As teachers, we strive to go above and beyond to make our lessons enthralling and engaging for those we teach. We know that for pupils to develop skills and retain knowledge, they need to be "present" for more than answering their name on the register.
Yet, how present and engaged are we throughout the school day? When was the last night you heard and felt your fingers typing an email, or tuned into the sensations of your feet on the ground, as you stood in front of your class?
Research into the benefits of practising mindfulness is still in its infancy, but already looks promising. A 2007 study, conducted by Hölzel, Lazar et al, took fMRI brain scans of patients, before and after an eight-week programme of mindfulness training; the results displayed clear changes in the grey matter of brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, information processing and perspective.
Still think it’s just a fad? You may be right, but why not try incorporating the following mindfulness activities into your daily routine before you make up your mind…
1. Mindful listening
This is something you can do anywhere, simply by exploring the sounds around you. While it’s natural to label the sounds at first – “that’s someone typing”, “that’s a passing car” – try to go further by considering the features of these sounds. Ask yourself: where is the sound coming from? Is it near or far? Is it smooth or sharp? Is it deep or shallow? Noticing everyday sounds with an attitude of curiosity can add an element of wonder and tranquillity to even the dullest of days.
2. Mindful eating
We all eat food, but how many of us pay attention to the taste of it? Awaken your senses by examining what you’re eating closely, noting the textures, colours and fine details, before drinking in the scents and bringing the food to your lips. Chew slowly, noting the tastes and textures of your food, and the ways in which this changes as you chew. Notice any sensations as you swallow, including any aftertaste that might be present.
Whether it’s a bite of your lunch, a breaktime snack or a single Malteser, learning to savour your food can add some much-needed pleasure to your day.
3. Mindful thoughts
We all have those days (or terms) when our minds jump chaotically from one thought to another – days when we’re endlessly busy, but achieve very little.
Clear out the mental fog by learning to notice thoughts from a distance, rather than being inside of them. You might like to imagine the thoughts are clouds passing through the sky, or different channels on a radio.
When your inner-monologue says “I’ve got X, Y and Z to do before 8am and I’m already stressed”, try changing this to “I notice that I’m thinking about what I have to do. I notice that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.” It doesn’t sound like much, but separating yourself from these negative thoughts can really weaken their grip on your emotional and mental state.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions