Mindfulness Teaching & Learning

The Western consciousness of segregation and intolerance that has contributed to many moral catastrophes such as the Holocaust, is played out daily in schools as various groups competitively vie for prestige, power, resources, influence or control: “jocks” versus “geeks”; major sports versus minor sports; men’s sports versus women’s sports; teachers versus students; administration versus faculty and students; popular kids versus “nerds”; gifted versus remedial; rich versus poor (Kincheloe, et al, 2000).

But in contemporary postmodern society a promising new approach called Mindfulness appears to be emerging: it features openness to diverse perspectives and the elimination of the need to destroy or synthesize people of different races, cultures, linguistic patterns, abilities, sexual orientations or religions or who espouse different beliefs or philosophies. The acceptance and affirmation of differences becomes a goal (Nieto, 1996).

With a Mindful education we do it best when we nurture all students without favoritism or prejudice. We must learn to trust students and invest them with more responsibility (Kincheloe, et al, 2000). Education is a spiritual act, an essential work of compassion that fosters a will to believe and a will to wonder. Will as wonder is a child’s will, a will of eagerness to learn, a will of desire to be seduced, amazed, broken open; a will of expanding, growing, exploding. Receptivity is more alive in children than in adults as it guides them from knowledge-based learning to wisdom-based learning (Fox, 2006).

A Mindful education would, for example, increase our capabilities for:

  • Silence, for stillness and contemplation;
  • Grappling with chaos and for living with stress;
  • Letting go, for letting be, and for forgiveness.

In an environment of mindfulness children a taught to reflect on their learning and to break what they have learned into segments and to think about what they have learned and what it means to them relative to their current knowledge base. It would grow our capacity for creativity, as well as our relationship to our lower chakras, from which spring our love of the earth, and our capacity for compassion, and for passion and moral outrage and for steering them to positive use. Mindful education addresses what Thomas Aquinas calls “the human’s noblest act,” that is, joy. Yes, joy and education ought to go together (Fox, 2005).

It is our job as educators to encourage learning. Every child has the potential to learn. A child’s progression of learning is like a fire. The kindling and the spark are already present in natural curiosity. When we feed the fire with intuitive and discovery learning situations such as experiments, field trips, interactions with guest speakers and “real life” experiences, roaring flames of curiosity come to life. However, when we spoon-feed information to students through constant lectures, dry textbook chapters and busy work, the flames of curiosity are doused with an ocean of water. In order to be successful teachers, we must make sure that our students do not drown in boredom and irrelevant paperwork. We must ensure that the curriculum is applicable to each student’s environment. The more students can apply a lesson to their lives, the more engaged they will be in learning. Teachers create successful learning environments when they nurture caring communities which focus on student interests and experiences. (Goodman, 1998; Kincheloe, et al, 2000)

The classroom provides an excellent setting in which to practice social skills. For example, allowing students to participate in class decision making can promote understanding of democratic values, respect for others’ opinions, and social responsibility. Encouraging cooperative behavior by assigning academic tasks in the classroom to pairs or small groups of students may promote the students’ ability to work together toward common goals. The Responsive Classroom (www.responsiveclassroom.org), a program for K–8 classrooms developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children, emphasizes classroom organization and management strategies that foster helpful behavior, responsibility, and motivation for learning. An evaluation of the Responsive Classroom’s effects on students in one elementary school found that this approach positively affected students’ pro-social skills as well as their academic achievement (Elliott, 1999).

The importance of personal relationships for all children, along with the increased significance of peer relationships for early adolescents, suggests that educators can have a tremendous influence on students’ social growth by creating a schoolwide culture in which each student has opportunities to see prosocial behaviors modeled by other students and by adults. In such a culture, the way teachers treat students and the way students treat one another is a part of their learning experience (Lickona, 1997).

The more students are able to demonstrate positive social traits like warmth and empathy, the better off they will be. In general, that means praising effort over personal traits and encouraging students to learn from mistakes by developing new strategies to approach problems (see: Problem Discovery). We need to do more than just teach kids information. We need to invest in teaching them how to relate to others and how to handle the things they’re feeling inside.