Deep Breaths Lead to Better Grades

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Stress does not only affect the adult population. Now more than ever, we are seeing kids, from kindergarteners to teenagers, with high amounts of anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues that are affecting every aspect of their lives. At school, teachers are noticing the signs among their students: kids that react aggressively, poor performance, depression, isolation, and low grades, to name a few.

In many cases, the stress is due to problems at home. A parent in prison, money issues, immigration, evictions, and even the "fear of missing out”, the constant tracking of activities of friends and classmates on social media. What can a teacher do? It’s not a secret that teachers sometimes go beyond their duties to help their students in distress. Either through mentoring, house visits or even providing food and tampons, teachers do what they can to support their students. But there are limits to what can a teacher do.

That's why many schools are already taking action on the matter. Matt Zalaznick from District Administration wrote an article with interesting examples of school districts in the United States that are using mindfulness techniques as part of their school routines. 

One example is the West Bridgewater School District in Massachusetts, where teachers were trained to teach students how to breath and other relaxation techniques that are applied throughout the day, but specially before tests. Even kindergarteners are taught to breath and relax for a moment before leaving the cafeteria and go back to class. The good news is that these mindfulness practices are working. 

The district surveyed the students’ social-emotional well-being at the beginning and at the end of the 2015-16 school year showing a "sharp decrease in behavioural problems." Reports of depression and anxiety have also dropped, reported Zalaznick. 

But, what exactly is mindfulness? According to Dr. Amy Saltzman, director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, mindfulness “It’s paying attention to the here and now, doing our best not to be in the past or the future.” 

Students at the West Bridgewater School District are led through a few minutes of mindful breathing cycles before class every morning. / District Administration

Students at the West Bridgewater School District are led through a few minutes of mindful breathing cycles before class every morning. / District Administration

Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, “quiet time”, yoga or writing in a gratitude journal can be applied in the classroom without losing teachable time. Some teachers start class with five minutes to relax and breath. Others assign students to write in a journal about what make them happy each day. 

“The main objective is to get students to use mindfulness in order to respond instead of react to things,” says Karen Ritter, assistant principal for teaching and learning at at East Leyden High School in the Chicago suburbs. “That’s what is getting kids into trouble—reacting impulsively.” Reported Ritter for District Administration. 

“The main objective is to get students to use mindfulness in order to respond instead of react to things,” says Karen Ritter, assistant principal for teaching and learning at at East Leyden High School in the Chicago suburbs. “That’s what is getting kids into trouble—reacting impulsively.” Reported Ritter for District Administration. 

These efforts are not only good for students but teachers also benefit from these practices, noticing that they themselves feel less stressed. At Erie Public Schools in Pennsylvania, mindfulness has arrived. The school holds free, after-school employee yoga classes. Teachers who participate in these programs report improvements in behaviour and learned to make mindful choices, like making sure they get enough sleep and drink enough water throughout the day.

Staff at East Leyden High School in Illinois / District Administration

Staff at East Leyden High School in Illinois / District Administration

On the other hand, parents are starting to demand social-emotional learning and mindfulness programs at schools. Parents want their children to learn about mental health issues in the classroom from early ages. A survey of 1,000 UK parents with children under the age of 18 showed that four out of five believed that protecting their children's mental health was a top concern.

Increasingly, teachers and schools are starting to pay attention and respond to students’ anxiety and mental health issues. Not only to raise their grades and PISA scores, but also to build a bond with their students.

 

Source: District Administration