guest post by Linda Yaron Weston, from her book Mindfulness for Young Adults: Tools to Thrive in School and Life
With all the things competing for students’ attention, mindful learning can enhance focus, creativity, and curiosity in the physical or virtual classroom. Students may enter the classroom with stressors and challenges that impact their capacity to learn. Mindfulness can help students get centered and present to engage with the academic content. When they reflect on their relationship to what they’re learning, they become active participants in the process through their interaction with the material. This can be applied across disciplines, as students examine what it means to be fully present in learning.
In a survey last year at the end of the Fall 2019 semester of my Introduction to Mindfulness courses at the University of Southern California, over two-thirds of students said that taking the course “somewhat,” “much,” or “very much” impacted their studying or grades (41% “much” or “very much”). It allowed them to better access academic learning tools and cope with the emotional fatigue, frustration, and anxiety that can arise with academic learning and performance.
“As I was getting frustrated while studying, I had this other option, which many times while studying you feel that there is no other option,” Devin, a junior business major reflected (name changed to protect student privacy). Meditation gave him a sense of reality and assurance that he would be alright and figure out the material in time for the test. “Many times, I would just quit, but this time even a little step away from the desk can reshape your entire perspective on the situation.”
Principles of Mindful Learning
Approach learning with curiosity and a willingness to explore, create, and interact with the content.
Set an intention for how you will show up for learning and why it’s important to you. This can even be one word that you keep coming back to—try, open, process, goal.
When the mind wanders, try to bring the attention back to the content, conversation, or activity and not get swept away by a thought, emotion, or sensation. Put away anything that may distract or fragment attention. Only have out what is needed.
Multitasking splits attention between various things. In a classroom, students may be half listening to a lecture as they browse online, chat with a friend, or prepare for a future class. This can leave attention disjointed and fragmented.
Single-tasking means we do only one thing at a time, and we bring our full attention to that activity. This makes it more possible to focus on the content and have more thoughtful ideas and participation.
5. Beginner’s mind
Even if school is a daily and repeated activity, can we approach each experience as if for the first time?
Mindful breathing, pauses, and emotional regulation can lower the stress response and help broaden the mind to think more creatively and critically.
7. Pausing to Absorb Course Content
Take pauses and STOP (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed) to observe and absorb the material. Manage the intake of content and output of interaction through pauses.
8. Active Speaking and Listening
Build listening skills by bringing full attention to the communication taken in (listening to another, the words on a page, or any content absorbed through the senses).
Also, be intentional of what is put out (words, projects, actions, movement). Pause before speaking to develop a thoughtful response.
Listen with nonjudgmental attention to build connection, safety, and trust in discussions. Cooperative group opportunities can deepen relationships and social support.
10. Responsive vs. Reactive
When situations arise, take a breath and choose a response rather than unconsciously acting out. Before going into triggering situations, think of what you might say or do in advance.
11. Managing Emotions
Notice what emotions may arise in learning, whether frustration in learning difficult content, excitement in learning something new, anxiety before an exam, uncertainty in grades, wondering about fitting in, or joy in working with friends.
Label and allow emotions rather than pushing them away, investigate how they feel in the body, and try not to identify with them as part of your personality. Hold what arises with kindness.
12. Kindness and Compassion
When difficulties arise, choose to meet them with kindness. Try to hold your challenges, and the challenges of others, with compassion and nonjudgment, realizing we all make mistakes, and we are all learners in this world.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
Can be explored individually or in the context of teacher training or professional development.
1. What gets in the way of learning for you or your students?
2. What would it mean for your school or organization if students learned tools to be more mindful (aware, accepting, present, curious, kind)?
3. How might mindfulness be incorporated into your classroom or organization?
Excerpted and adapted from Mindfulness for Young Adults: Tools to Thrive in School and Life. © Linda Yaron Weston. (Routledge, 2021)
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