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To help students focus, we could use less medication and more meditation

Oct 12, 2015

The Next Idea

There is a lot of pressure in schools these days.

From the early grades through high school, students take tests and then more tests and shuffle from one extracurricular activity to the next, all while many are also trying to navigate instability at home.

Budget worries keep countless administrators up at night, and, says Rita Benn, director of the Faculty Scholars Program in integrative health care at University of Michigan’s Department of Family Medicine, about 50% of teachers leave within the first five years because it’s so stressful.

Mindfulness can help students pay attention with a sense of acceptance and kindness to themselves, says Dr. Rita Benn.
Credit Courtesy of MC4ME

Benn, who is also co-founder of the Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education, says meditation and mindfulness techniques offer an effective way to help both students and teachers handle stress in the classroom.

“Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that involves paying attention in the present moment to what’s happening, with a sense of kindness to yourself and acceptance,” says Benn.

In the classroom, students are instructed in becoming more conversant with what’s going on in their bodies and their minds, she says, so that they are more able to respond, rather than react, know what some triggers might be, and label some emotions they might be feeling. They even learn how their brain works, she says, and that’s not something they’re being taught.

Carl Clark, a third and fourth grade teacher at Ann Arbor Open School, has been using mindfulness techniques in his classroom for two years. He says he begins each day with mindfulness to settle down the energy coming from home to the classroom. He also uses it to help settle conflicts between students.

“Before this they had no idea what was happening inside of them,” Clark says. “They had no idea why they were angry.”

Mindfulness has helped the students become more aware of what’s happening around them and what’s happening inside them, he says. Plus, the improved focus and attention in his classroom, he says, has led to higher test scores.

For The Next Idea, Benn and Clark discuss how mindfulness works in the classroom, what it will take to expand its use in Michigan schools, and the barriers that stand in the way.

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