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Just Breathe: Mindfulness Practices in Teacher Training

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  • The southbound train from Hartford abruptly halted 10 miles outside of Philadelphia. The conductor announced, “There is an obstruction on the track ahead. We will be holding our position until further notice.” Many passengers immediately started mumbling and grumbling. It was late, and everyone was trying to get to their respective destinations after a long day. Ten minutes later we heard, “The police and coroner are at the scene. We will keep you updated.” The news ignited a wave of tension throughout the train. Twenty minutes later as the conductor passed through the train frustrated and anxious passengers bombarded him with questions. “How much longer do we have to wait? Why don’t we switch tracks or get off the train and board another? When are we going to know what’s going on? What are you going to do for me if I miss my connection?” I struggle to describe how the mood on the train went from end-of-the-day drowsy to oppressively hostile and negative so quickly. I can only say I suddenly went from feeling at ease to feeling upset. I felt stressed. Spirit disturbed, heart heavy, and mind restless, I wondered to myself, “Why am I so affected by my fellow passengers’ responses to this situation?” The collective stress of the situation pressed upon my entire being; like a contagion, it poisoned my system with toxins which took days to work themselves out.
  • Months later, while planning the curriculum for a Learning Theories course I would facilitate that summer with preservice teachers, the educational landscape began to bloom with a wide variety of research and resources surrounding contemplative pedagogical practices and their effects on student learning and overall well-being.[i] At the time I was practicing contemplation and other mindfulness exercises on my own, however had not yet incorporated them into my pedagogy. As with many endeavors, it is the crisscrosses, connections, and coincidences of our lives that create new opportunities or if we are mindful, reframe existing ones—as was the case with the action research project I undertook with preservice teachers which explored the potential of incorporating mindfulness practices into our curriculum in an effort to lower their perceived stress. Why should we care? Why bother? – check out James. “ Take a breath” By Nick Street July 25, 2007, Lost Angeles Time Ideal Academy, a Washington, D.C., charter school that incorporates a 20-minute transcendental meditation program into each school day. 7 th graders In Southern California, the David Lynch Foundation is sponsoring start-up transcendental meditation programs at two publicly funded schools -- one in Inglewood and another in Sun Valley. From the onset of the project, I firmly believed, based on my experience on the train and countless others, that just as stress could be contagious, so could an opposite, enlivened state (e.g., harmony, ease, relaxedness, peace, etc.). I also believed that mindfulness, as a personal practice, had great potential to help future teachers cope with an intensely demanding career and what is commonly known as “teacher stress”
  • Before we get too far. “ Room full of sistas” by ernie barnes Testimony Bearing witness Public performance Individual experience Declaration of subjective truth
  • Stress refers to how the body responds to any number of physical or emotional stimuli (i.e., stressors); can be positive (i.e., eustress) or negative (i.e., distress). Teacher Stress is, “… a negative emotional experience being triggered by the teacher’s perception that their work situation constitutes a threat to their self-esteem or well-being” (Kyriacou, 2001, p. 28). Kyriacou, C. (2001). Teacher stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review , 53 (1), 27-35. [1] Teacher stress was first so named and defined in the literature by Kyriacou in the 1970s who said teacher stress was “a negative emotional experience being triggered by the teacher’s perception that their work situation constituted a threat to their self–esteem or well–being” (Kyriacou, 2001, p. 28). In a call to action, the same author more recently entreated scholars and practitioners to pursue several pathways of investigation into teacher stress. Since Kyriacou’s (2001) call to action may researchers, within academia and beyond, took up the cause. Most recently, a five volume (and growing) series summarized an international body of on–going research on stress and coping in education (Gates, Wolverton, Gmelch, & Schwarzer, 2003–2008). Another mighty contribution to the literature on teacher stress came from Montgomery and Rupp (2005) who conducted a robust and comprehensive meta–analysis which included data from 65 studies about teacher stress conducted between 1998 and 2003. From the 65 studies reviewed 2,527 correlational effect sizes where found and then used to empirically test relationships between the operationalized constructs (e.g., personality, coping, burnout, etc.) and teacher stress. Based on their analysis, none of the correlations proved significant above a moderate level ( r = .40). The highest correlations reported were identified within the relationships between “external stressors” and factors including: burnout, r = 0.27; support variables, r = 0.26; personality mediator variables, r = 0.25; and emotional response variables, r = 0.25 (Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). The enormous scope and variability of research done on teacher stress arguably evidences the vast amount of variables which potentially interact with the construct, and the ongoing difficulty among researchers to operationalize and empirically measure the construct.
  • ³Streeter. Tranquility gift. [i] Contemplative education is a pedagogy which incorporates mindfulness practices into the curriculum with the intention to nurture skills among students such as Deep attention and concentration, Emotional and cognitive awareness and understanding, Bodily awareness and coordination, and Interpersonal awareness and skills (Association for Mindfulness in Education, 2008). Mindfulness practices including silence, breathe, centering, journaling, etc. are the methods used by practitioners of contemplative education. The frequent and purposeful use of mindfulness practices as pedagogical tools to enhance academic performance and improve overall well–being lead to two types of effects, state (immediate changes during practice) and trait (changes that endure over time). According to research the state effects of mindfulness practice lead to physiological relaxation and slowed metabolism, a heightened self–awareness, and feelings of calm (e.g., Davidson et al., 2003; Geirland, 2006; Nitschke et al., 2005). Main trait effects include improved concentration, empathy, perceptual acuity, a drop in anxiety and stress symptoms, and more effective performance in a broad range of domains from sports and academic test taking to creativity (e.g., Gravois, 2005; Slagter et al., 2007; Tang et al., 2007). “ Mindfulness is not thinking, interpreting, or evaluating; it is an awareness of perception. It is a nonjudgmental quality of mind which does not anticipate the future or reflect back on the past. ² ” ²Association for Mindfulness in Education.
  • Weekly Intervention The first class meeting, which included a five minute general description of contemplative pedagogy and some of its reported positive outcomes for practitioners, was the only derivation from the regular weekly practice which occurred afterwards. In chronological order the six practices we employed were: 1. A Guided Relaxation (Rowe, 2007); an audio recording of full-body relaxation 2. Mindful breathing 3. Mindful breathing plus a music selection, All the People (Money Mark, 1998) 4. Writing prompt with verbal directions, “Write one word describing how you feel right now. Leave your pen on the page and work your way towards the bottom. Keep writing or drawing until I say stop.” After 5 minutes further verbal directions, “Now take one deep breath and write down, wherever you are on the page, one word describing how you feel right now.” 5. Mindful breathing plus silent meditation on the word “HOPE” [written on the board] 6. The Cube guided visualization (Gottlieb, 1995) ¹Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Heal and Social Behavior, 24, 385-396. The PSS is a 10–item, self–report instrument designed to measure the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful. The PSS possesses strong statistical reliability and validity (Cronbach’s α ≥ .78, R2 ≥ 48.9%; Cohen & Williamson, 1988). A search of the literature did not yield any studies employing an electronic (or Internet based) version of the 10-item PSS; neither did a visit to Sheldon Cohen’s laboratory website at http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~scohen/index.html (Cohen being one of the original co-authors of the PSS). Herrero and Meneses (2004) however compared paper and pencil to web based versions of the 4-item PSS and found no statistically significant differences in Cronbach αs or factor analysis between the two formats (Internet version, N = 262, Cronbach α = 0.72; pencil and paper version, N = 268, Cronbach α = 0.68). CES = formative and summative evaluation of students experience w/ mindfulness– Mindfulness practices. The second measure used was a researcher–designed survey called the Contemplative Education Survey (CES). The CES was created and delivered electronically using SurveyMonkey two weeks after the completion of the intervention study. The survey included 13 multiple choice ranking and open–ended items. It was only administered to the Monday group; 15 of whom completed the survey. The CES was designed to gather insights into how the use of mindfulness practices may inform the pedagogy and personal well–being of the future teachers who made up the Monday group. I created the CES based on my unique experiences as the teacher-researcher conducting the interventions and orchestrating the action research study. The questions on the CES represent what I specifically wanted to know about the Monday group’s experience with contemplative pedagogy at the specific moment in time it was designed (one week after the term ended). The CES thus served three purposes including Collected the students’ general perceptions about mindfulness practices as a part of teaching and learning. Provided students an avenue for reflecting on their individual experiences with mindfulness practices in our class. Informed my critical reflection on the potential of adopting a contemplative pedagogy.
