In Spring 2019, just when COVID was getting serious, I received an article titled “Mindfulness in the Classroom” (Faculty Focus, 29 Apr 2019). It was written by biology professor, Erica Kosal, who had been teaching at North Carolina Wesleyan College, and together with 2 other colleagues, had been introducing short (5-7 minute) mindfulness practices into their classroom sessions.
This very charming article is a quick read that describes a few of the practices that Kosal employed, student reactions to them and how these changed over time, and how the faculty also felt transformed by this addition to their class. As Kosal explains,
At first, most students reported that they felt silly engaging in the activities and/or didn’t see how five minutes of meditative practices could really help. But over the next several weeks, they found themselves looking forward to the practices, welcoming the opportunity to clear their minds so they could in fact focus on biology. Some students even reported that they were using the practices on their own—for example, before starting homework or a study session. One student even reported he started doing a short mindful practice prior to soccer games and his teammates noticed an improvement in his performance.
Several things stand out here. First, the practices were diverse. The students didn’t necessarily sit silently, nor did they repeat a single practice over and over. Second, student (and faculty) appreciation for the short practices grew over time. In the beginning, the mindfulness practices may have seemed like unexpected (and perhaps wasteful?) uses of classroom time. I am certain that they didn’t fit with student expectations for what their time in a biology classroom would look like. Nevertheless, as Kosal reports, students “found themselves looking forward to the practices, welcoming the opportunity to clear their minds so they could in fact focus on biology.“
Mindful teaching of this sort is something that every teacher might consider. There is no single recipe for what the best mindfulness practice might be for any given teacher on any given day, but once a practice has been selected, repetition will cultivate familiarity and acceptance, and likely make the practice more effective over time. Rather than being a sacrifice of precious class time, the practice becomes something that enhances the classroom experience by making everyone more present, open, and focused. And it may also pay off beyond the classroom.