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While the phrase “be mindful” can be heard so much that it can sound like a meaningless buzzword, it is, in fact, anything but. Patricia Jennings, an international leader in the field of social and emotional learning and mindfulness in education, defines mindfulness as “the ability to stay focused on one’s present experience with non-judgmental awareness.”1 This presence and awareness are essential to people from all walks of life, but it can be especially important and difficult to maintain in a teaching environment.

Mindfulness Word Cloud On Napkin
Be Mindful image courtesy of Marek Uliasz –

Why Does Mindfulness Matter?

Mindfulness is a helpful way to manage and acknowledge your emotions while still remaining present; something that is essential when dealing with young children. It can be easy to become frustrated and annoyed when a class does not go the way you are hoping. By remembering to be mindful, you are better able to work with and engage with the students you have instead of the students you imagined having. Staying calm and engaged can also encourage students to follow your example, leading to a better class experience for everyone.

Non-judgmental awareness is essential for allowing for personal growth. It encourages you to see places where you can improve but not blame or shame yourself for having not done a perfect job initially. Looking at a class with non-judgmental awareness can make you better able to meet students where they are and helps you to create a positive learning environment and make authentic connections with your students.2

Time management is an essential aspect of online teaching. Jennings notes that “slowing down and deliberately pausing for a moment of mindfulness can give us time to ask ourselves how we are feeling, what’s happening in the classroom, and what our students need at that particular moment.”3 By being thoughtful and not allowing yourself to rush through material, you can better help students fully process what is being asked in the class. Jennings notes that “too often teachers forget to pause after asking a question or interrupt student pauses and hesitations, not giving students a chance to think through their answers.”4 This observation is especially relevant when teaching English language learners. It is natural for these students to take slightly longer to process and respond to questions.

How to Be Mindful While Teaching Online

Mindfulness takes practice. One of the most useful mindfulness activities is deep breathing. By taking a deep cleansing breath, you both allow yourself to pause for a moment and also improve your oxygen levels and allow yourself to feel calm. When working on mindfulness breathing activities, focus on your breath filling your abdomen and chest.

Relaxed Businesswoman Take Deep Breath Of Fresh Air At Workplace
Take a deep cleansing breaths to allow yourself a moment to pause and recenter yourself between online ESL classes.
Image courtesy of Fizkes –

Scanning your body for tension and taking a moment to relax any tight muscles can help you feel more comfortable, relaxed, and present and is a great way to practice mindfulness. Many people find it calming to scan their body one muscle or muscle group at a time, tensing and then relaxing each muscle.

Other great mindfulness activities involve using your senses to feel more connected to your environment. Consider what you can see, hear, smell, and touch in your environment. You may realize that some changes to your teaching space would be positive additions. Something as simple as a scented candle or a more comfortable computer chair could help you better enjoy teaching and better teach joy.

There can be a lot to look at on the screen as you are teaching. Make sure you don’t forget to look at your students as they talk. This can help you to better process what they are saying and to have a better sense of when they are done talking. Even through a computer screen, active listening is still important to making sure people feel heard.

Take time to check in with yourself and reassess how you are feeling. Short breaks between classes can be the perfect time to check for tension in your neck and shoulders and take a moment to relax and breathe. It is also the perfect time to check if you are comfortable and make any small adjustments that may be necessary. Be grateful for and take advantage of breaks and other times when you’re waiting. Use these moments to recharge instead of thinking of them as wasted time.

The American Psychological Association has found that there is good evidence to support the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness has been linked to a variety of benefits from improved focus to better cognitive flexibility.6 By taking time to be mindful and practice non-judgmental awareness, you will be able to reap a range of benefits both as a teacher and as a person.

Citations for Be Mindful: Mindfulness Activities for Teachers:
1-4 Jennings, Patricia. “Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers.” Greater Good. Accessed January 21, 2020.
5 Mulvahill, Elizabeth. “7 Simple Ways to Sneak Mindfulness Into Your Teaching Day.” WeAreTeachers, April 9, 2018.
6 Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. Accessed January 21, 2020.

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