  • R% M% Exercise 52.27 50.0 Media (e.g., watch TV, movies, etc.) 22.73 15.91 Socialize (friends, family support) 22.73 13.64 Hobbies 13.64 4.55 Mindfulness practices (e.g., mediation, reading, etc.) 13.64 34.09 Sleep 9.09 4.55 Get organized 6.82 0.0 Other (i.e. drinking, smoking, spa treatments) 27.27 6.82
  • The mean PSS scores reported by the students fell within the range of average scores reported by Cohen, Kamarck and Mermelstein (1983) who conducted a nation-wide sample of adults ( N = 2,387, M = 13.02, SD = 6.35) and by Roberti, Harrington and Storch (2006) who collected their normative data from college students ( N = 285, M = 17.4, SD = 6.1). Mention norms of PSS; sd and variations in number over instances. Weeks three and six saw the Monday group’s response rate sink to a low of 10 (58.8%). The control group experienced its highest attrition rate during week five when only four individuals responded to the survey (about 14.8%). The Monday group’s stress peaked during week six ( n = 10, m = 17.70, sd = 8.71) the control group’s perceived stress was at its height during week three ( n = 15, m = 19.66, sd = 9.03). After inspecting all of the mean scores I noted the Monday group’s PSS scores, when compared to those of the control group, only differed more than a few points during weeks three and four. I conducted an unpaired t test to more closely inspect the difference between the PSS scores; neither pair proved to be statistically significantly different (see Table 3). NOTE: CLEARLY THE STORY TO TELL WAS NOT A QUANTITATIVE ONE; at least as stress was measured by the PSS. OWNED TO LACK OF VARIATION IN THE SAMPLE POPULATION PERHAPS OR THE REPEATEDNESS OF THE MEASURE– MORE ON LIMITATIONS LATER.
  • The item, written in the form of a sentence stem read, “In Learning Theories class, contemplative education practices helped me…” Based on a review of the literature I selected these potential outcomes. POINT #1: In Learning Theories class we covered theories of pedagogical care as discussed by Noddings (1992) and Wentzel (1997). Therefore when the students’ named either pedagogical care specifically, or care in relation to pedagogical practices, I assumed they were referring to the specific attributes of theories and not to caring for their pupils as they would for a loved one. Noddings (1992) suggested that caring teachers (a) model caring behavior to their students, (b) engage students in dialogues that Lead to mutual understanding and perspective taking, and (c) expect as well as encourage students to do the best they can given their abilities. (in Wentzel, p. 412). Caring relations and encounters in education The relational sense of caring forces us to look at the relation. It is not enough to hear the teacher’s claim to care. Does the student recognize that he or she is cared for? Is the teacher thought by the student to be a caring teacher? In a caring relation or encounter, the cared-for recognizes the caring and responds in some detectable manner. An infant smiles and wriggles in response to it mother’s caregiving. A student may acknowledge her teacher’s caring directly, with verbal gratitude, or simply pursue her own project more confidently. The receptive teacher can see that her caring has been received by monitoring her students’ responses. Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring. Noddings, N. (2005) 'Caring in education', the encyclopedia of informal education , www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm. POINT #2: relax vs. increase energy
  • Stress relief. 2/3 responded they were either planning on taking action or exploring the possibilities of using mindfulness to deal with teacher stress. Four students ( P = 26.7%) reported they were considering it, but that it was not currently a priority, and one student asserted no interest at all. Given the opportunity to elaborate, through an open-ended question, how they planned to employ contemplative practice(s) as a way to relieve stress associated with teaching 10 students responded. The most common practice folks cited was deep breathing during times of peak stress. Several respondents associated mindful breathe with relaxation, regained focus, and reflection. One student noted of deep breathing, “I will do deep breathing, and try to exercise more often. I believe that this practice will help me relax and get more energy.” Another : I feel I do use deep breathing even now during the program [teacher training] to try to bring my stress level down when I feel it getting too high or out of control. I think I would employ contemplative practices on an as needed basis to deal with the stresses of teaching. I feel I would probably use the practices before I went to lunch, so I could regain energy and balance. Note: Exercise, including yoga, was mentioned by about half of the students as a practice they envisioned themselves using to deal with teacher stress. For example one wrote, Exercising regularly gives me the best opportunity to relax and reflect. Doing it on a regular basis is my goal. I already know how it makes me feel physically and mentally—better able to handle the challenges of being an educator.  This finding matches the baseline measure because 52% of the study participants reported a desire to exercise on the GCSOS open-ended items collected during the pre-program orientation.
