Guest post by Michael Mackenzie, Director of the Applied Health Behavior Science Laboratory and Assistant Professor, Behavioral Health & Nutrition / Human Development & Family Studies

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will…

An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.

–William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890)

Mindfulness is impartial present-moment focused attention and awareness. In investigating mindfulness practices, most people initially are interested in something that will relax their body and reduce stress, give them control over where their attention goes, and foster healthier relationships. Accumulating evidence suggests mindfulness, or attentional skills training centered on the present moment, fosters resilience in educators and may promote healthy students, classrooms and workplaces (Abenevoli et al., 2013).

While mindfulness is not a panacea, paying mindful attention may shift our habitual responses and is a primary benefit of contemporary mindfulness practice. Most people start by simply paying attention to their breathing to begin to foster a different level of attention. Mindfulness of the breath develops the ability to let the mind wander a little and then bring it back to focus on breathing. Research in the area of mindfulness and education suggests cultivation of these skills promote educators’ “habits of mind” (Roeser et al., 2012) including:

  • Fostering heightened awareness, inclusive of sensations, emotions, thoughts and behavior;
  • Based on this shift in awareness participants develop improved self-regulations skills;
  • This increased ability to be more aware and respond in the present moment is linked to heightened well-being, work-related functioning, and an improved sense of community with students and colleagues.

Within higher education critical reflection is recognized as an important component of transformative learning (Beer et al., 2015). Research and Educator Patricia Jennings suggests the following GRACE mnemonic as a useful practice for educators:

G – Gather your attention
R – Recall your intention
A – Attune to your environment
C – Consider your actions
E – Enact your plan

The ultimate goal of engaging in these mindfulness practice is to increase our self-awareness. Through these simple practices we become more aware of our own patterns of behavior and develop the ability to make conscious choices in order to cultivate some states and minimize others (Bush 2011). Learning these skills is an iterative process and, like any training, cultivating these skills takes time to develop and foster results.

References

Abenavoli, R. M., Jennings, P. A., Greenberg, M. T., Harris, A. R., & Katz, D. A. (2013). The protective effects of mindfulness against burnout among educators. Psychology of Education Review, 37(2), 57-69.

Beer, L. E., Rodriguez, K., Taylor, C., Martinez-Jones, N., Griffin, J., Smith, T. R., … & Anaya, R. (2015). Awareness, integration and interconnectedness: Contemplative practices of higher education professionals. Journal of Transformative Education, 13(2), 161-185.

Bush, M. (2011). Mindfulness in higher education. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(01), 183-197.

Jennings, P. A. (2015). Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom (The Norton Series on the Social Neuroscience of Education). WW Norton & Company.

Roeser, R. W., Skinner, E., Beers, J., & Jennings, P. A. (2012). Mindfulness training and teachers’ professional development: An emerging area of research and practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 167-173.

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