George Lucas Educational Foundation
Mindfulness

Pause, Refocus, Assess: Meditation in the Classroom

As a classroom practice, meditation can help students strengthen their self-regulation and their focus on coursework. It also boosts their overall health, reduces negative feelings, and fosters compassion.
Credit: iStock.com/alien185
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Schools can benefit from meditation. This practice equips students with breathing strategies to refocus mindsets for learning. Meditation supports students' transitions from class to class, and it cultivates a community of compassion and respect. My students and I meditate on a daily basis. In this post, I provide seven tips for implementing a classroom practice.

1. Develop a personal practice before introducing it to your students.

Students who are unfamiliar with meditation may find it awkward and strange. Showing competency will settle their nerves and foster trust. Join a community center or yoga studio that offers meditation. Meditate at home, in a park, or on the subway. Practice until you feel comfortable introducing it to your students.

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2. Be consistent.

Meditation is integral to my teaching practice. Students meditate during the first five minutes of every class that I teach -- even when I substitute for a colleague. A consistent and ritualized practice yields stronger benefits and clear expectations. 

3. Use meditation as a strategy for refocusing.

Many professional athletes practice meditation, including Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, and Lebron James. Michael Jordan's coach, Phil Jackson, taught him to meditate during games as a tool to regain focus. Showcasing these public figures will hook kinesthetic learners and student athletes, as well as framing meditation as a practice removed from the religious connotations that some people assume. I introduce mindful breathing as a strategy. A community norm displayed at the front of my classroom reads, "Focus: One Breath, One Mind." When I ask students to focus, they understand that I'm encouraging them to recenter by engaging in mindful breathing.

4. Share the benefits of meditation with your students.

Studies have found that meditation has profound benefits. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley are strong resources. Their research discovered that:

  • Meditation boosts our immune system's ability to fight off illness.
  • The practice increases positive emotions while reducing stress and negative feelings.
  • It helps us tune out distractions and improves attentiveness.
  • Meditation fosters compassion and kindness.

5. There are multiple ways to meditate.

As students arrive to my classroom, a student volunteer places a Tibetan singing bowl at the center of the room. Once the class settles in their seats, the volunteer hits the bowl to initiate the silent meditation. Students sit with both feet on the floor and hands on their laps. Some close their eyes, while others stare forward. A few rest their heads on the desks. After five minutes, the volunteer hits the bowl again to end our practice. I provide additional options for meditation. Students can also:

  1. Lie on a mat in resting pose, or savasana.
  2. Breathe with their hands on their bellies.
  3. Expand and contract a mini-sphere to mimic and visualize the movement of their lungs during breaths.
  4. Count breaths using a beaded necklace or mandala beads.
  5. Color in the spaces of printed-out mandalas or geometric patterns.

6. Evaluate the impacts.

By conferencing with students and collecting and analyzing data, you can assess the practice's impact on their academic performance. Monthly, students reflect on their readiness for class, measure their calmness after meditation, and share issues and concerns about the practice. Upon reviewing their responses, I select and conference with five students. We explore strategies to refine their practice and strengthen their self-regulation and their focus on coursework. Students apply these modifications in following sessions. I monitor their progress for two weeks, and I often observe improvements in their effort, participation, work products, and contributions during discussions. For example, one student modified his meditation practice by coloring mandalas and moving his seat to a different section of the room. In a week after the adjustment, his classwork completion increased by 20 percent. He wrote in a later reflection that coloring mandalas at the beginning of class helped him become calmer, more settled, and focused.

7. Approach your administration and colleagues.

School districts across the country have revised their discipline code to move away from an over-reliance on suspensions and toward restorative justice. Meditation and mindfulness practices are aligned with this new focus on supporting students' social and emotional learning and health. Present your school leaders with research (as in #4 above), data, and anecdotes from your classroom (as in #6). Invite administrators and colleagues to join in. Meditation is rooted in presence and can only truly be understood and appreciated in practice.

In the comments section below, please share your experiences with meditation in school.