Why Mindfulness Instruction is Worth it

Mindfulness is a buzz word. It's also a super helpful strategy for helping students navigate this crazy world of ours. Here's what the research says on mindfulness in schools.

Research to Practice: Teaching Mindfulness


So I started as a behaviorist. After years of teaching students to follow my rules I had an aha moment. I realized that I wasn’t teaching students to regulate their own behaviors– just to respond to my strictures. My quest on how to teach self-regulation led me to Zones of Regulation and the Amazing Five Point Scale and to mindfulness. When I started teaching mindfulness at my school, I realized it had all sorts of ancillary benefits. There was one new teacher I loved. The teacher was amazing– but like real high strung, and I had a pretty challenging student in that teacher’s classroom. I went in to teach mindfulness to the whole class in the sneaky hope of building my student’s self-regulation skills. What I noticed was that the little activities I did ratcheted down the teacher, not just the student. Most worthwhile whole class intervention ever– because after my quick mindfulness lessons, that classroom was so peaceful for the next hour or two. 

But this post isn’t about my experiences. It’s about what the research and the books on mindfulness in schools tell us.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a buzz word for any practice that gets students to slow down, observe their breath, and find a center in our crazy and chaotic world (Strauss, 2016) . Most of our mindfulness practices are a super watered down version of Buddhist practices, but they are about as religious as a jack o’lantern on Halloween– there is some history there but you would really have to dig to find the direct connection between the current practice and its religious history. 

What are the effects of doing mindfulness in schools?

Researchers have done statistical analyses, comparing test scores of students who did mindfulness and those who did not, and they have talked to students who did mindfulness. Here are some of the findings that emerge across these studies. 

  1. Students keep using it. About 80% of children at six British schools who had received mindfulness training in schools told the researchers that, three months later, they were still using some of the strategies that they had been taught (Kuyken et al., 2013).
  2. It has mental health benefits for students. Students who were received mindfulness training, months later, had fewer depression symptoms, lower stress, and better well-being indicators than their peers who had not had the training (Kuyken et al., 2013). 
  3. Students report a better awareness of their feelings, including their feelings of happiness (Ager et al., 2015). 
  4. Students report learning to press a “pause” button and find their calm (Ager et al., 2015).
  5. Students use mindfulness as a coping strategy. Students tend to think of the strategies as something to draw on when life gets stressful– and report actually drawing on them (Ager et al., 2015; McKeering & Hwang, 2019). 
  6. Students report a greater understanding of themselves and of others (Ager et al., 2015).
  7. Students’ classroom behaviors improve, with fewer disruptive behaviors in class and greater concentration (McKeering & Hwang, 2019)
  8. Right after practice, students are more relaxed and ready to learn (McKeering & Hwang, 2019)

There are more. For real, there are! But you get the idea. Studies on mindfulness in schools pretty consistently come back with benefits for students, although there are discussions about the extent of the benefits. We live in a confusing, upsetting, and chaotic world. Mindfulness fixes absolutely none of that– but it gives students more tools to draw on when things go upside down. 


What happens in mindfulness lessons and activities?

There are a lot of different programs out there, but here are some of the things that tend to happen in mindfulness lessons.

  1. Students are asked to slow down and pay attention to the world around them (McKeering & Hwang, 2019)
  2. Students engage in mindful breathing, paying attention to their inhales and exhales (McKeering & Hwang, 2019)
  3. Students eat some food item (often a raison) really slowly and experience smelling it, touching it, and so on (McKeering & Hwang, 2019)

There can be more than that, but those three components are pretty common. 

How to integrate mindfulness into your teaching

There are a lot of really, really good programs out there if you want to follow a curriculum. Most require teacher PD and cost some money– which can be covered but it is worth knowing! These include Mindful Schools, the CARE program, and so on. American University has an entire free guide on how to frame mindfulness with your students and activities to do with them that is decent. Mindful Schools has free sample lessons that are pretty good. 

If you just wanted to start integrating activities today, rather than using a full curriculum, here are some ideas:

  1. Start practicing mindfulness on your own! It goes a LOT better if you can model it for your students. That might mean staying through a full savasana in yoga or downloading a mindfulness app, but it is worth it for your mental health and so you can be more effective delivering mindfulness content in the classroom
  2. Practice mindful breathing with students. Giselle Shardlow on Edutopia (2015) describes how to do it here:  To practice mindful breathing, place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest, feeling the gentle rise and fall of your breath. Count to three as you inhale, then count to three again as you exhale. Close your eyes, too, if that feels comfortable. Try mindful breathing first by yourself, and then include your students. They can pretend to inflate a balloon in their bellies, or you could use a Hoberman Sphere for a visual representation of the breath. 
  3. Try a sound meditation. Ring a bell or otherwise make some noise. Have students listen with their eyes closed and raise their hands silently when they hear the noise disappear. You can do the same types of things with mindful walks– the goal is to get students to practice paying attention whether it is to sound, shapes, or themselves. 
  4. Try guided meditations with the students. You can read them to students, like this one on coming back to the positive, or play ones from Insight Timer, Headspace, or on YouTube. These are great recess transition activities– but they only work if you do it too! Mindfulness is not something that works if you are multitasking. 


  • Ager, K., Albrecht, N., & Cohen, M. (2015). Mindfulness in schools research project: Exploring students’ perspectives of mindfulness-What are students’ perspectives of learning mindfulness practices at school?. Psychology, 6(7), 896-914.
  • Baime, M. (2011). This is your brain on mindfulness. Shambhala Sun, 19(6), 44-48.
  • Kuyken, W., Weare, K., Ukoumunne, O. C., Vicary, R., Motton, N., Burnett, R., … & Huppert, F. (2013). Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 203(2), 126-131.
  • McKeering, P., & Hwang, Y. S. (2019). A systematic review of mindfulness-based school interventions with early adolescents. Mindfulness, 10(4), 593-610.
  • Strauss, E. (2016). Being mindful about mindfulness. Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/03/teaching-mindfulness-meditation-in-schools-a-skeptics-investigation.html