Mindfulness Myths: Busted

Today, whether you’re an expert in mindfulness or new to the field, Mark and I will work to dispel five major myths about mindfulness and education as we share one schools journey to put theory into practice.

The myth number one is that the most important thing we teach in school is academics. I think most educators already understand this is a myth when there’s more focus on SEL and on the whole child learning. But what we focus most on, what we measure, what we talked about is still about academic achievement. So whether we want to admit it or not, academic is still at the top of the heap when it comes to what we do in schools.

So, I hear all the time teachers tell us, I don’t have time to take 10 minutes, I have so much content to get through. So Mark, when you consider what your students need, what do you think is most important? 

MARK: social emotional learning is as important as academic learning. Yet, as we know, we’re trying to do a lot more with a lot less resources, staffing and budgets for social emotional learning in schools. It’s just there’s this, the need is increased yet the funding and resources seem to be decreasing across the country. 

So, in terms of looking, helping understand that myth, that the most important thing we teach in schools is academics, we started looking at the science behind mindfulness and the science of, the latest research about the impact of poverty, anxiety and depression on the physical makeup of the brain. 

And so, me and a couple other colleagues here at my school started really looking at that and seeing how can we help students who are experiencing anxiety, depression, how can we help teachers who by the nature of their job, have a really stressful job be the best versions of themselves in a way that is, something that’s easy to implement, that does not require a lot of capital, a lot of training that’s sustainable. And that’s kind of how we started this conversation at our school about implementing mindfulness practices into our building. …

In order for students to be their best versions of their self academically, we have to help support them with their stress, anxiety and all these other things that are influencing a student’s ability to be the best versions of themselves as well as staff members being the best versions of themselves as well.

LAURA: one of the big myths is that teachers need to be highly trained before mindfulness can be shared with students. 

One caveat on that because I know that there may be people watching today that are saying yes, that’s not a minute myth, that’s true. And so, the distinction is that if we expect classroom teachers, all three million or so of them in the US and the millions more around the world, if we expect classroom teachers to deliver mindfulness and classrooms to students, then yes, that statement is true. They need to be highly trained, they need to have their own personal practice so that they can teach authentically. 

But our point is that there’s other ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom. And so, Mark, I’d love to have you share with the group how that’s worked for you. You started two and a half years ago and maybe you could just describe your process. 

MARK: Our process was, my department and I met with our administration about kind of doing a presentation at the beginning of the school year to our staff more about the science about the brain and the different parts of the brain that are impacted and they control different functions that we have, whether it’s the hypothalamus, etc. 

During that time, we also had, during this presentation, we had teachers in the classroom experiencing mindfulness lesson, we were using Inner Explorer to do a mindfulness audio recording for them. And after that, just really organically ask if any teachers would be interested in trying mindfulness activity or the audio recordings that we were using in their classroom 

And so we had a handful of teachers who said they would be interested. And there’s a lot of nervousness around trying to implement something new and trying to dispel that rumor, you don’t have to have a doctorate and PhD, you don’t even have to have a counseling degree or a psychology degree. All someone needed the skill was to be able to log onto a computer and click play. 

And so, myself and the other counselor with these handful of teachers that wanted to try this, we actually went into their classrooms and helped them log in and click play to see how easy it was. So we started with a handful of teachers and then based upon their experiences, it was more about teachers talking to teachers, about, hey, I’ve been doing this in my class and I’ve seen some really positive results. And so, it just kind of grew organically through that. 

LAURA: That really opens up the door for myth number three, which is that mindfulness is difficult to implement school wide. And you touched on it earlier, that it’s just a normal thing, people don’t have time. So you might be able to get a few people interested but you’re not going to ever be able to get it done in a whole school. 

So, again, you’re in your third year. One of the early adopters of doing this in a very complete way. And so, I think it would be really interesting to the group listening today to hear more about how you were able to bring that from kind of the pilot phase all the way through to have it be implemented school. Wide. 

MARK: Yeah, I mean, again, I go back to in education, unfortunately, we’re just notorious for putting more and more on educators’ plates. Every year, there’s more initiatives and more accountability and we never really take things off teachers’ plates with what they’re supposed to do. Mindfulness is just another way to help take some things off teachers’ plates with maybe some of the things that they have to deal with on a daily basis and helping students be the best versions of themselves. 

I just want to point out real quick one thing about the mindfulness again that I think is really important is, it’s not a mandated thing in our school, our principal or myself is not walking around to check to make sure who is and who isn’t. But it’s really about helping people discover through experience that the benefits of it are, and there’s always people who aren’t as comfortable as others, but about just trying to see what effect it has even on themselves or their students in their classroom. 

LAURA: one of the other very pervasive myths about mindfulness is that you use it just when you feel blank. Anxious, sad, depressed, ready for a test. And so, we have a lot of educators that tell us, oh yeah, we do mindfulness, we do it every time we have a test. So, I’d just love to hear your thoughts about that. 

MARK: I think in any type of field, whether you’re healthcare, or education, etc, being proactive rather than reactive is super important and get more results when you’re being proactive rather than reactive. So just doing it on days like yesterday when we had some very tragic event that really impacted our school, it’s really about helping students being the best versions of themselves every day. 

I kind of use the analogy of brushing your teeth or flossing. Like I’m guilty of I floss probably once a year, the day before I get my teeth cleaned. Every time, it’s like, Mark, you need to floss and I say I know. But, creating the habit of flossing my teeth is very similar to creating a mindfulness habit of doing it consistently, you get more results, less cavities and more students being the best versions of themselves. 

LAURA: So, the fourth truth then would be mindfulness does need to be practiced every day in order to be effective. If you do it once in a while, that’s nice. But to really sort of get to the place where the research is pointing us to, which is reductions and depression and anxiety and improvements in performance, you really need to do it more consistently. 

The last myth is really related to student and teacher buy in. We hear from school districts and schools themselves and the administrators that they’re often concerned that mindfulness is really only applicable for certain age groups. Sometimes we hear that there’s no way our little kids can understand it or there’s no way the older kids are going to buy in or the teachers are just too busy and they’re not going to commit to it. And so I think, the myth is that students and teachers will buy into this or take it seriously. 

AMBER: Well, I should start by saying, first and foremost that middle goal students are their own beast and the way that mindfulness might apply to elementary students might be a little bit different to how it might apply to high school students. But I do think across the board that everyone can benefit from it. In my experience, I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 10 years and I know the power of the breath and what the mindful breath can do. 

And so, this idea of, it’s not accessible to students of a certain age or there isn’t enough teacher buy in, I think it’s just honestly an excuse because people are maybe a little scared or intimidated but we all need to brave, and the first thing that we do when we’re stressed is we hold our breath and then we feel a release when we exhale and it can be something that everybody can use and it’s really, really simple. So whether it’s a guided meditation or it’s simply the teacher asking students to do three breaths, no matter where it’s happening in the classroom, it’s so beneficial and we do it every day. 

There’s still push back every now and then. I have seen, what I can speak to is what I see from my seventh graders at the beginning of the school year, and then what I see and how they evolve throughout the entire year. I know a lot of it is developmental, but also two, just the fact that we have embedded in our classroom culture as seventh grade social studies learners that this is the expectation that we have developed a respectful community, that we breathe with each other, that there are no silly questions, it’s really inclusive. We will take this time in the day to appease our minds and bodies. 

I would say jump in. Don’t be afraid. It is so much better to try something that’s outside of your comfort zone and to fail or to even be uncomfortable than it is to not bring something as beneficial as mindfulness and meditation to students.