APR Update: Mindfulness: Benefits to us and our students
How long does it take to make some kind of action or behavior a habit? Upon a bit of online research, I found sources that mentioned, for example, 21 days, 32 days, and 66 days. While I am better at practicing mindfulness than I once was, it has been well over 66 days since I made a commitment to make mindfulness a habit and yesterday I missed the mark in a major way. Mindfulness isn't yet the habit I want it to be. An exchange with a colleague was less than positive and constructive. I didn't mindfully prepare for an interaction with this colleague and, thus, poorly initiated our conversation, allowed misunderstanding to escalate, and had to devote considerable time to apologizing and starting our exchange over before getting back on track.
Deborah Schoeberlein, author of Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything, says this of mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a conscious, purposeful way of tuning in to what's happening around us. This specific approach to paying attention and honing awareness improves mental focus and academic performance. It also strengthens skills that contribute to emotional balance. The best of our human qualities, including the capacity for kindness, empathy, and compassion, support and are supported, by mindfulness. Mindfulness and deep caring contribute to healthy relationships at school and at home. Mindfulness is the means, and deep caring describes the manner (pgs. 1-2).
In my view, in the workplace, mindfulness can also contribute to healthy relationships with colleagues and with the people we serve in our various capacities as family professionals.
Topics related to families with members with special circumstances (e.g., blended, adoptive, foster, migrant, low income, military, traumatized, as well as those having "differently abled" members) have been the primary focus of this newsletter and, thus, in this column I want to explore ideas for designing and delivering instruction addressing the second CFLE content area Internal Dynamics of Families. Students, whether or not they are members of families dealing each day with the challenge of special needs circumstances, can benefit from learning and practicing mindfulness. Once they graduate and become new family life educators, they will be in a position to teach the family members they serve, no matter their level of stress and need, to mindfully communicate, manage stress and conflict, make decisions, and solve problems. As a refresher, the Handbook for Academic Program Review Application states the following with regard to this content area:
Internal Dynamics of Families
An understanding of family strengths and weaknesses and how family members relate to each other. E.g., Research & theories related to: Internal Social Processes (including cooperation & conflict); Communication (patterns & problems in husband-wife relationships &in parent-child relationships, including stress & conflict management); Conflict Management; Decision-making and Goal-setting; Normal Family Stresses (transition periods in the family life cycle, three-generation households, caring for the elderly, & dual careers); Family Stress & Crises (divorce, remarriage, death, economic uncertainty & hardship, violence, substance abuse); Special Needs in Families (including adoptive, foster, migrant, low income, military, & blended families as well as those with disabled members).
Practice — A CFLE is prepared to:
- Recognize & define healthy & unhealthy characteristics pertaining to: family relationships; family development
- Analyze family functioning using various theoretical perspectives
- Assess family dynamics from a systems perspective
- Evaluate family dynamics in response to normative and non-normative stressors
- Evaluate family dynamics in response to crises
- Facilitate & strengthen communication processes, conflict-management, and problem-solving skills
- Develop, recognize, & reinforce strategies that help families function effectively
As has been mentioned in previous columns I have authored in CFLE Network, one purpose of the curriculum guidelines is to provide a foundation for faculty as they design or redesign a course to fulfill this content area. Further, most every column having to do with curriculum and/or instructional design that I have written in the past has also touted the work of L. Dee Fink on the subject. I continue to do so because his book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, which has recently been updated and revised, is so highly regarded and used.
According to Fink (2013), course design processes involve formulating course objectives and student learning outcomes; identifying the nature and scope of crucial content; determining the best ways to deliver instruction and at what pace; selecting reading and other resource materials; developing meaningful learning activities for students (both in and out of the classroom); and devising various methods and tools for measuring students' mastery of relevant knowledge and skills. A syllabus is a document of primary importance for a course in that it outlines all of the design features the instructor has thoughtfully and purposefully chosen.
Here are a few suggestions regarding ways mindfulness could be incorporated into the teaching of one or more courses or classes deemed relevant to attending to Content Area II – Internal Dynamics of Families for the NCFR CFLE Academic Program Review effort. Actually, my first idea could also be useful in addressing Content Area X – Family Life Education. Utilize Schoeberlein's (2009, pg. 9) book or other similar materials as a supplemental reading for the course or class and emphasize the following benefits of mindfulness. Alternatively, have students do a literature search on this topic, then select five or so sources of information to read; summarize; compare, contrast, and critique content; and share briefly in class. Or, invite an expert in one or more forms (e.g., meditation, yoga, T'ai chi ch'uan) of mindfulness to come to class to guest speak/demonstrate.
Benefits of Mindfulness
For College Teachers/Family Life Educators
- Improves focus and awareness
- Increases responsiveness to students'/learners' needs
- Promotes emotional balance
- Supports stress management and stress reduction
- Supports healthy relationships at home and work
- Enhances classroom climate
- Supports overall well-being
- Supports "readiness to learn"
- Promotes academic performance
- Strengthens attention and concentration
- Reduces anxiety before testing or opportunities to perform
- Promotes self-reflection and self-calming
- Improves classroom or workshop participation by supporting impulse control
- Provides tools to reduce stress
- Enhances social and emotional learning
- Fosters pro-social behaviors and healthy relationships
- Supports holistic well-being
A second idea would be to start each class meeting/lesson with a brief, simple opportunity to practice mindfulness—getting focused. Involve students in identifying and selecting the means of carrying out a 5-minute or less mindfulness activity. The reference list that closes this column provides some sources featuring a number of examples. Allow an opportunity to opt out as not all students/learners find mindfulness activities appealing (e.g., too invasive of their thoughts, in opposition with their existing religious practices, or uncomfortable practicing in front of others).
Finally, a third suggestion would be to have students do some regular journaling. Ask them to reflect on their efforts, in class or out of class, to practice mindfulness and any outcomes they perceive to have surfaced. Chapters 8 and 9 of Schoeberlein's book provide some guidance in designing and carrying out focused journaling about mindfulness. With regard to this suggestion and the one prior, I would be remiss in not calling attention to the need to be ethically responsible when carrying out activities of this nature. The context is preventive education, not counseling or therapy. When students/learners evidence high levels of emotionality, stress, or crisis, as family life educators, we must encourage them to seek the services of mental health professionals on campus or in the community.
Of course, we family life educators can also practice mindfulness before we begin teaching a class or delivering a workshop session, before we attend meetings with colleagues, or before we transition from the work environment to the home environment and vice versa. Reflective journaling could be helpful to us as well.
In my last column, I stated that I often wonder how many and who may read a given column I write and, in turn, what their reactions are to it. I urged readers to feel free to contact me in response to a column, though no one did. I would certainly welcome one or more readers to email me this time around. Tell me what other instructional applications have come to your mind on this subject. In the meantime, I will "keep on keeping on" in my efforts to make mindfulness a positive habit in my daily life.
Barbezat, D. P., & Bush, M. (2013). Contemplative practices in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Boroson, M. (2009). One-moment mediations: Stillness for people on the go. Port Jefferson Station, NY: Winter Road Publishing.
Boroson, M. (March 2, 2011). One-moment mediation: How to meditate in a moment. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6eFFCi12v8
Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.contemplativemind.org/
Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. (2014). The Tree of Contemplative Practices. Northampton, MA. Retrieved from http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree
Fink, D. L. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kroll, K. (2010). Contemplative teaching: Learning Directions for Community Colleges, No. 151. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Mindfulness in Education Network. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.mindfuled.org
Schoeberlein, D. R. (2009). Mindful teaching and teaching mindfulness: A guide for anyone who teaches anything. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.