Mindfulness Training for Teachers

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” ~ Albert Einstein

What Is Mindfulness Training for Teachers?

Over the past decade, training in mindfulness – the intentional cultivation of moment-by-moment non-judgmental focused attention and awareness – has spread to education.

In 2012, a group of reviewers from leading colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom published Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education:  Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students in 2012. Quoting from that:

“Two decades of neuroscientific, medical, and psychological research with adults provide accumulating evidence that, like other individuals, teachers can benefit personally and professionally from the reflective discipline of mindfulness. While this discipline is grounded in attention and awareness, its researched effects are wide ranging and involve measurable physiological and psychological benefits through a reduction in stress physiology and through measurable changes in the function and structure of diverse areas of the brain. The brain regions that are impacted by mindfulness training are implicated in executive functioning (EF) and the regulation of emotions and behavior. Executive functioning is an umbrella term for cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, and the initiation and monitoring of actions (Chan et al. 2008)…

Preliminary findings between 2005 and 2009 showed correlations between mindfulness training and increased thickness of cortical structures (i.e., grey matter) associated with attention, working memory, processing sensory input, EF, self-reflection, empathy, and affective regulation (Holzel et al. 2008; Lazar et al. 2005; Luders et al. 2009). These early findings are now buttressed by a more recent study at the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program of Massachusetts General Hospital that is the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter. The researchers studied the effects of an 8-week MBSR training on brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress…Neuro-imaging results showed increased grey matter density in the hippocampus, a region central to learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. (Holzel et al. 2011). These preliminary findings suggest that, due to the brain’s neuroplastic nature (i.e., its ability to create new neurons and neural connections), individuals can actively change their brain structure in ways that promote brain health and improve the quality of one’s life.

To develop mindfulness however – a process of human development – is not like other cookie cutter curriculums that can be learned in a day, outlined in a resource guide and then be brought into a classroom using a transmissive approach. Teachers may be able to pick up tips and techniques from these types of trainings that benefit student learning and development. However, more comprehensive benefits depend on a felt sense of presence that is embodied by the teacher in everyday classroom actions and instructional strategies. Training teachers to embody mindfulness by developing a foundation of personal practice creates a wider and more sustainable benefit to the system of education.”

How Mindful Kids Miami Integrates Mindfulness:

  1. Indirect teaching — perhaps the most effective method — by training educators, health care providers, caregivers in institutional settings, and other  professionals who serve children.
  2. Direct teaching by teaching children and teens in after-school and community programs. (There is a special emphasis on reaching at-risk and underserved children, and both the able-bodied and those with disabilities.)

Significant work to introduce mindfulness in education began in 2007, and such programs for children and teenagers have been successful throughout the country. Mindful Kids Miami is committed to bringing those research-based benefits to children and youth in Greater Miami.

Mindful Kids Miami’s Mindfulness Training for Teachers program was developed after extensive study, practice and experience. This two-phase, 23-week program offers training to teachers in both public and private schools, from pre-K through the 12th grade. Mindful Kids Miami approach emphasizes actually practicing mindfulness or being mindful rather than only studying.

Training is in two phases:

First Phase:

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program is an 8-week comprehensive, experiential, and internationally recognized program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, now professor emeritus of medicine at the UMass Medical Center.  It consists of eight 2.5 hour classes plus a one-day retreat. Practiced daily,   mindfulness training for adults leads to a healthier approach to living through:

  • A more open and nonjudgmental awareness.
  • Increased ability to focus and concentrate.
  • Short-term and long-term coping skills.
  • Acceptance of self.
  • Letting go of the need to control.
  • Equanimity and balance.
  • A calm and relaxed presence.
  • Increased compassion and kindness toward self and others.
  • A more joyful and fulfilling life.
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Second Phase:

Mindful Teachers’ Training Program (MTTP) is a 12-week fun and experiential training for educators preparing them to teach age-appropriate mindfulness practices, games, activities, and skills based on social-emotional learning. These methods train children and youth to pay attention, strengthen focus, increase impulse control, regulate behavior, and cultivate tolerance, compassion and empathy for themselves and others.

The Mindful Teachers Training Program is divided into four 4-week modules:

  • Mindful Movement brings children into an awareness of their bodies and changing physical sensations as they move through various poses which take them out of automatic pilot; it also teaches awareness of breathing.
  • Mindful Games & Exercises teaches children how to pay attention and to increase focus.
  • Mindful Relaxation relaxes children through guided awareness of breathing, felt sensations in the body, feelings, etc., which helps regulate over-stimulation and teaches proper breathing.
  • Kindness Practices increases compassion and empathy in children both for themselves and others; leads to increased understanding of differences as well as a sense of connection with themselves, others, and the world around them.

Research demonstrates that mindfulness training for children and teens:

  • Increases Attention & Focus – resulting in higher academic achievement
  • Reduces Stress – allowing kids to learn more and perform better;
  • Improves Impulse Control – increasing teaching time in the classroom;
  • Develops Emotional Regulation – teaching children to “respond” rather than “react.”
  • Builds Empathy & Compassion – cultivating greater understanding of cultural, religious and sexual diversity as well as reducing cruelty, bullying, and violence and, hence, safer and happier schools

Why Mindfulness Training for Teachers Is Important

teachers-mindful2Mindfulness cultivates habits of mind by deploying attention and awareness in the present moment in a nonreactive and nonjudgmental manner. Why are habits of mind necessary for effective teaching? Effective teaching requires habits of mind associated with mental flexibility, emotion regulation, and relationship management skills (Helsing, 2007; Schutz & Zembylas, 2009; Zapf, 2002). By cultivating the habit of being flexibly attentive, teachers may be better able to respond to students’ needs proactively, a key contributor to effective classroom management (Marzano, Marzono, & Pickering, 2003). In addition, teachers must problem solve “on the fly” as they interact with students of varying levels of maturity and readiness to learn. To do this in a manner that avoids unequal treatment and opportunities to learn among students with different backgrounds requires great awareness, empathy, and mental flexibility (Chang, 2009). Emotion regulation is especially important because if teachers become overly stressed in the classroom, they cannot leave in order to compose themselves but must self-regulate in the presence of the class and the stress itself, such as a student’s disruptive behavior (Roeser et al., 2012).

