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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mindfulness in Schools: Research-Based Support for Teacher Training

photo courtesy Autumn Theodore Photography

The following is a guest post by Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting, author of Myths of Being Human: Four Ways to Connect with What Matters.

Looking to bring mindfulness to your school? In today’s data-based world, the research used to support the practice is your best tool and ally. As a mindfulness teacher who frequently works in the field of education, I rely on the most up-to-date research to educate school systems with whom I work and to advocate for the importance of what I do.

Unlike many other “strategies,” the process of classroom implementation is very much about teaching with your being. This is not a quick fix. When the adult in the room is transformed, the classroom climate changes, too. This is the ultimate goal: not to introduce mindfulness as a strategy-based intervention, but instead to change the overall climate, tone, and quality of interaction so that it is more conducive to the health and wholeness of teacher and student.

Two quick notes on introducing formal mindfulness practice to students:

1) When implementing mindfulness-based interventions, it's important for the adults who are teaching it to have their own practice. For this reason, my work starts there and much of the research listed below is targeted toward teacher interventions.

2) There has been some controversy about mindfulness in schools because of perceived religious connotations with the practice. This can be avoided by carefully articulated communication about what mindfulness really is. Always use “formal mindfulness practice” and never “meditation” when talking to students and parents. In addition, make sure to articulate that your approach is a research-based, secular practice.

Why Teachers Need This (Not Just Another Fad To Take Up Teacher Time)

Mindfulness and SEI training for teachers has multiple benefits. One problem it can help to solve is the high rate of educator turnover and burn out, which costs school districts both time and money. If teachers can be better supported through an improved school culture and additional self-care resources, retention will be less of an issue.

The second benefit is the impact on student outcomes. An article called “When Teachers Take a Breath Students Can Bloom” from NPR describes explicitly some of the research on how mindfulness training for teachers positively impacts student learning outcomes (for example, improving students reading scores). In addition, according to the Teacher Stress and Health research brief cited below, teacher stress negatively impacts student outcomes. Simply put, if teachers are less stressed, kids perform better.

The third reason is the social and emotional intelligence gains, including increased resilience and improved ability to relate to others, that students will experience as teachers model mindfulness and SEI (Social and Emotional Intelligence) for students and change the culture of the buildings in which they work. 

According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and EQ expert, 
“Teachers are the crucial models for kids in this domain [EQ]… teachers teach it by their being, by how they handle it when two kids are having a fight, how they notice that one kid is being left out and make sure that he’s included, by how they tune into the social dynamics between kids that loom so large in kids’ lives.”

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice on the Individual Level

The benefits of mindfulness on an individual level are significant. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness practice benefits include:

  • Reduced rumination
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved working memory
  • Increased ability to focus
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Higher relationship satisfaction
  • Improved overall well being
  • Increased empathy
  • Reduced psychological distress
In addition, mindfulness changes the structure of the brain. In an interview with The Washington Post, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar explains the exact structural differences in those with a formal practice.

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice at the School Level

There are three reports that I frequently use as research-based support for the work I do in training administrators and teachers. They are as follows:

  • Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students and Schools: This briefing published by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University outlines the negative impact that teacher stress has on student performance, school budgets, and teachers’ own lives. In addition, SEL (social and emotional learning) and mindfulness are two recommended tools for combatting this stress.
  • The Mindful Leader: This research brief published by Ashridge Executive Education outlines the importance of formal mindfulness practice as a tool to improve leadership capabilities.
  • State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2016:   This research review provides substantive evidence for the use of mindfulness as a tool to mitigate the effects of implicit bias in educators. Implicit bias has an impact on quality of education and engagement for students.

Mindfulness and SEI training aren’t yet another burden on teachers. They provide tools to help teachers do all of the things they need to do without sacrificing their humanity, their health, and their wholeness. 

Educators who have worked with me leave feeling more capable of doing all that is required of them and often take more time for themselves after the experience is over.

Have questions about what this looks like in action? Check out my website:

photo courtesy
Autumn Theodore Photography
About the Author

Brandi Lust is the founder of Learning Lab Consulting, which was created as a tool to improve the quality of life and performance of organizations and individuals seeking to grow in a more mindful, creative and connected manner.  She is also a writing consultant certified by the National Writing Project and is the author of Myths of Being Human: Four Ways to Connect with What Matters


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