. When teachers are mindful of their emotions and reactions to student behavior they will respond intentionally and focus on building a strong classroom community (Jennings, 2015). What’s more, it’s been shown that the positive effects of incorporating mindfulness for educators can spill over into the next year, suggesting that mindfulness has both short- and long-term benefits (Gewertz, 2020).

Reaping the benefits of mindfulness doesn’t require much time, nor does it require an in-person classroom or extra space. You can begin your mindfulness journey today. Small steps can be worked into a busy schedule that will allow you to become more present and more aware of your thoughts, emotions, actions, and reactions. Here are some simple strate­gies to embed mindfulness into your everyday life.

Unplug when you can. As challenging as it may be, do one thing at a time when possible. If you normally eat your lunch while scrolling online, see what happens if you spend 10 minutes just enjoying your lunch. When you find your mind racing ahead of where you are, challenge yourself to stop and notice five things in the room. Note what you appreciate about each one. The simple act of focusing on what you are doing or where you are situated will remind you to stay present and give your brain a reset before moving on to the next part of the day.

Focus on what you can control. There are many things throughout your day that may feel uncontrollable. When you notice yourself falling into a thought pattern of worry or anxiety, pause for a moment. Are you ruminating on something that’s in your control or something that is not? Take a deep breath and write out what’s causing you to stress. Decide if there are steps you can take to address it, and if there are not, try to let it go. When faced with situations beyond our control, it’s essential not to deplete ourselves. Focus on what you can control.

Start classes with a mindful moment. Modeling mindfulness for your students shows how important it is to care for our mental well-being. Think of your mindfulness practice as a way to lead by example and send the message that it’s okay to priori­tize yourself in this way (Gerszberg, 2018). Starting (or ending) class with a communal mindful moment benefits everyone, embeds mindfulness into the day for both you and your students, and shows that mindfulness is indeed a part of learning.

Share strategies with colleagues. Open up about your mindfulness journey with others to create a mindful community. When we take the initiative to lead others toward mindfulness, we act as an “internal multiplier” and lay the foundation for mindfulness to flourish in our workplace (Gerszberg, 2018). In addition, sharing successes and struggles creates connections and brings your educational community closer together.

Apply mindfulness to something you do automatically. Practice mindful focus. Whether you are lesson planning, driving, or cooking, do it mindfully. Focus on what thoughts come up and pay close attention to the actual execution of the task. Mindfulness tends to lead to behavioral changes (Albrecht et al., 2012), so moving from autopilot to mindfulness can help us to remain present more consistently. 

Pay attention to your triggers and scripts. What situations tend to set off negative or overwhelming emotions? What does your inner voice say in those moments? Notice what meaning you are ascribing to a situation, and then consider that it may be incorrect. For example, a student is always late handing in papers and you might assume the student is disorganized. Note your thought by saying to yourself, “I am aware that I think this paper is late because the student is disorganized.” Then consider other reasons for the student’s lateness and examine how your irritation in the moment is or is not serving you and the student (Gewertz, 2020). These “scripts” may not always be accurate, and being mindful of them can help avoid unnecessary stress.

The practice of mindfulness can play an important role in your relationships and address moments of stress and anxiousness. Acknowledging how you are feeling and giving yourself space to feel those feelings will contribute to a greater sense of well-being. There are times when you may feel overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, and sad— feelings that are natural ones. Mindfulness will give you a more productive framework for thinking about your circumstances, and allow you to handle stresses and difficulties with greater confidence and calm.

It’s important to remember that there is no right way to be mindful. It shouldn’t be something additional to check off your to-do list but rather a daily practice that works for you. Translate exercises into terms that resonate with you. Start small, and seek support when you need it. Take a deep breath. What is one thing you can see in front of you? Close your eyes and exhale. You’re being more mindful already.

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Anjail Kenyatta

Anjail Kenyatta is a lead program developer for the Fly Five curriculum for grades K–4, working with writers as a facilitator and supervisor to develop resources that will help educational stakeholders increase their awareness and engagement with social and emotional learning. Anjail began her career with Chicago Public Schools, teaching grades K–8 and working as a school counselor and case manager for 17 years.