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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Mindfulness-Based Supervision: Creating "Space"​ to Teach Teachers

Author's note: The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, tentatively titled: The Awakened Supervisor: Embedding Mindfulness-based Practices in Instructional Supervision (Rowman & Littlefield).

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient technique originating from Buddhism that has found its way into all aspects of the West. The most commonly used definition of mindfulness is Kabat-Zinn’s (2003): “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (p. 145). Another way of understanding mindfulness might be to consider its opposite, or mindlessness, where “we all wear mental blinders, based on past experiences and assumptions without realizing it, cruising on autopilot” (Larrivee, 2012, p. 132). Interest in mindfulness seems to have reached a cultural “tipping point” (Gladwell, 2000, p.12; Jennings, 2015, p. 181), even appearing on the cover of Time Magazine. To date, there are some 1,000 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructors offering training around the world (Jennings, 2015). Research on the positive impact of mindfulness practices continues to mount. The following are just some examples of the research evidence:

  • Mindfulness was found to lower stress levels, boost the immune system, reduce chronic pain, help in managing negative emotions, expand awareness of harmful negative patterns, improve relationships, develop positive emotions, and enhance concentration and attention (Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006; Creswell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007; Larrivee, 2012; Smalley & Winston, 2010).
  • Mindfulness increased facets of the brain associated with executive functioning, particularly short-term memory, impulse control, attention, planning and mental flexibility (Hassed & Chambers, 2014). One study showed that when postsecondary students practiced a brief mindfulness meditation before a class lecture, retention levels of the information significantly increased (Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008).
  • Research on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the most widely studied mindfulness intervention, has found that the program reduces stress, enhances cognitive functioning (working memory and other executive functions) and emotional well-being, and improves attention (Chiesa, Calati, & Serretti, 2011; Ivanovski & Malhi, 2007).

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness practices have gained much attention as an approach to promote calmness, emotional regulation, focused attention, and stress reduction among teachers and students. Researchers found that mindfulness not only benefits students but provides teachers with concrete tools and practices to center themselves among the chaos of the classroom, to become more conscious of their inner thoughts and feelings. While still in the early stages, evidence suggests that mindfulness can benefit education (Albrecht, Albrecht, & Cohen, 2012; Bellinge, DeCaro, & Ralston, 2015; Schonert-Reichl., & Lawlor, 2010; Semple, Droutman, & Reid, 2017). Shoeberlein and Sheth (2009) note that mindfulness can assist teachers in improving focus, improve the classroom climate, and becoming more responsive to students’ needs. It can also help students’ readiness to learn, strengthen their focus and concentration, and enhance social-emotional learning. Noting that teaching is an emotionally demanding profession, Jennings (2015) articulates this gap that mindfulness creates between what teachers think and what they do, which can make a major difference in practice:

The more we understand our emotions and our emotional patterns, the better we can manage them. When situations provoke strong emotions, we can apply mindful awareness to the experience itself. This gives us more response options, because awareness provides some space between the experience and the reaction, allowing for a conscious response rather than an unconscious emotional reaction (p. 26-27).

The gap that Jennings talks about for teachers can also be applied to teacher educators-those supervising teacher candidates and in-service teachers. This meditative space can provide supervisors room to consciously make positive decisions regarding guiding teachers and providing instructional and emotional support. Rather than supervise through knee-jerk reactions, supervisors can operate from a place of poise, calmness, and inner equanimity.