An alternative classroom, whether that be in a behavioral health hospital, substance use treatment facility or another setting, is a unique type of an educational environment. Often times these classrooms are filled with students with a wide range of backgrounds, academic needs, and diagnosis.
Creating a work environment that meets the needs of each student can be a challenging task. One technique that teachers across the country are using to create a peaceful and effective space is to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom routine. Taking time to practice mindfulness is a great way for teachers in alternative settings to meet the social & emotional needs of a diverse group of students.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as “ the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (Foundation for a Mindful Society). In other words, it is focusing on being in the moment, and not distracted by other things.
Though the idea has roots in meditation and many of the techniques incorporate meditation practices, mindfulness in the modern term can take many forms. These can include deep breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, and even coloring sheets.
Schools across the country have begun to implement mindfulness into both curriculum programs and everyday classroom environments and for good reason.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom?
According to Mindful Schools, research shows that practicing mindfulness leads to many positive benefits that are important in the classroom environment, including:
- Helping students pay better attention to instruction;
- Providing for emotional regulation;
- Teaching compassion, and
- Reducing stress and supporting calming feelings.
Incorporating mindfulness training into a school curriculum has been shown to improve student behavior. A study by Black & Fernando (2013) showed that a 5-week mindfulness program led to significant improvement in all four areas that were measured, including paying attention, participation in class, and demonstrating both self-control and respect for others.
Not only did mindfulness improve behavior, but the results were maintained several weeks later. Mindfulness-based therapy has also been shown to help treat certain mental health conditions as well.
Benefits in Hospital Education Settings
Mindfulness has the ability to help students develop important social & emotional skills and to better understand and regulate their feelings and emotions. These are skills that some students in need of hospital-based education services may be in great need of developing, due to experiencing social-emotional difficulties or mental health disorders that impact their ability to regulate feelings and emotional response.
Teachers in alternative classroom environments can also benefit from practicing mindfulness on a regular basis. Hospital classrooms or classrooms in other alternative settings can at times be stressful, and teachers need to be acutely aware of potential behaviors and work diligently to ensure a calm and supportive work environment.
Mindfulness training can help teachers get in touch with and regulate their own emotions, as well as reduce stress and increase empathy for their students.
Here are 3 Easy Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness in the Classroom:
- Direct students through group mindfulness using Guided Mindfulness Scripts.
Guided imagery or visualizations are a great way to help students explore a calm state of being, particularly if they are unable to regulate emotions and energy on their own. This can be done at the start of class to set the tone, or at the end to allow for a relaxing exit.
- Encourage mindfulness through personal sensory exploration.
Instruct students to close their eyes and clench their fists as tightly as possible. Ask them to tighten every muscle in their hands and count to 5. Once finished, have them slowly release and take notice of how their body responds. Focusing on just one part of the body at a time helps the brain clear out unnecessary distractions, and helps release tension.
- Allow students time to work in Mindfulness Journals.
There are many templates and sources of inspiration online to spark creativity. In behavioral health settings, students may be already engaging in similar activities through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) during individual or group sessions. Connect with hospital therapists to see what type of DBT activities could mesh well with curriculum and support student therapy goals.
By taking small steps to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom, students will be given the opportunity to develop skills in the awareness and regulation of their emotions, as well as to help calm anxieties related to schoolwork. Doing so will create a calm classroom environment where students are free to explore new topics and tackle assignments with a renewed state of energy.