Mindfulness should become an integral part of teacher training, Flinders University education expert Leigh Burrows said.
Dr Burrows, the coordinator of the University’s Relationships for Learning and Creating Calmer Classrooms programs, said there was a “real need” for teachers to learn how to be more “centered” when faced with a dilemma or challenging situation at school.
“Mindfulness helps teachers respond rather than react; it’s about becoming more aware of what they’re feeling, thinking and sensing so they can ground themselves in the present moment,” Dr Burrows, who is based in the School of Education, said.
“When in stressful situations, teachers often tend to react immediately then lie awake at night thinking they should have handled it differently – but mindfulness teaches them to become more focused on the now,” she said.
“With enough pause for reflection their perception can become more discerning, allowing them to listen intuitively to the right decision before acting.”
Her comments follow the results of a year-long study in which Dr Burrows worked with 30 teachers and school leaders nationally on mindfulness and meditation techniques.
As part of the study, each participant was asked to identify a dilemma with a student, colleague or parent and to practice a simple mindfulness activity each day for six weeks.
“I asked them to practice meditation on the soles of their feet. It’s a short technique where you tune into the sensation of how the soles of your feet feel against your shoes or the floor – it helps to prevent your thoughts from building on each other and getting carried away with excessive worry and anxiety.
“Professionals like it because it’s simple and short, they can practice it in a meeting or in the classroom.”
Dr Burrows said feedback from the program had been overwhelmingly positive, with participants indicating the dilemma was no longer a problem or their feelings towards the dilemma had changed. They also considered the experience to be a valuable form of professional learning.
The project was also carried out among a group of Flinders professional and academic staff, with similar positive experiences reported by those involved.
While mindfulness is increasingly used as a tool to help students, Dr Burrows said there had been little work done in Australia to show how it can help teachers “stop in the middle of a crisis and take a different perspective”.
“Mindfulness is becoming more popular as a technique to help students but little has been done to see whether it can be a useful self-empowering tool for teachers so they have something to draw on from within themselves in the midst of complexity.
“People don’t realise just how much the mind ticks over until they take the time to be present, and when teachers are calm they tend to pass on that calm to their students.”