A link has been doing the rounds on Facebook, entitled ‘This school replaced detention with meditation- the results are stunning’. According to the article, there have been zero suspensions since they started the programme. There’s no hard proof the two things are connected of course, but I strongly suspect they are.
Meditation is a form of mindfulness, and being mindful makes it pretty much impossible for situations to escalate and get out of hand. This video does a very good job, I think, of explaining exactly what mindfulness is.
Mindfulness is not about not feeling emotions, but about being aware of what we’re feeling, and noticing it, rather than being dragged along by our emotions. I’d suggest that the students described in the article above became more aware of their emotions and thus less likely to get into situations which would ultimately lead to suspensions. And it’s just as important for teachers to develop mindfulness if they want to avoid problems and confrontations in the classroom.
Don’t sleepwalk into trouble.
The opposite of mindfulness is a kind of sleepwalking. We’re not really awake to what is happening, pre-occupied with other concerns. Sometimes we set ourselves up for classroom management problems by sleepwalking our way through the planning process. (This is understandable when many of us are planning at 9pm the night before!). But it is important to be mindful about certain key aspects of planning:
1 How are you going to group the students? Are there students that you think would work better (not) in particular groups? Think about how to re-arrange them quickly and easily.
2 What are you going to do to grab the students’ attention right from the start?
3 What will you do about early finishers? Will you stop everyone once the first few have finished, or do you have some extra activities up your sleeve? (These can usually be simple variations on the task, rather than having to plan lots of extra things to do)
4 If you have any complicated, multi-step activities, think about how you are going to set them up in advance.
Once you are teaching the lesson, you also need to stay ‘awake’. Good teachers (or at least teachers that don’t have chaotic stressful classes) are fully conscious and aware of what is going on in all corners of the classroom. As soon as you sense that some students are starting to lose concentration (perhaps the noise level is starting to rise), you need to change something. You might, for example, move onto the next activity if appropriate, or change partners, or get students to compare their answers.
Mindfulness traditions sometimes talk about the ‘monkey mind’. This is the part of our mind which chatters away non-stop. Try to notice and catch yourself when you start thinking about what to cook for dinner, or what the head teacher said to you before the lesson, or how worried you are that the students aren’t learning anything/are finding it boring etc. You don’t need to try and get the monkey to shut up (it won’t), but just notice it and detach from it so that you can focus on what is happening in your class right now.
This is particularly important when a student does or says something that upsets you, and you start to feel angry or panicked. Just as in the video above, our first instinct is probably to go with the emotion, and start shouting, or throw the student out of class. But if a student makes us angry, it has to be because what they are saying or doing is hooking into something deep down inside ourselves. For example, that we aren’t good enough.
Some incidents of misbehaviour will just make us roll our eyes, or even laugh (inwardly), while others will really upset us. And even quite serious misbehaviour won’t necessarily make us angry, though we might well respond with a punishment. But when our emotions are triggered, that’s a clear sign that this is setting off something negative that we believe about ourselves. Once you’ve recognised that, it’s easier to let the emotion go, and deal with the situation rationally and mindfully. You don’t have a choice about what emotions you feel, they just happen, like sneezing or blushing, but you do have a choice about what you do or say when you feel an emotion.
Reams have been written about classroom management, and good tips are always useful, but the very best overall advice we can all take, I think, is to ‘wake up’ and be more mindful.
Other posts about mindfulness: