By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Most teacher training focuses primarily on content and pedagogy, overlooking the very real social, emotional, and cognitive demands of teaching itself. Luckily, learning and cultivating skills of mindfulness. . . can help us to promote the calm, relaxed, but enlivened classroom environment that children need to learn.” – Patricia Jennings
In a school setting, mindfulness not only affects teachers, but also the students. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to be helpful in reducing the psychological and physiological responses to stress and for treating and preventing burnout in schools. But the effects of mindfulness on elementary school teachers and their students need further exploration. Are mindful elementary school teachers better teachers?
In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Teachers: a Study on Teacher and Student Outcomes.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8060685/ ) de Carvalho and colleagues recruited primary school teachers and randomly assigned them to a no-treatment control or to receive 30 hours of mindfulness training delivered over 10 weeks. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, emotion regulation, self-compassion, self-efficacy, mental health, and burnout. They were also observed in the classroom and rated for “flexibility and ability to adapt to classroom situations, cooperation among students, and group cohesion.” They also recruited parents and students of the teachers. The students measured teacher involvement with students, and the students’ positive and negative emotions, mental health, and emotion control. Finally, the parents rated their child’s social behavior.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the control group, after mindfulness training there were significant improvements in all teacher measurements including the classroom observation measurements. The students of the mindfulness trained teachers rated the teachers as having higher involvement with students and the students of these teachers also had better emotion regulation, higher positive emotions, lower negative emotions, higher well-being and parental ratings of social behavior.
It should be noted that the control teachers received no treatment whatsoever. This passive type of control does not allow for the conclusion that it was mindfulness training per se that was responsible for the improvements. Rather any kind of attention to the teachers might result in similar improvements. The study should be replicated comparing teacher mindfulness training to an active control condition such as teacher fitness training.
The findings for the teachers replicate previous findings that mindfulness training increases mindfulness, emotion regulation, self-compassion, self-efficacy, mental health, and reduces burnout. The results also demonstrate that teacher mindfulness training makes them more attentive to the needs of their students which improves the students’ emotional well-being and their interactions with others.
These findings are remarkable in that they demonstrate how teaching mindfulness to teachers affects the entire classroom system, altering the teachers’ behavior which in turn affects the students’ behavior and well-being. This further suggests that training elementary school teachers in mindfulness will improve the school experience for both the teachers and their students. This could lower teacher burnout while improving the emotional and social development of the children.
So, mindfulness makes teachers better teachers.
“We see mental health benefits. We see some behavioral benefits. Youth are more likely not to engage in conflict — more likely to walk away from contentious discussions. They express greater acceptance of themselves.” – Erica Sibinga
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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de Carvalho, J. S., Oliveira, S., Roberto, M. S., Gonçalves, C., Bárbara, J. M., de Castro, A. F., Pereira, R., Franco, M., Cadima, J., Leal, T., Lemos, M. S., & Marques-Pinto, A. (2021). Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Teachers: a Study on Teacher and Student Outcomes. Mindfulness, 1–14. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01635-3
Teachers’ stress can affect their occupational health and negatively impact classroom climate and students’ well-being. This study aims to evaluate the proximal and distal effects of a mindfulness-based program, specially developed to promote teachers’ social-emotional competencies (SEC), across teachers, classroom climates, and students’ outcomes.
The study followed a randomized trial design with two data collection points (pretest and posttest). Participants in the experimental group (EG) included 123 elementary school teachers, their 1503 students, and these students’ parents (1494), while the control group (CG) comprised 105 elementary school teachers, their 947 students, and these students’ parents (913). A mixed data collection strategy was used that included teachers’ and students’ (self-) report, observational ratings of teachers’ classroom behaviors, and parents’ reports on students.
After the intervention, EG teachers, compared to CG teachers, reported a significant increase in mindfulness and emotional regulation competencies, self-efficacy, and well-being and a decrease in burnout symptoms. Similarly, a significant improvement was found in EG teachers’ classroom behaviors related to students’ engagement. Additionally, significant improvements were also found in EG students’ perceptions of the quality of their teachers’ involvement in classroom relationships, self-reported effect, and social competencies perceived by their parents.
These findings further the knowledge on the role played by mindfulness-based SEC interventions in reducing teachers’ burnout symptoms and cultivating their SEC and well-being, in promoting a nurturing classroom climate and also in promoting the SEC and well-being of students.