  • Contemplative pedagogy. 2/3 responded they were considering using mindfulness activities with their future pupils, but that it was not currently a priority. Four students reported a strong interest, while one student asserted that (s)he was not at all interested. ELABORATION: Relieving academic stress, especially related to tests and quizzes, Easing transitions between classes or learning activities, Bonding with students over healthy ways to deal with a common element of the human experience, i.e. stress, and Expressing pedagogical care. QUOTES: FOCUS ON STRESS I would employ contemplative practices if the stress or tension levels of the class seemed relatively high or if the class was having trouble focusing. I feel using contemplative practices can calm and refocus students by giving them a few minutes of down-time. I believe one of the most effective ways that I can incorporate it with my limited experience is to have students do deep breathing and/or guided relaxation at the beginning and end of each class. I think this would be a nice way for them to come into the classroom from the crazy hallway, etc. and get ready to focus on class especially in another language. I would use it before the kids take their exam. I know that before taking exams or quizzes, kids are usually stressed. This is when I will use contemplative practices in my pedagogy. FOCUS ON PEDAGOGICAL CARE: I see using various contemplative practices if I sense my students are feeling stressed out (e.g., after particularly difficult teaching/learning moments). I think my students will benefit from these techniques because it will show that I care about them.  I would like to try to employ some of the practices in my classroom to teach students an alternative way to manage stress and to show them I care about their individual states of well-being. I enjoyed the deep breathing and relaxation, I think it is not only a healthy practice, but it shows the students that you understand that they might be overwhelmed and that you care. Finding that several students created a connection between pedagogical care and our mindfulness practices was not surprising because throughout the action research project I too felt we had made caring a “crucial part of the relationship between professor and student, rather than simply a virtue of the professor ” (Heuer, 2008, p.11). Thus we might imagine, as I hypothesized earlier, the feelings of good will our weekly practice wrought were indeed contagious—they spread and manifested among participants with similar intensity. [i] In Learning Theories class we covered theories of pedagogical care as discussed by Noddings (1992) and Wentzel (1997). Therefore when the students’ named either pedagogical care specifically, or care in relation to pedagogical practices, I assumed they were referring to the specific attributes of theories and not to caring for their pupils as they would for a loved one. Noddings (1992) suggested that caring teachers (a) model caring behavior to their students, (b) engage students in dialogues that Lead to mutual understanding and perspective taking, and (c) expect as well as encourage students to do the best they can given their abilities. (in Wentzel, p. 412). Caring relations and encounters in education The relational sense of caring forces us to look at the relation. It is not enough to hear the teacher’s claim to care. Does the student recognize that he or she is cared for? Is the teacher thought by the student to be a caring teacher? In a caring relation or encounter, the cared-for recognizes the caring and responds in some detectable manner. An infant smiles and wriggles in response to it mother’s caregiving. A student may acknowledge her teacher’s caring directly, with verbal gratitude, or simply pursue her own project more confidently. The receptive teacher can see that her caring has been received by monitoring her students’ responses. Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring. Noddings, N. (2005) 'Caring in education', the encyclopedia of informal education , www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm .
