Angela Farmer

DR. ANGELA FARMER

Today’s students face a wide variety of stresses. Whether it’s homework challenges, test anxiety, social pressures, less than ideal home environments, or any combination of these threats, being a student is not easy. Given these complex matrices, it is not surprising that many students enter the classroom anxious and stressed.

In addition to the wide-ranging responsibilities that educators face each day from ensuring academic achievement to incorporating behavior management, there is a tool which may provide some degree of respite for students and even enhance the educator-student relationship. The approach is called mindfulness, and its implementation is gaining interest across grade platforms and entire school districts. It works for all ages and even offers the educators a moment’s reprieve.

Mindfulness is a strategy to help educators direct students back on track toward their academics by giving them a few moments to gather their thoughts and relax. Given the neverending allure of social media and smart applications, students often find even more stress outside of school than within its boundaries. According to EdWeek’s Cynthia Roy, “mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, boost working memory, focus attention, reduce emotional reactivity, and increase relationship satisfaction.”

Employing mindfulness is neither expensive nor complex. Teachers simply need to let the students know that this practice may help them feel better about themselves and the things they must do each day. It can be as simple as having them stand up, stretch to their toes, and relax. Then having them stretch across their seats and turn their palms up and open and then close them tightly. They can also practice a big smile followed by a sleepy face. Finally, one can finish the exercises by encouraging the students to take a series of deep breaths, focusing on their breathing.

Helping the students identify an anchor is also an excellent way of teaching them how to keep themselves focused when their minds begin to wander and stresses begin to creep into their thoughts. Whether itss focusing on breathing or concentrating on feeling one’s toes or fingers, these activities often allow the students to relax, even for a minute, and return better able to concentrate on the classwork and lessons ahead.

In addition to giving the students new tools to help them manage their stress, employing mindfulness in the classroom also communicates to the students that the instructor understands that sometimes it’s difficult to work and that she, too, finds benefit in taking a break and then returning to the lesson at hand. It sends a nonverbal message of caring and validates to each child that the teacher recognizes everyone has stress.

Furthermore, the exercises, simple and quick and cost-free, can often help de-escalate students’ stress when they might have been at a breaking point, on the verge of a disciplinary action. Taking a moment to reflect and breathe and relax, sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. With all of the benefits, the minimum commitment of time and the absence of cost, mindfulness might just be one of the best tools in the educator’s toolbox.

DR. ANGELA FARMER is a lifelong educator, author, and syndicated columnist and serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors for the Shackouls Honors College. Readers can contact her at afarmer@honors.msstate.edu

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