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Mindful Learning: Lifelong Skills for Teachers and Learners

The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that that they are worthwhile. Fred Rogers

When we look back upon our own school days most of us can remember a teacher who was “special” in our eyes, or a class where we seemed to sail through with flying colours.

I can still remember my teacher, Mrs. H. in Port Colbourne, Ontario when we first moved from Uganda to Canada. She was so gentle, kind and calm and, most importantly, non-judgmental. She allowed everyone a voice, and was able to manage the classroom with such grace. I’ve had other teachers through the years who I also remember fondly, mostly because I didn’t feel stress in their classrooms. As a teacher myself, I now understand that they were managing the classroom activities, personalities, and morale by modeling kindness and non-judgment.

Recently, I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. Remember him?

As a young child, I loved his teaching style. He was so gentle, with so many golden “quotables” that still seem so current in todays’ world. So many of his sayings have roots in mindfulness-based teaching. From those days to the present, it seems like we’re coming full circle, as mindfulness, in both learning and teaching, is becoming more present at schools today. 

At my daughter’s school, they have a “calm down” space, where if a child needs to decompress or needs some quiet time to write or work, they can go into this calm space. Children also have opportunities to participate in a Mindfulness Class with a visiting mindfulness instructor. I believe that if we can help teachers to live and embody the concepts of mindfulness, then not only would their stress be managed, but they would be more effective in handling all the big feelings of the children and the individual personalities in their classrooms. 

Nicholas Christakis a sociologist at Harvard University and James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California advocate that within our network of family, friends, teachers, and colleagues, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees of separation. That means that the impact we have on each other has a ripple effect. So, when a child comes to school happy and mindful, then his/her teacher’s partner (2 degrees) and the spouse’s parent (3 degrees) will be impacted. The finding is called “Three Degrees of Influence.”

Based on this finding, this means that if a teacher comes to school unhappy and stressed, then 30 children go home with this negative effect on their siblings, parents, and grandparents.

What impact are you making today? 

Thankfully, teachers see the benefit in exploring mindfulness-based approaches to teaching to complement their teacher training as they naturally learn to recognize and tend to individual behavioral patterns in themselves and their students. I’ve found it so important for us, as parents, teachers, and colleagues to understand our own triggers and patterns of behaviour so we don’t get caught in reacting to situations and are in fact able to respond wisely. Mindful Changes offers mindfulness classes and workshops to teach kids and teens the skills and practice of mindfulness to apply to their daily lives at home and at school.

The science behind mindful learning

To learn effectively, and to activate their executive functioning, students need to engage the prefrontal cortex to focus their attention and become self-aware enough to notice a need to react and to recognize distraction.

There is growing body of evidence that strongly suggests regular and daily mindful awareness practice changes how our body and brain respond to stress, strengthens connections in the prefrontal cortex, and reduces reactivity in our limbic system. These changes support self-reflection, self-regulation and our executive functioning skills that play a critical role in teaching and learning.

As we now know, we can make deep changes in the way our bodies and minds function at any age. To help students learn to calm their bodies and minds, teachers use developmentally appropriate mindfulness activities and inter-personal mindfulness practices. Increased levels of mindfulness are also associated with improvements in psychological functioning in general. Mindfulness enhances mental processes that mitigate psychological distress, which promotes general well-being and compassion for self and others.

Teaching is an extremely emotionally-demanding profession. Fortunately, studies show that mindfulness-based stress reduction courses for teachers promote resilience and reduce emotional exhaustion. For parents of home-learners, this article offers tips to creating an effective and mindful place for learning at home.

Learning to be mindful in Vancouver

Mindful Changes provides mindfulness courses and workshops in Vancouver BC and the Lower Mainland. View upcoming mindfulness classes.

Contact Shahin directly for more details!

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About Shahin Najak

Shahin Najak is a Vancouver-area Mindfulness Coach and speaker, teaching in the Vancouver, BC area. She is certified as a Yoga Instructor and Reiki practitioner, as well as a Jack Canfield (author of Chicken soup for the Soul) Success trainer.

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