Chances are you’ve heard the term mindfulness, but do you know what it actually means? Specifically, do you know, as a teacher, what it can mean for your students? How do we practice classroom mindfulness?

To be mindful is to be wholly connected to the hearts of others. We feel their pain as our own pain and wish for their joy and infinite spiritual development. Interestingly enough, this is also the most profound aspect of social-emotional learning.

Mindfulness in the classroom means using a student-centered approach that focuses on ensuring learners are motivated and empowered to improve constantly. As teachers, we guide that learning by responding proactively to student performance, being present for our students and aware of what’s happening with them, and using the best formative assessment practices possible.

What is a mindful classroom? How does it work, and how does the concept fit into teaching and learning? Most importantly, what does it mean for our learners?

Let’s begin with a quick bit of background on how this applies to classroom instruction. We discussed the concepts of mindfulness in our bestselling book, Mindful Assessment. In terms of learning, the key to mindfulness is being fully in the moment and seeing possibility rather than finality as a benchmark for progress:

“In practicing aikido, the sensei would never simply tell a student, ‘That was 74 percent.’ Instead, the sensei would watch mindfully and comment on what needs improvement, demonstrate it, and then provide the opportunity to improve. Similarly, a parent teaching a child to cook would never say, ‘That was 74 percent.’ Instead, like the sensei, the parent would watch, demonstrate, and allow the child a chance to get better. These acts of mindful nurturing and guidance are examples of natural learning, and we perform them instinctively.”

A good way to describe mindfulness is to say that it is based on both awareness and acceptance. When you are being mindful, you are focusing your awareness on the present moment. In addition, you are accepting of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without critique or judgement. This is why mindfulness meditation is so often used as a therapeutic technique.

A mindful classroom is developed and maintained in a constant state of practice. Contemplate the following list offering some simple methods you can use to practice classroom mindfulness right now. Which of these are you already doing? Which would you like to begin bringing to your own practice?

Human suffering wears many faces, and our suffering is openly displayed in how we speak under stress or in times of uncertainty. The fact is at many points during their academic careers, students will experience duress and anxiety of every definition. In times like this it’s important, as a teacher who will lead them safely, that you recognize the pain behind the words they speak.

A mindful classroom is developed and maintained in a constant state of practice.

The logic behind this is simple. In the midst of suffering, our words can deflect away from our true feelings. We either say things we don’t mean or don’t intend, or we don’t say enough. However, if you really listen to the pain behind the words, you’ll see evidence of a deeper issue than any words could express.

This is the beginning point for change to take place through your own awareness. Once you hear the pain, you can open a safe doorway for students to express the frustrations and fears of the moment, whatever they may be about.