The Mindful Classroom: Learning to Experience, Experiencing to Learn

by Peter Ryan

54403158 - female student meditating isolated on a white background

Imagine a small high school class where the teacher and students practice being fully present, where they focus on listening carefully to each other’s perspectives. Imagine, at the end of that class session, that there is an opportunity to take a few breaths, and each student becomes aware of what it was like to be in that class. They take time to let the learning and the experience of the whole thing—the other kids, the teacher, the topics, their own contributions—sink in.

Perhaps what is next is a martial arts or yoga class, where concentration and movement come together, rather than competition and self-consciousness. Then maybe it is time to help in the kitchen, prepping the vegetables from the garden, or to pitch in and clean up a classroom.

The goal of this mindfulness—a kind of awareness and openness—is to allow for more relaxed, and therefore deeper, learning.

Mindfulness is what would be classified today as a “trending topic”, increasingly embraced by major corporations, sports teams, celebrities, politicians and even the United States military. The practice of focusing awareness on the present moment, both internally and externally, is said to provide myriad physical and mental health benefits.

Its use in schools is also growing, often as an add-on to a lesson, or as a program designed to improve conduct in the classroom. As part of an overall school culture, with trained teachers and students actively participating in the well-being of the school, mindfulness has undeniable results. Teachers can maintain an environment where students have time to notice their experience, and can integrate the whole experience more effectively.

In high school, particularly, the academic and social pressures are so intense that young people are constantly worried about what just happened or what is about to happen. Chasing after worries becomes the norm. Rather than standing by as they get lost in the whirlwind around them, we can encourage students to mindfully experience it, then let it go and make room for whatever is next. But very, very few people are able to do this alone. It takes, as they say, a village.

Peter Ryan, principal of The Lotus School of Liberal Arts, is a certified focusing-oriented psychotherapist and trainer, an instructor in martial arts, and has taught literature and social studies for nearly 20 years. The Lotus School of Liberal Arts is located at 85 Sherman Rd., Ottsville. For more information, call 484-312-0011, email Help@LotusLA.org or visit LotusLiberalArts.org. August 2016

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