In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning|
“This is an important book for teachers, school administrators, parents, and all others concerned with the well-being of the next generation.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
The essays in Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning demonstrate that contemplative methods can be used with any curriculum content to support development for self-understanding, empathy, emotional intelligence and social skills. Essays contributed by teachers for teachers show children, teenagers and teachers using pebbles, mandalas, literature, beanie babies, yoga, journals, homework, artwork to strengthen the core skills underlying all learning: concentration, observation, relaxation, and open, receptive awareness with a positive, curious attitude.
The 144-page book has been endorsed by leaders in the field of mindfulness meditation, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Shinzen Young, and Mary Rose O’Reilley.
“There can be no more important education for children in the 21st century than learning to be the master of one’s own mind. I am delighted that the contributors to this book have come out to share how mindfulness and concentration can be a pleasure to learn, as well as to teach. This is an important book for teachers, school administrators, parents, and all others concerned with the well-being of the next generation."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Table of Contents
Introductions to the Parts
Part I - Teaching Mindfulness
Mindfulness practices can be taught to students of all ages to help them settle and center, sharpen awareness, and reduce stress. In this section teachers describe using practices that ground their students in awareness of the present moment by focusing on sensory input from the body and from emotions.
Kimberly Post Rowe provides an introduction to the benefits of mindfulness for both teachers and students, and introduces walking meditation as a mindfulness practice. Sumi Kim asks her seventh- and eighth-grade students to begin their experience of centering by simply listening to sounds in their environment. She then invites them to investigate taste, eating in a meditative manner. Finally, she uses body relaxation as preparation for focusing on breath, teaching awareness of the breath as a foundation for body awareness. Similarly, Irene McHenry and Richard Brady use breath as the basis for body relaxation practices. Body-centered mindfulness can also be developed through chanting and yoga, as described by Barry Blumenfeld. Mary Scattergood engages second-graders in awareness of the breath by using their special objects—Beanie Babies. Judy Belasco uses a singing bowl to focus her students’ attention.
The practice of metta or good will, which focuses students’ attention on love, is another tool, described in this section by McHenry, Kim, and Blumenthal. Thoughts, as well as emotions, bodily sensations, and sensory input, are all components of the “Stage of Awareness” experiment Brady uses to introduce mindfulness to his students.
We will encounter many of these techniques again in the context of cultivating mindful learning and relationships in Part III.
Part II - Quaker Practices that Center in Mindfulness
Part II addresses mindfulness in the context of Quaker practices in Friends school settings, especially the practice of Meeting for Worship. The ideas shared can be easily adapted for use in any public or private school setting toward the goal of developing core mindfulness skills for learning: concentration, observation, relaxation, and emotional balance. In secular educational settings, teachers can create simple names for these practices, such as quiet time, centering time, settling in, or silent meeting.
There are rich connections between mindfulness practices and Quaker practices rooted in being in touch with the Spirit within oneself and others. In this Part teachers explore these connections and describe how they draw on them to help students enter more fully into Quaker Meeting for Worship. Teachers also describe other Quaker practices that employ and cultivate mindfulness in students and in teachers.
Irene McHenry leads off Part II with an in depth account of Meeting for Worship in Friends schools and descriptions of activities that “develop reflection, concentration, awareness, observation and centered relaxation” to help students get more out of Meeting. She offers suggestions for supporting teachers in Meeting as well. Protocols for two approaches students can use to center themselves in Meeting are shared by Chip Poston. Mary Sidwell describes creative alternatives to the traditional Meeting format that add new energy to her school’s Meeting for Worship. Elementary school teachers wanting to include Meeting or a special time for centering in their classrooms are given helpful tips and observations by Christie Duncan-Tessmer. Richard Brady concludes the chapters on Meeting for Worship with a reflection on its hidden dimension.
The Quaker practice of worship sharing, described by McHenry is a corporate practice in which a contemplative space is created for considering a query together. Janet Chance describes clearness committees, another corporate contemplative practice that can help a teacher (or a student) discern how to proceed with a question or challenge. Finally, Marcy Seitel describes how mindfulness is nurtured in the context of a Friends school community through Meeting for Worship, the assessment process, town meeting, and other school practices.
Part III Cultivating Mindful Learning
Mindful learning refers to the development of a meta-awareness of the learning process while engaging in learning in any subject area. Mindful learning creates a context in which students can develop new insights, even wisdom. In this section teachers describe many ways in which they create mindful learning environments. One approach is to provide students with a time for stillness to help them center in order to be more fully present. This technique was described by Scattergood, McHenry, and Belasco in Part I and here by Becky Martin-Scull as she starts her classes with guided silence initiated by the use of a bell. Denise Aldridge also employs silence to help her students connect more deeply with nature through observation and drawing. Eric Mayer uses “noble silence” to help his students become more aware of all the present moment holds as they work together creating sand mandalas.
Mindfulness is used in a variety of forms to facilitate self-understanding. Questions or queries help students examine the role of grades in their learning process in Doug Tsoi’s social studies classes. Hope Blosser uses questions to invite students in her English classes to look inward and then write about their lives. Martin-Scull employs guided visualizations to help her students develop a healthy relationship to negative emotions. She also invites students to take a personal question into silence, holding it “in their hearts” and waiting for an answer to emerge. Richard Brady uses lectio divina, or holy reading and journal writing, to help his students deepen their connection to poems and prose passages. Self-understanding is also facilitated by the listening that students give to and receive from their peers. The experience of being listened to and listening without judgment enables those sharing in Blosser’s and Brady’s classes to connect more deeply to themselves and invites those listening to expand their boundaries to include others’ realities.
The section concludes with a caution from second-grade teacher Daniel Rouse, who is given a lesson on mindfulness by one of his students.