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Mindfulness Training for Teachers - The Benefits

With teacher wellbeing a hot topic in the education sector, a small study out of the U.S. suggests there is a prevention for teacher stress and burnout: mindfulness training.

Published in Mind, Brain and Education, the study, led by assistant scientist, Dr Lisa Flook, from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds followed 18 primary school teachers through a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, modified for their needs. As the program allowed teachers to practice mindfulness techniques inside and outside classroom situations, the researchers could examine the effects of mindfulness training on observable outcomes like classroom organisation, as well as self-reported ratings of stress and self-compassion.

Teachers who participated in the mindfulness training course had reduced symptoms of psychological stress and burnout, were better organised in the classroom and had more self-compassion. In comparison, the group that did not receive the training showed marginal signs of increased stress and burnout over the course of the school year.

Mindfulness is described by the researchers as ‘a technique to heighten attention, empathy and other pro-social emotions through an awareness of thoughts, external stimuli, or bodily sensations such as breath.’ And while mindfulness has been used in other studies looking at its effectiveness in reducing depression in teenagers, the exploration of mindfulness training to benefit teacher wellbeing is still in its early stages.

In this study, teachers were asked to practise a guided meditation at home for at least 15 minutes each day. Teachers also practised strategies for preventing and dealing with stressors in the classroom, including paying brief attention to physical sensations such a breathing, as well as thoughts and emotions – a technique called ‘dropping in’. The training also included caring practices to bring 'kind awareness' to their experiences, especially those that challenged them.

One teacher who participated in the study reported that while she was previously familiar with meditation, it had not occurred to her to use those techniques in the classroom, and share them with her students. Now she uses the techniques to re-focus her and her students’ attention, doing things like pausing and taking three deep breaths together before beginning the class. "Breath awareness was just one part of the training, but it was something that I was able to consistently put into practice," said the teacher. "Now I spend more time getting students to notice how they're feeling, physically and emotionally, before reacting to something. I think this act of self-monitoring was the biggest long-term benefit for both students and teachers."

Lead researcher, Dr Flook, said in a media release: "We wanted to offer training to teachers in a format that would be engaging and address the concerns that were specifically relevant to their role as teachers."

The researchers are hopeful of expanding their research to include more teachers and also students, so they can study the combined effects of mindfulness training in the classroom on teacher and student wellbeing. But the initial findings add to the continued discussion about sustaining teachers and improving the quality of their training and support.

Image from freedigitalphotos.net