What Teachers Themselves Have to Say About It

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To carry out the bold intention of teaching – bettering the human condition and lifting the human spirit day in and day out – teachers need solid grounding and self-awareness. The awareness, focus, resilience, and discipline needed to be effective in the classroom, and the calm and joy needed to be truly present for students, are all cultivated and enhanced through MKM’s Mindfulness Training for Teachers. A teacher who plans to teach mindfulness to children needs to actively cultivate his or her own mindfulness practice. Only then can they be prepared to help others develop mindfulness.

Martha Holmes, now a Teaching Assistant, beautifully expresses how she feels about the necessity of a teacher committing to become mindful themselves:

“After 25 years of teaching, I know that if you can’t transform yourself, you can’t transform your classroom. It’s like a ballet dancer attempting a difficult turn without “centering” herself. If your teaching is an extension of compassion, precision, and wisdom (which are fruits of these practices), it will manifest in everything you do. You will also become a model for your students, so you won’t have to spend too much time “teaching” them these qualities.”

The Mindfulness Training for Teachers (MTT) is much more than training in skills and activities for implementing mindfulness practices in schools. It is a course in understanding and bringing compassion to one’s own experience of life. Mindfulness opens and creates space in hearts, minds and bodies, allowing for the cultivation of true presence and purpose.

According to Valerie DeWitt, a teacher who has taken the course twice and is now a Teaching Assistant:

“The practice has helped me be more present to my own experience and more present to others in my personal life as well as in my teaching. . . . My experience with teaching children in the past 12 years has shown me that one of the most important things I can share with them is the importance of the breath as a tool for self-awareness.”

Another teacher, Jana, tells us,

“I have found the MKM’s mindfulness training to be life-altering. I wish I had incorporated it into my life and work long ago! After completing the 9-week MBSR Program, I experienced a sense of equanimity that became obvious to me and to other people I came in contact with. As a cancer survivor, my oncologist noted on a recent visit my change in attitude, body language and sense of calm. I believe that mindfulness brings benefits to everyone who practices it. It is a simple solution to the complexity of daily life. . . . I have been a teacher for more than 30years. The MTT has been an exceptional opportunity to gain useful, fun and meaningful skills that I can use with my students.”

The second phase of the training is when teachers experience for themselves how mindful awareness can be taught to students in age-appropriate, child-friendly ways. This program equips them with skills to create experiential learning in their own classrooms whether they are teaching Pre-K or high school seniors.

The training emphasizes experiential teaching and learning, meaning not “telling” children what mindfulness is, but creating opportunities for students to “experience” mindfulness. MKM’s method allows for constructive and encouraging feedback which can be integrated into the classroom teaching. The opportunity to practice teaching back during the training builds confidence. Teachers report leaving class enthused, creatively inspired, and with a greater appreciation for and sense of stillness. When interviewed after a recent class, numerous participants expressed their reasons for committing to the program and, for many, noting why they’re taking the training for a second time.

Pat, a highly skilled and experienced teacher of very young children at the University of Miami’s Mailman Center, shared her story with kindness practice:

“Loving kindness or sending friendly wishes is the most meaningful mindfulness practice that I have implemented in my classroom. Because of the very low language abilities of the students in my class we have simplified the wishes as follows:

  • May I be happy.
  • May I be safe.
  • May I be healthy.
  • May I be loved.

We also send these same wishes to others substituting the word ‘you for ‘I.’ We have the friendly wishes printed with accompanying photos of the children in a happy, safe, healthy or loved ‘pose’ and have done several activities in which we have cut out the words to complete a fill-in-the-blank sheet and glued their photos to the sheet. The activities are posted so that the children can refer to them during the day. At various points of the day, sometimes at breakfast, sometimes at circle, lining up to go to the playground, or whenever there is a transition, we send friendly wishes to ourselves and others. The children have begun to use the wishes spontaneously during the day. In situations where in the past a student may have been told, ‘No hitting,’ the alternative ‘May you be safe’ is often enough of a reminder to prevent the aggressive behavior from occurring.

Recently one of the students became upset and started crying about a family situation. The other children embraced him in a group hug and wished him ‘love.’ While that hug will not change the discord at home, I’m hopeful that the love he receives from his friends will help him to cope with his sadness. Practicing loving kindness has truly transformed my classroom and my teaching.”

What Schools are Incorporating Mindfulness Training from MKM?

  • Carver Middle School
  • Academy of International Education (AIE) Charter School
  • Citrus Grove Middle School
  • Arvida Middle School
  • Mater Academy of International Studies
  • St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School

Find Out More

If you would like to know more about training with Mindful Kids Miami in our Mindfulness Training for Teachers, please contact us by phone at 305-270-3262 or by email at info@mindfulkidsmiami.org.

Bringing Mindfulness into the Classroom and Beyond

TeacherManual-smThis training manual developed by Mindful Kids Miami is an 87-page, comprehensive  guide created to assist educators and others who are committed to mindfulness in their lives. The manual is a good resource for those who seek to embody mindfulness in the classroom, therapy office, activity center, and elsewhere in their daily interactions with students. Based on the extraordinary work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who pioneered the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, MBSR  provides the foundation for all Mindfulness-Based Interventions.

Order yours today on our MKM Store.

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