I have taught High School Mathematics for seventeen years, both in Australia and the US. I have always loved teaching, and mathematics has been a fascination since High School.
More recently I have been fortunate to introduce another of my great passions into the classroom, and that's meditation.
For the last five years, I have integrated meditation into my mathematics classes. You might be surprised at the success I've experienced bringing this right-brain activity into the decidedly left-brain context of mathematics.
Introducing students to meditation for the first time can be challenging, but if you stick with it, the rewards are worth it. How do you introduce meditation into a classroom if: each teacher has a unique style of teaching; each class of students has unique individual and collective needs; and everybody has confusing ideas and beliefs about what meditation is and how it works?
I've worked with educators from around the world, helping them introduce meditation into their classrooms. In the process, I developed the following principles to ease their challenge. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a mentor, these principles can guide you to implementing meditation successfully. Always adapt these principles to suit your students, environment and teaching style.
THE 7 GUIDELINES TO INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO MEDITATION ARE:
• Selling it
• Establishing clear behavioral guidelines
• Diving in, script and all
• Debriefing your students
• Monitoring the results
• Adjusting your guide-lines
The best way to sell anything is to be smitten by the bug yourself. You can do this in a many ways. Become informed about the benefits of meditation. You don't have to go far these days to find respectable sources praising the virtues of meditation: Time Magazine and Harvard University to name two.
Being informed is a good start. Practicing meditation is even better. Combining experience and knowledge will earn you respect when you introduce meditation to your class. Get guidance from an experienced practitioner whom you respect and resonate with. He or she will help you discern and cut through confusion. There are many meditation techniques so choosing what is right for you is important.
I like to sell it to my students from day one of school. I ask them, "How would you like to come to my class and do nothing... every day this year?" Needless to say, I've captured their attention. I arm myself with data and anecdotes ready to prove how meditation supports better thinking, reduces stress, improves health, and creates peaceful classrooms.
Building anticipation about how much this can change their lives is key to securing their buy- in. Without their buy-in, you won't get out of the starting gate.
ESTABLISH CLEAR BEHAVIORAL GUIDELINES
Students need structure. Clear consistent guidelines are essential to prevent your first meditation from being a disaster. Imagine closing your eyes in front of thirty teenagers and expecting them to instantly do the same. Forget it.
I like to elaborate to them about what "doing nothing" actually means. I demonstrate what I mean as I explain. "It means sitting in a relaxed position, feet flat on the ground below your knees. Sit up straight. Hands on the desk, palms down. Eyes relaxed or closed."
Encourage students to copy your demonstrations. They may giggle or make eye contact with each other. Respond gently to what is happening. For example you might say, "Leave everyone else alone. That means no eye contact. This is your time. We need to agree. The universe will leave you alone, but you have to leave the universe alone. That includes the virtual universe. Cell phones away."
Explaining in a spacious organic way helps set the tone for the students. As their leader, you need to model relaxation and alertness. These qualities are essential to developing good habits for meditation. Be clear with your students about the consequences should they interfere with others. Present these consequences as choices rather than punishments.
I'm sure you get the idea.
Sometimes you need to start before you are perfectly ready. The reason I say this is because you are developing a new class routine. The things that work and do not work will give you valuable feedback for your next session. Remember this is a step in a process that will become more refined over time. Intoducing new routines can be a valuable lesson for students about taking risks, developing and growing processes.
I like to guide the meditations for the first month or two. Guiding meditation requires you to participate also. The tone and rhythm of your voice will affect the students' meditation. Be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Speak slowly and with ease. It's OK to read a script or play a recording. Listen in advance to any recordings you play for your students for suitability. With a bit of research you can buy excellent downloadable meditation audios. Check my site for classroom meditations.
This is so important. The post-meditation state can be sensitive, quiet and calm. Some students may feel vulnerable. To help transition from meditation to the lesson plan, I go around the room and ask each student to describe how they feel in one word. I might pause if I suspect confusion or someone upset and simply ask him or her to say more.
No matter what experience students express, pause and honor it, even if it surprises you. It is important for students (and you) to acknowledge that meditation reveals a unique experience and no two meditations are alike.
Many people believe meditation is only successful if the mind becomes quiet. This is just not true. Unfortunately, ideas like this lead many people to believe they can't meditate. In fact, you can argue that meditation is something you are always doing, and the practice of meditation is simply getting in touch with that fact!
I encourage teachers to collect data about their classes' social and academic performance. Get first hand results about the effects of meditation. Information like the change in the number of student referrals, the classroom tone, and test results will help you gain confidence in the positive impact meditation has on students.
Also, include yourself in this evaluative process. You can pay attention to your own mood swings through the day and track how meditation is affecting your teaching.
As I said before, each teacher and class has unique styles and needs. You may find something doesn't work. Simply adjust your instructions before the next meditation. Examples of adjustments I have made include: turning lights off, remaining silent for longer periods of time, reducing the debriefing time, changing student seating arrangements, keeping the board clear of notes.
Introducing meditation into class is radical. It takes you out of your comfort zone as a teacher. It may feel challenging and awkward at times. Some students may claim they cannot do it because they have ADHD.
My experience has shown me that persistence overcomes the objections and challenges and dramatically improves class atmosphere. In a day and age when our mental health can be compromised through entertainment and over-stimulation, meditation is arguably the greatest tool an educator, parent, or mentor can use with themselves and their students.
If you find this post helpful please share with a parent or educator.
Education of the mind, without education of the heart, is no education at all - Aristotle.
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LAWRENCE CARROLL EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT & LIFE COACH
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports