Subscribe to the New York Times and you can sign up to have newsletters on various topics delivered to your email inbox. One of the newsletters that I follow is the Well newsletter which delivers tips on health and wellness. The March 9 newsletter is no exception. It contains links to a wide range of articles, e.g., keeping bacteria out of breast pumps, whether cannabis can be used as a sleep aid, and new trends in male grandparenting. But what makes it relevant for this blog is the list of 12 recommended podcasts dealing with health and wellness issues. Two, in particular, focus on meditation, mindfulness practices, and their application in everyday life. The newsletter provides brief descriptions of the broadcasts and recommends two ‘get-acquainted’ episodes for podcast listeners. Here are capsule summaries of these podcasts:Continue reading
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.
Life can be touch on kids, and kids can be tough on each other. A recent NPR Morning Edition story (20 Feb, 2020) brought this point home as it described how mindfulness practices are being used to help schoolchildren attending a high-needs elementary school in Nashville, TN. (Mindfulness Transforms Culture at High-Needs Elementary School)
The stage for the story is set when a 4th grader appears at the mindfulness room in the elementary school that has been set up by the school’s designated mindfulness teacher. The boy has come to the room because he is feeling worked up by a physical confrontation he had just had with another student who had bullied him in art class. Together, the student and the teacher go over the events. The teacher provides emotional support and assurance for the boy, and also leads him through some breathing exercises that loosen the “fight or flight” feelings that had gripped the boy. Ultimately, the boy is able return to class feeling calmer and with greater confidence in his personal safety.
Situations that generate some degree of “fight or flight” are not unique to elementary schools. “Stage fright” is not just a problem for those in the theater. Speaking out in conference, working with an unfamiliar apparatus in lab, knocking on a professor’s door to initiate a conversation, these are all known stressors for college students, and some type of mindfulness practice might be used to reduce these stresses.
Two other features of the NPR story also deserve mention. Mindfulness can be beneficial, but it shouldn’t be treated as a band-aid. When the sources of stress are systemic in nature – poverty, implicit bias, and so on – we should also be looking at how to change the system so that the sources of stress are reduced. In addition, mindfulness practice, like other healthy habits, needs to be normalized. It isn’t something that someone else does when they are struggling. It is something we, teachers as well as students, can all practice so that the tools are available to us whenever they are needed.
I would like to share news about an upcoming webinar, ‘Begin with Wholeness, End with Joy’, presented by Maria Hamilton Abegunde, Visiting Lecturer, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington. This webinar focuses on how Ms. Abegunde, a poet, priest, and healer, uses contemplative and ritual practices in her courses on Black Feminisms to help students navigate through emotionally-charged material without being overwhelmed by feelings of personal crisis and injustices past and current.
The live webinar will be Nov. 30, 11 am, and is free. If you can’t watch at that time, you can watch a recording of the webinar by going to the host organization’s (Assoc. for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education) web site. More information about the webinar topic, the presenter, and links to past webinar offerings are available online at the ACMHE web page.
This livescience.com news item caught my eye (‘Can You ‘Catch’ Stress in a Classroom? Science Says Yes’ by S.G. Miller, livescience.com, 27 June 2016)
Head lice and strep throat aren’t the only things you can catch in a classroom. According to a new study from Canada, stress may be contagious, too.
Researchers found that when 4th- to 7th-grade teachers reported feeling “burned out,” their students also had elevated stress levels.
Here are my top picks from the Feb ’16 issue of the Mindfulness Research Monthly newsletter, a publication of the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA). The newsletter lists several interesting articles describing the effects of mindfulness interventions on military personnel. My top picks include studies of the connections between mindfulness practice and perceived stress in college students, successful parenting behaviors, and stress levels during romantic conflicts. I also picked out several review articles examining the status of mindfulness research with regard to job burnout, executive functioning, ADHD, and possible concerns about the suitability of mindfulness practice.
Here are my top picks from the January ’16 issue of the Mindfulness Research Monthly newsletter, a publication of the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA). Several articles describe how mindfulness interventions affect student stress and teacher burnout. Another article that might interest those who would like to teach meditation recommends ‘best practices’ for conducting mindfulness programs in public schools.
The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) provides resources covering a range of topics related to contemplative practices in higher ed. I’ve listed some of these resources at the bottom of this post.
You might also be interested in an upcoming weekend workshop, “Contemplative Practice in Higher Education,” to be held Sept 18-20 at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Here’s the blurb that appeared in my inbox a few days ago:
There is an ever-expanding scientific literature on the impact of meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, on health care professionals and their patients. This work is now spilling over into the academic arena. The August 2015 issue of the Mindfulness Research Monthly newsletter describes a recent study this way:
The high emotional demands of public school teaching can contribute to impaired teacher morale, professional burnout, and the fact that 40-50 of teachers quit teaching within their first five years on the job. …
Spring Break has finally arrived. Indeed, several colleagues have told me, “it’s one week late.” Apparently, a lot of us teach, work, and live, in ways that are stretched so tight that a small schedule change can barely be tolerated. Somehow we hang on.
So here’s some good news: a new book called, “Mindfulness for Teachers” by Patricia A. Jennings (W.W. Norton & Co.). Although the cover shows smiling schoolchildren, and not college students, I suspect mindfulness practices can benefit teachers at all levels. Here’s the blurb describing the book: