Mindfulness in School


Mindfulness is an idea that has been around for a while, but has recently become increasingly popular. Mindfulness is the state of being aware of everything or everyone around you, or, mindful. Mindfulness can be practiced in several ways, including meditation, deep breathing, and more. Now, one might ask themselves, why practice mindfulness, and why is everyone so interested in it now?


Mindfulness has many health benefits, and some of these benefits can be extremely helpful and beneficial to students. Some of these benefits are stress relief, anxiety relief, the decreased chance of burnout, higher academic performance, greater attention, lower blood pressure, increased mental and immune health. Mindfulness has also been able to help ADHD people focus better. All of these benefits are available to anybody when they practice mindfulness. To get some more information on the topic, the BF Bolt asked Mrs. Corcoran, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School who regularly practices mindfulness with her students, about her thoughts on this fascinating topic.

What is your definition of mindfulness?


Mrs. Corcoran: Being in the present moment; aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, self, others, all non-judgmentally.


What got you to focus on mindfulness with your students?


I started mindfulness in my classroom when I had already been practicing mindfulness on my own for a couple of years and I saw it helped me de-stress because teaching was becoming really stressful as we were starting something new and I was getting myself nervous and anxious and I started practicing myself and I saw how it helped me and I saw how my students were also feeling distracted easily and frustrated easily and that, if this could help me, then it was probably more important than the English I was teaching because if I could teach them life skills like how to calm down and focus when they need to and how to let go of stress, then these were skills they could take with them into real life.


How do you practice it in your personal life?


In my personal life, I started doing things that made sense for me. People think that mindfulness is meditation but it’s not. Meditation is a practice that involves mindfulness but you don’t have to do it to be mindful, which made me feel good because meditation was hard and I didn’t want to do it; in the beginning, I resisted it. So I did things like mindfully reflecting in my journal, because I like writing in my journal. I’d keep my focus on just what I was writing. I’d do a bit of calming breathing practices, by myself. I started off slowly and started recognizing my thought patterns were usually worries and that was causing me to feel anxious. And so, I told myself I don’t have to believe that thought, I can actually change it, if I want to. And then, about a year and a half into it, I started meditation. I’d meditate everyday. Now I love it.


Do you have any suggestions for students trying to practice mindfulness?


If students are aware of the fact that through mindfulness, you can change your thoughts and the way you feel. As we talked about during class, mindfulness can change the formation of your brain and your brain is formed by your experiences and what you think. People who experience trauma, their brains are impacted by that trauma. The more experiences we give our brain, the more we can change it. If we give it more experiences where we’re calm, there can be a change in your brain and it will make you more calm. Wanting to would be the first thing, and then playing around with different apps, because there are so many different apps for mindfulness, as mindfulness is such a big thing now. My favorite app is called Insight Timer, I also like Calm because you can say, ‘I only want to meditate for 2 minutes, or be still for 2 minutes,’ and it will give you a series of meditations you can do in 2 minutes. I especially think for kids, the place to start is at night because I think going to sleep is hard for kids, at least my kids have a hard time falling asleep at night. Whenever we do any meditation using one the apps, they’re out like a light. I would say that’s a place to start. If you like it, maybe try to do it after school, when you’re stressed from homework. Start small and then play around with it till you find something that works.


Why do you believe there’s a sudden focus on mindfulness in schools?


I think we’ve realized that kids are struggling, more so than 10 years ago. This is my 30th year teaching and I think kids are different and the expectations for kids are different now and their lives are different. All of us, we are living in a distracted society so if we don’t want to feel anything we pick up our phone and not feel anything. But actually, we are feeling when we are looking at our phones and we’re seeing Instagram and seeing what people are doing and are just like I don’t like that feeling so I’m just going to do something else. We just distract ourselves rather than being in the moment and feeling it. It’s ok to feel bad or mad and angry, but if you don’t feel it, then you’re just shoving it all down and eventually, you explode! So I think that the focus now is that we are realizing that as a school we have an opportunity to help kids take care of their emotional life, their inside life, and their mental life. Now I think we are starting to realize that we need to teach kids about themselves and their mind. It’s called Social Emotional Learning. And I think it’s starting to become a big part of what schools are doing. It’s paying attention to your mind: it’s mindfulness. If you can’t watch your thoughts and recognize whether you’re in a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, you’re not being mindful.


Is Ridgewood influencing mindfulness in all schools or just Ben Franklin?


I think that it’s a district goal: Social, emotional awareness. So the whole district says we want to get all schools on board and then there are different ways schools are tackling it. Some schools are taking care of it through mindfulness others are doing it a little more of yoga in class, which is a form of mindfulness. Any elementary schools are taking care of it through open circle activities. They would sit and discuss social and emotional things. Elementary schools are doing a little bit more of that: making kids a little bit more aware of how they’re feeling, knowing what’s going on in their social situations, and teaching them how to resolve conflict a little bit better. I don’t think mindfulness is a district goal, but definitely social, emotional, awareness.


Do you know if any other districts are doing similar things?


It is for sure, I would say almost across the board, across the states. Country – wide, I’m sure. I can’t speak exactly because I don’t know a lot of schools outside New Jersey. I know that it’s something schools are trying to implement.


How can teachers also benefit from moving to mindfulness in the classroom?


It’s my belief that it has to start in the teacher’s personal life first. I tell teachers that if you come into the classroom and you’re trying to teach them how to be mindful, and you’re not mindful, and then you yell at them two seconds later and you snap at them or you’re not being mindful, they’re going to see right through your fakeness. I feel like one of the things I try to teach teachers is that it’s our responsibility to embody it first and it should be something that you’re practicing and aware of in your own life to reduce your stress and that you can be present in the classroom. So I think that teachers have a responsibility to kind of practice it first before they can teach it.


Is there anything you hope for students to take away in particular from these mindfulness lessons?


Yes. So I feel like the one thing I really want kids to walk away with is the ability to have choice. You perform so much better in class if you practice mindfulness. I think that the idea would be that mindfulness is a practice that will help you have choice into how you want to handle the ups and downs of life. I love the image that mindfulness allows people to surf and ride the waves of life rather than getting pummeled by the waves and face down in sand. With mindfulness, when a wave comes, you can learn how to sit with it and move through it and then get to the other side where life gets good again, rather than being completely thrown by it. I always say the only thing you have control over is how you respond to what life gives you.


Mindfulness has proven itself to be very helpful in today’s world, and many people have very insightful thoughts about mindfulness that can help anybody who wishes to become mindful. This skillful practice has already helped many people who suffer from stress, or simply people who want the many benefits, such as the students of BF. However, for those who have busy schedules and simply can’t find enough time to practice mindfulness themselves, we included a short explanation on how to be mindfulness anywhere.


How to practice Mindfulness

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Make sure you get into a comfortable position, or else you won’t be able to focus during your mindfulness session. If it helps, you can also play calming music.
  2. Close your eyes, and deeply breathe in, and out. Place your hands on your stomach, and notice your belly moving up and down.
  3. Let go of your thoughts, and try to stop thinking. If you think of something, simply take note of it, and let it eventually fall out of your thoughts.
  4. Notice your breathing, and be aware of your surroundings.
  5. After a few minutes, you can start to slowly open your eyes, and get ready to go back to work.