As I’ve continued my own personal meditation practice over the years, one area that has continued to fascinate me is the potential to integrate mindfulness practices into education and learning environments.
I’ve spent some time exploring how various organizations (workplaces, universities, and even schools) have begun integrating mindfulness approaches to the learning they provide. At a high level, many of these organizations emphasize qualities such as presence, non-judgement, and openness throughout the learning process.
I’ve packaged my learnings into a summary of what I’m called Mindful Learning Practices. These practices are meant to be used by learning practitioners (facilitators, instructors, teachers) who are designing or delivering experiences to learners. Whether your audience is for K-12, higher education, or workplace employees; these learning practices will help to ensure you’re putting your learners priorities first. I will frequently add to this list as I identify practices and techniques that may help others as they develop learning experiences.
Explore the Mindful Learning Practices below:
TAKE TIME TO SET INTENTIONS
As learning practitioners, our curriculum and lesson plans often convey what we’re looking to teach to attendees. By setting intentions for our learning experiences, we’re widening the focus to consider how we’d like to facilitate our sessions. Think about your goals for the way you’d like the experience to unfold and how you might best facilitate the skills you’re helping your audience grow.
A learning environment can be conducive or inhibiting to fostering mindfulness among learners. Whether you’re designing in-person or virtual learning experiences, look at your environment without any learners present. Remove items that are not useful such as clutter, untidiness, or features of online environments that may compete for learners’ attention.
BEGIN WITH A MINDFUL MOMENT
Start off your learning experiences with a mindful moment. Take a few moments (30-60 seconds) prior to a learning session to sit quietly with learners. This will allow your audience to disconnect from distractions that may have been on their mind prior to joining your session.
SET AGREEMENTS WITH LEARNERS
Learning experiences at their core are built on a foundation of trust. Take the time to set working agreements with learners as to how you’d like to work together to create a positive and cohesive learning environment. Inform learners of timing, breaks, and where you are throughout your time together. Enable learners to take care of their own unique needs throughout their learning journey.
PAY ATTENTION TO POWER DYNAMICS
In many learning environments, teachers have the power to help or hinder students while on their path to success. Be intentional about the signals you’re sending about teacher and student relationships. Reflect on how you present yourself and engage with learners. Consider how things like age, race, gender and other factors may come into play with your interactions with your learners.
FOSTER A SPACE FOR INQUIRY AND DISCOVERY
Rather than simply telling learners about content or topics through your learning experiences, encourage them to question and inquire. This will enable learners to come into their own answers and conclusions with full ownership and confidence.
MAKE IT PERSONAL AND RELEVANT
Learning is a personal process that unfolds continuously over time and it is rare that a single approach to learning will resonate with everyone. Make your learning experience more personal by allowing learners to set intentions for their time with you. Reference their intentions along the way to keep content relevant and learners engaged.
Mindful communication begins when we bring our full presence to interactions with others. Embrace a mindful communication style with learners by being supportive during their struggles or challenges without stepping in and taking over. This means coming in alongside learners and making time to listen not only to hear, but rather to understand. Practice remaining present by pausing when others are done speaking and repeating back what you heard them say to ensure you understand what they are experiencing or asking from you.
INCORPORATE EXPERIENTIAL ACTIVITIES
Engage learners in activities that increase their awareness of a diverse range of contexts and experiences throughout their learning journey. This could mean including activities such as role playing, roundtable discussions, case studies, scenarios, or think-pair-share exercises.
FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME
The more learners focus on the expected outcome, the more they put pressure on themselves to perform. Rather than focusing on standard identifiers of success such as grades or test scores, emphasize the importance of learners staying in the present moment throughout each step of the learning journey.
PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR “FAILURE”
Reframe “failure” as learning opportunities for learners; praise them for making mistakes, encourage them to investigate what didn’t work, and mindfully explore the reasons why. You may find learners’ attitudes towards learning will change – leading to an increased development of resilience and perseverance through difficulties.
PROVIDE SPACE FOR REFLECTION
Take a few moments at the end of a task, lesson, unit, or exercise to allow learners to reflect on the feeling of completing a task before immediately moving onto the next one. Reflection can take the form of a debrief discussion with the entire group or a simple mindful moment alone.
Hassed, C. & Chambers, R. (2015). Mindful learning: reduce stress and increase brain performance for effective learning. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Langer, E. J. (2016). The power of mindful learning: with a new preface by the author. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teachers life. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.