8 Questions to encourage mindfulness

Tal, Teacher

Life can be difficult sometimes.

We live in a fast paced world, with constant demands on our attention. 

Our students are stressed, as are parents and teachers.  

It’s common to experience worries about the past or future.  

As teachers, we’re in a privileged position to encourage lifelong happiness and satisfaction for our students by giving them the gift of mindfulness.  

Mindfulness positions us to live in and enjoy the present.  

Research by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (Weare, 2012) working with the University of Exeter found mindfulness:

  • Improved wellbeing
  • Reduced worries  
  • Improved sleep  
  • Enhanced self esteem
  • Brought about awareness and self regulation

Where should you begin?  Here are 9 questions to encourage mindfulness in your classroom.

1. What is mindfulness?

It’s near impossible to practice and improve at something without properly understanding it. 

You can start by discussing what mindfulness is with your class.  

A good place to begin is with its definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn, considered the godfather of modern mindfulness.

He defines it as ‘the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally’’. 

Encourage students to give their feedback.  How does it make them feel?  Would they adjust it in any way?  What does it look like to them?  How would they like it to be approached in the classroom?


2. What are you feeling right now?

Mindfulness is all about focusing on how you’re feeling in the moment.  

You can pose this question to students at the beginning, during, or even at the end of a learning sequence.

This will give you a snapshot of where students are at, and adjust your teaching accordingly.  

You can use Ziplet’s word cloud feature to quickly identify similarities across student emotions.  

Encourage students to think more deeply, by identifying what they attribute these feelings to.  

This approach can support students to self-regulate their emotions. 


3. What does being calm look like and mean to you?

Feeling and being calm are conducive to both teaching and learning. 

When chaos abounds both internally and externally, learning is extremely difficult, if not impossible. 

Prior to answering, have students turn and talk about what calmness looks and feels like to them.  Encourage them to come up with practical ways that calmness could be fostered as individuals and in a whole class setting.

Using student feedback, you might like to think of ways to promote calmness in your classroom.  

4. What is your mood for learning right now?

Rather than launching straight into the class, pause for a minute and ask this question. 

Reflecting on their mood periodically increases awareness of their own emotions and learning needs.  

Observing their mood for learning is effective when used throughout lessons.  It can be especially relevant after learning breaks to gauge wellbeing.


5. What are three things you notice right now?

Our minds are incredibly busy machines.  So busy in fact, that we have over 6000 thoughts per day (Tseng & Poppenk, 2020).

Yet we spend much of our day on autopilot.  Our thoughts stream in and out of our consciousness, going largely unnoticed.  

By asking this question, we are encouraging students to actively notice elements in their environment. 

When we notice things, we are empowered to address them, challenge them and learn from them.

This practice should encourage students to begin noticing how they’re relating to their learning on a regular basis. 


6. What do you feel positive about right now?

We have a tendency to focus on the negatives - it’s how we’re hardwired (Cherry, 2019). 

But we have an enormous amount of power to actively shift this perception, if we so choose.

Encouraging your students to focus on what they’re feeling positive about serves as a reminder that there are positive things occurring.  It will also help to reframe their mood.  

If they’re not feeling positive, you can use Ziplet’s discreet private messaging feature to schedule a one on one meeting with them to discuss.  


7. What sounds can you hear?

A key challenge when it comes to learning is being able to hold one’s attention.  

Asking students to specifically focus their attention on something such as sounds helps build muscle memory for maintaining focus. 

It also quietens the mind for a few precious moments, giving students much needed respite from our usual endless stream of thoughts. 

This exercise will inevitably positively influence the ability to maintain their attention during periods of learning.  

 

8. What’s my current energy level?

Let’s be honest - we aren’t always full of beans.

I often share this information with my students, letting them know at times when I’m not feeling my best.

It’s okay to feel comfortable to level with your students.  Let them in on times when you’ve experienced your own challenges with regards to teaching (Perry, 2020).  

This role modeling might make it more likely to make them feel more comfortable to share their challenges with you.

Discuss the ways in which you can try to combat this challenge, such as by engaging in positive self-talk or seeking motivation from a peer, for example. 


Conclusion

Being mindful, remaining in the present moment, is hard work.  But the rewards are well worth it.

Providing opportunities for your students to practice mindfulness improves their wellbeing, self esteem, and to reduce worries.

Discuss the notion of mindfulness, its benefits, and ways in which it can be implemented by posing these questions.

You can access these and many other questions on a variety of topics via your free Ziplet account. 


References:

Cherry, K. (2019). Why our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618

Perry, (2020). Remote learning – “Be honest with your students.”  Teachwire. https://www.teachwire.net/news/remote-learning-be-honest-with-your-students

Weare, K. (2012). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young   People: the mindfulness in schools project. https://mindfulnessinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/MiSP-Research-Summary-2012.pdf

Tseng, & Poppenk. (2020). Brain meta-state transitions demarcate thoughts across task contexts exposing the mental noise of trait neuroticism. Nature Communications, 11(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17255-9


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