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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Teaching in Slow Motion

Japanese baseball legend, Tetsuharu Kawakami, dedicated himself to Zen Buddhism and was known for spending hours meditating and honing his concentration. He claimed that his focus was so powerful that, when batting, the “ball would just stop.”

While you may not be a Zen master, there is much benefit to exploring mediation and mindfulness practices in the context of teaching. Mindfulness, which involves intentionally paying attention to the present moment and becoming more aware of one’s experience, has gained mainstream popularity in recent years.  Mindfulness practices can now be found in schools, hospitals, counseling centers, and other places, as research continues to show promising benefits.

While an elementary teacher, I co-conducted research involving introducing mindfulness techniques, such as mindful breathing, walking, and even eating, to a group of gifted students (Gifted from the “Inside out”: Teaching mindfulness to high-ability children).

My current dissertation research explores mindfulness and other Zen concepts in the context of serving as a supervisor for pre-service teachers. Personally, I have experienced the benefits of meditation practice in my own work and other facets of life.

Why mindfulness? Teaching can be stressful, highly demanding, and fast-paced.

During the course of a day, teachers must play many roles, including providing instruction, communicating with parents, counseling social-emotional challenges, and managing behaviors. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control. Burnout and turnover in the profession is very common.

I believe there’s incredible benefit to being able to “slow things down.” The ability to center oneself, to remain focused and calm amidst the chaos, can serve as a highly useful and practical tool for teachers. Mindfulness and meditation can help improve one’s perception of what is occurring in the classroom and respond effectively—rather than react out of a stressful state of mind.

The following techniques can be embedded into your teaching with relatively little adjustment:

  • Consider adopting a regular meditation practice. This could involve meditating in the morning before heading to school or a short meditation when arriving before students. It can also entail meditating when getting home after a long day. There are various forms of meditation, including mantra meditation and breathing meditation. Finding the right one involves some research and experimentation.
  • Develop mindfulness rituals.  For instance, when first waking, this could include sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or tea, not looking at your cell phone or reading. Just being in the moment.  This can help set a calm, positive tone for the day. Also, find ways to embed mindfulness rituals into the school day. For instance, prior to the students entering the classroom in the morning, sitting quietly and observing one’s breath. You can also practice walking mindfully—slowing down one’s steps, breathing consciously, and being aware of one’s surroundings—when going to pick up students from specials classes or lunch.
  • Teach mindfully. Teaching can be a form of meditation.  When teaching, pause and observe the breath. Slow down and notice details around you. Acknowledge feelings and thoughts that emerge as you teach and respond to students. Just coming back to being aware of your in-breath and out-breath can be incredibly powerful in managing the stress that arises in the classroom. This could also involve pausing before speaking or reacting to students. For instance, if a student engages in negative behavior, stop and wait before speaking or responding. Experience your initial thoughts and reactions. This will make you more aware of you react to students and position you to grow more conscious of these reactions, thus, allowing you to select more effective responses.

Of course, these are suggestions. A starting place might be to implement one of these methods, such as a simple meditation practice or becoming aware of one’s breathing when teaching. If you find benefit, then continue to adopt other mindfulness practices throughout the school day. In time, you will notice yourself feeling calmer, less rushed, and more aware of what is happening. Who knows, maybe teaching might even “stop” for a moment.