A strategy for improving students’ social and emotional well-being in the classroom or school-wide is implementing a mindfulness program. Mindfulness involves being present and aware of one’s thoughts and feelings. Studies suggest that “focusing on the present can have a positive impact on health and well-being” (News In Health, 2021).
To implement a mindfulness program, educators can start by introducing simple mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing or body scans, periodically throughout the school day. One of my go-to guided breathing strategies is Square Breathing. Square Breathing involves taking a deep breath over 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, releasing the breath for 4 seconds and holding your exhale for 4 more seconds. In total, 16 seconds of guided breathing can be an effective way to slow down the busyness of our bodies and be present in the moment. This strategy can be used a few times in succession to truly mellow the energy level.
Over time, these practices can be expanded to include longer mindfulness sessions or guided meditations. As a Catholic school, we have implemented a school-wide Christian Mediation that occurs each day after lunch recess. The midpoint of our day is full of hustle and bustle, with 20 minutes of eating and 40 minutes of recess. Christian Mediation has proved to be a great tool in centering our students after a busy transition and helping them to prepare themselves for the next part of the school day.
As the Christian Mediation plays over the announcements (1 minute song followed by 2-3 minutes of silence), classroom teachers approach the mindfulness practice with their students in various ways. Some classes use this time as a formal mediation, ensuring that their bodies are still, eyes are shut, hands are free, and they are fully present in the moment. Other classrooms encourage students to participate in independent prayer, whether it be a quick conversation with God or a structured prayer (e.g., Hail Mary, Our Father). Lastly, there are classes that have the students engage in artistic mindfulness activities, such as colouring or using Play-Doh. All of these approaches promote mindfulness, provide students with a quiet moment to calm their bodies after a long and busy recess, and prepare their bodies, minds, and spirits for the next learning activity.
By implementing Christian Mediation as a school-wide mindfulness program, we have helped students develop important social and emotional skills, including self-regulation and reflection. Before implementing this mindfulness program, there was a lot of redirecting of student behaviour (i.e.,, busy bodies, loud voices, continuing recess conversations in peers) as we transitioned from recess to our next lesson. Christian Meditation has truly helped to improve students’ overall well-being and helped them manage stress (e.g., leave whatever happened at recess outside). The calm period of mindfulness has proven to improve focus and attention, which can be especially helpful for students who struggle with attention and self-regulation (i.e., ADHD). By improving focus and attention, students are better able to engage with their peers and the learning environment in a respectful and appropriate way.