Chase Mielke

Author. Speaker. Well-Being Expert.

Staying Present in the Classroom: Practicing Mindful Teaching

How am I going to transition to the next lesson? What’s that smell? What am I going to have the kids who finish early do until the bell rings? Do you think any of them actually like this book? I hope our staff meeting doesn’t go long; I’ve got to get home to my puppy before she pees the crate. Man, she’s a cute puppy. I wonder if people would pay just to rent her for an hour. Seriously, what’s that smell? Did someone fart? Is it me? Oh [expletive], did I forget to put on deodorant!? No . . . I’m good. What’s the best question to ask when they’re done reading – y’know one of those “Mind: BLOWN” questions? Where should I stand as they read. Should I be moving around the room? But not too much . . . because then they’ll get distracted. Am I doing too many exit tickets? I need to get an air freshener.

Welcome to one-minute in my mind as I teach. It’s a frantic, chaotic cluster. It’s a human brain, I assure you. And, I bet your human brain isn’t much different.

Our minds are a flurry of thoughts in any given second. Whether it’s prepping our next spoken sentence or planning our week’s errands, we often live everywhere but the present moment. Not only do we have a knack for thinking ahead, but as teachers, planning ahead is our job.

But, what if our habit of frantic fretting makes us less effective, less happy, and less resilient to burn-out?

What we need, perhaps more than a shot of espresso to the veins, is a habit of mindfulness. We need to give ourselves permission to just be present in the moment, to be conscious of the life we are living, and to not worry about the thirty-thousand things that must be done this day.

If you’ve been following the world of psychology lately, you’ll recognize this idea as the booming concept of mindfulness. Mounds of research show that mindfulness practice and interventions help reduce stress, increase focus, improve self-regulation, and even improve relationship satisfaction (click here or here for some more articles about the subject).

So, how do we make mindfulness happen without adding another strategy on our plate? Two easy steps.

Step 1: Your Mindfulness Life Hack: Conscious breathing

Before I introduce mindfulness to students, I ask them to share what comes to mind when they hear the word. Typical responses include:

– Sitting cross-legged in front of burning incense;

– Bald dudes in robes worshipping a bald dude named Buddha;

– Airy music and waterfalls;

– Chanting “OM”;

– Getting high (Note: this answer comes up from my students regardless of the question).

One of the biggest misconceptions of mindfulness is that it has to be anchored into a ritualized religion, practiced in communes with patchouli wafting in the air. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

The simplest way to practice mindfulness and become present is to simply notice your breathing. That’s it. Breathe in, paying attention to your body and your surroundings. Breathe out, still paying attention to your body and surroundings. Done.

Thich Nhat Hahn, a mindfulness maestro, concurs in No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering when he writes,

The way we start producing the medicine of mindfulness is by stopping and taking a conscious breath, giving our complete attention to our in-breath and our out-breath . . . The great news is that oneness of body and mind can be realized just by one in-breath.”

You can make it more symbolic, more spiritual, more specific if you’d like, but you don’t have to.

Step 2: Find Some Daily Mindfulness Triggers

My favorites include:

1. A beverage of choice.

How often do we just slosh our daily drinks down without enjoying the taste, the temperature, the thank-you-caffeine-for-helping-me-not-murder-my-kids phenomenon? When you pick up your drink, get into the present and notice what every sense is doing that very moment. So what if you just remembered that you forgot to assign that homework last hour. These few glorious seconds belong to your taste buds.

2. A location in the room.

Since you are a human and since humans are animals, I bet you have habits. I bet you stand in a specific place every time you present a specific type of information. And, like me, I bet you often run through your walking/standing habits without noticing they arehabits.

Try picking a specific place or seat in your room that you visit often. When you reach this point, trigger that mindful breath before speaking. If you find yourself forgetting, do something to make your mindful spot abnormal. Mark a little “X” on the ground. Tape a couple quarters under a leg of your stool or chair so it wobbles. Attach a sign to the wall that says “Breathe.” The abnormality will pull your brain to the present and remind you take a mindful breath.

3. An annoyance.

Our irritations are our greatest signals that we need to take a mindful moment. Mitchell gets up an average of eight times per class. He is responsible for 72 percent of the use of my Kleenex and has ground roughly 30 pencils down to a nub this semester. He may be the worst crumpled-paper basketball player in history. And my blood pressure spikes every time he sloths around the room.

I could do any number of things when he gets up:

– Have yet another sit-down talk on how I know what he’s really doing when he gets up.

– Yell at him.

– Poison the Kleenex.

– Use his tomfoolery as a trigger to take a deep breathe, smile and remember that I practiced the same antics (and worse) when I was his age.

I’m choosing the latter. If nothing else, it will help me avoid an ulcer and possibly a criminal charge for poisoning children.

4. An alarm.

Technology, normally a medium that prevents our being present, can be used to help. Set a vibrating alarm on your phone that goes off once every hour. Or make it a gong and get all Buddhist with your bad self.

5. School bells.

I think Dante’s 10th level of hell is being stuck in a smelly classroom listening to school bells over and over and over. No matter what the tone, they all jar me out of joy. Yet again, though, rather than whining about them, I use them as triggers to take a deep, conscious breath.

6. The bathroom.

Before crushing that candy or mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed in the john, take a few conscious breaths. They may not be great-smelling breaths, but at least you’ll be one with the moment.

7. Freshmen turtles.

The greatest untapped study in human psychology is why freshmen pack their entire lives into their backpacks and then walk –2 miles an hour in crowded hallways. When they are blocking my path, it makes me want to go Super Mario and jump on the pimply little koopa troopas. Since that’s not very mature, I use these angsty moments as a perfect trigger to take my deep breath and enjoy the casual stroll.

Give it a try. Allow yourself a few seconds each day to get out of your head and into your present. Inhale. Exhale. Smile.

A version of this post originally appeared on WeAreTeachers.


3 responses to “Staying Present in the Classroom: Practicing Mindful Teaching”

  1. I had my students do a few minutes of silent guided meditation before tests last semester but then I got scared thinking they all probably hated it, and I stopped doing it. But the thing is – I think they enjoyed it. I wish I wouldn’t have stopped. Now it seems too weird to re-introduce the idea this late in the year.

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