Here at MTLC, we are always thinking about what our students need to succeed. That is why we’ve been working on compiling a list of questions teachers and schools can ask themselves in order to identify how they can best support their students’ development. One of our major questions is:
What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do students need to manage their emotions and regulate their behavior?
Time and time again, it has been shown that our emotions strongly influence our behavior and the quality of our relationships. Therefore, the ability to understand and navigate the emotional dimensions of a situation is necessary in both our personal and professional lives.
For most of us, our biggest emotional challenge is dealing with feelings like anger, sadness, boredom, or anxiety. This is because our culture tells us that only certain feelings, like happiness or pleasure, are “good” feelings. So, naturally, we come to see other feelings as “bad” and work hard to avoid them.
Unfortunately, when we prioritize the avoidance of certain feelings over everything else, we begin to lose power over the direction of our lives, and fear takes over. In our students, we see this in many situations: for example, when the fear of failure stops students from being creative or trying something new.
I have become convinced that mindfulness, which allows us to tune-in to what is happening inside of us, should be an integral part of education.. Mindfulness techniques (i.e. meditation, breathing exercises, yoga) have not only been shown to help with a wide range of emotional challenges such as depression and anxiety, but are simple and take very little time. This makes them adaptable and easy to integrate into any school.
Here are three specific ways in which mindfulness can help our students:
1. Awareness: You can’t address a problem if you don’t know you have it., When we pay attention to ourselves internally, we slowly begin to recognize the deeper reality of what we are experiencing. It is like shifting from watching leaves rustling to feeling the invisible but strong wind behind it all. Students are encouraged to understand the mechanics behind how something works instead of just memorizing facts because we know it contributes to their ability to effectively problem-solve; in the same manner, students should also be encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of themselves.
2. Acceptance: Any meaningful endeavor comes with its fair share of challenges, and the difficult emotions that come with them. Unless students become accustomed to such feelings, they will continue to be blocked from their fullest potential. When students repeatedly encounter their emotions, they will slowly become more accustomed to and relaxed around them. Furthermore, students will come to learn that emotional states are constantly in flux; nothing, not even the most painful feelings, will last forever.
3. Agency: When students are able to see their emotions as part of a normal process, part of the human experience, they can learn to use their emotions to better understand what they are going through. This allows students to use their emotions to give them insight. With that understanding comes more choices of possible actions. For example, imagine a student being presented with a new challenge. Though he or she is aware that there is a chance for mistakes, he or she will recognize that the feelings from such mistakes are only temporary, and manageable, whereas the learning could be long-lasting and transformative. The student can now more easily choose to take on the challenge, knowing that his or her feelings of fear are but one part of the whole picture.With mindfulness, our students can move past the limiting notion that there are emotions they need to suppress or avoid. They can reclaim their essential freedom of choice and power over their own lives allowing them to more truly become the vibrant, dynamic, and capable young people we see them as.
Doctoral Graduate Assistant