A few weeks ago, I bumped into a teacher in my school who had taken the SMART program 2 years ago (a mindfulness course specifically designed for educators, taught by Heidi Bornstein of Mindfulness Everyday). I asked her if she was teaching mindfulness to her students yet and she said no, that she didn’t feel confident enough in her own meditation practice to teach it to students. I had a similar conversation with another colleague who had taken the MBSR course 3 years back. She said she tried to meditate with her grade 9 class but they “weren’t buying it” so she gave up in exasperation.
I teach mindfulness in my yoga course, a credited elective offered in grade 11 and 12, and do not experience very much resistance, but then, I’m teaching to the ones who have already bought in to some degree by opting to take the elective course in the first place. I have had more of a challenge teaching it to my English classes, but like to think I have had a modicum of success through sheer perseverance and a lot of trial and error.
Which led me to wonder, can we teach mindfulness without teaching meditation?
If the first teacher was not teaching mindfulness because she felt like an impostor since she was not yet meditating regularly herself, and if the second teacher was not teaching it because the students resisted meditating, I started to ask myself: what if these teachers at least taught the attitudes of mindfulness? They would probably be much more comfortable doing this since they closely align with our board’s character education initiative (cultivating the character traits of integrity, caring, empathy…etc).
What if, for example, when teaching Hamlet, we asked students to evaluate his angry behavior from a mindfulness lens, referring to the 7+ attitudes? What if, in the first weeks of school, when teachers engage in a host of “relationship bonding” activities, they ask students to share with each other a time they were judgmental and regretted it, compared to a time they refrained from being judgmental? What if in Phys Ed, the teacher asked students to evaluate their performance in a unit from a mindfulness lens? Or we took students for a walk outside where they had to describe the experience using all 5 senses, then write a poem? Or ask art students to paint “patience”? You get the drift.
Are the attitudes just as important as the actual meditation? Are the attitudes maybe even more important?
Or what if the teacher who had taken the MBSR course told her students that she wanted to explore mindfulness together with them? Not as an expert teaching them, but as a peer learning with them. Would that also help to mitigate some of the resistance teachers are encountering from their students when they introduce mindfulness into the classroom? Would it help alleviate the teacher’s anxiety about teaching mindfulness from a place of expertise?
As someone who is committed to bringing mindfulness into education, I dedicate the first 10 minutes of my English class to trying a variety of activities, some of which involve meditating, but many of which do not. For example, having the students play a competitive game, then reflecting on their participation through a mindfulness lens by going through the attitudes. Or having them walk down the hall and back, then reporting on 3 things they had never before noticed about the hallway. And some days, by just taking three deep breaths before writing a quiz. When I ask for feedback at the end of every month, there is never consensus. Some students like the meditation, but there are always a few who dislike it intensely and prefer hands on activities. Others prefer the dyad conversations around the attitudes. And still others prefer the more physical activities. (Almost everyone likes the mindfulness games).
No one size fits all.
I started doing the math on the teacher who had taken the mindfulness course two years ago but is still not sharing it with her students. She teaches six courses a year with 30 students in a class. Over two years, that is 360 students who have missed out on some sort of experience of mindfulness. Over 10 years, that would be 1,800 students. Over 20 years…..
If not having a solid meditation practice or not feeling successful in teaching meditation to students is the impediment, is teaching only the attitudes better than not teaching mindfulness at all?
Just asking, without attachment to any one answer, as it makes for an interesting dialogue.