  • Teacher Stress: Discourse of “I’m so stressed out!” 44,700 google; 3,950 in google scholar Not suggesting teaching cannot be stressful, or studying to be a teacher not stressful, but the research on stress, in particular research done by the Cohen labs using the PSS shows that there is no measurable difference b/t perceived stress and “stress” and stress is contagious i.e. “second hand stress” Neuroscientists, on Nature Proceedings by Nature publishing group 2008 Second-Hand Stress: Neurobiological Evidence for a Human Alarm Pheromone Alarm pheromones are airborne chemical signals, released by an individual into the environment, which transmit warning of danger to conspecifics via olfaction. Using fMRI, we provide the first neurobiological evidence for a human alarm pheromone. Individuals showed activation of the amygdala in response to sweat produced by others during emotional stress, with exercise sweat as a control; behavioral data suggest facilitated evaluation of ambiguous threat. On Mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh (2006), the Vietnamese Zen Master, most apropos. He wrote, “We practice mindfulness in order to realize liberation, peace, and joy in our everyday lives. Liberation and happiness are linked to each other; if there is liberation, there is happiness, and greater liberation brings greater happiness. If there is liberation, peace and joy exist in the present moment” (p. 7). hooks called upon teachers to practice a holistic, “engaged pedagogy,” one that emphasizes well-being, of both teacher and student. To accomplish this feat, the teacher must be “whole” in the classroom, in other words being present and mindful. Furthermore she must lead teaching and learning events that invite her students to be equally whole (body, mind, and spirit); mindfulness practices being only one approach to enliven teaching and learning. I propose the kinship we feel with some students or classes, and not with others, is bound to how we bare witness to our whole selves learning wholeheartedly. Finding that several students created a connection between pedagogical care and our mindfulness practices was not surprising because throughout the action research project I too felt we had made caring a “crucial part of the relationship between professor and student, rather than simply a virtue of the professor ” (Heuer, 2008, p.11). Thus we might imagine, as I hypothesized earlier, the feelings of good will our weekly practice wrought were indeed contagious—they spread and manifested among participants with similar intensity. “ internalizing other people’s stress and taking it on as your own” e.g., kids, other teachers, peers, etc. People take on others’ stress to not deal with their own…issues, stress, etc.
  • A second limitation of the study with respect to the intervention group was the lack of follow-up. After the term was over the students had one week off prior to starting their second term of coursework. They then went straight into student teaching and are now in the midst of their final projects. Keeping up with the group as they moved through their program could have potentially produced valuable insights into the durability of the intervention. The attrition rate, specifically with the PSS, presented a general limitation to the study. The quantity of students taking the PSS each week varied as much as 80%. Although the weekly PSS scores never diverged more than a few points from the baseline, given the fluctuations in participation, it was easy for me to imagine students feeling extremely stressed out over the weekend and not filling out the PSS. Another potential limitation was the use of the same instrument several times within a short time span. Using the PSS seven times may have induced a threat to the internal validity of the instrument due to the participant’s familiarity with the scale including its content and the order of the items. Like most action research projects, this one began with one teacher wanting to make changes and/or improvements in her practice. Motivated by the desire to improve teaching and learning conditions and outcomes for myself, current and future students, I designed this multiple-measures intervention study. I explored preservice teachers’ perceptions of stress and the role of contemplative practices in teaching and learning. Ultimately, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the mutually beneficial aspects, for myself and students, of incorporating mindfulness practices into my pedagogy.
  • Thelonius Monk once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Learning about teachers teaching is like teaching about learners learning. As teacher educators we do both all of the time… and like playing jazz, teaching teachers depends upon a body of known forms, the theory and domain knowledge we each endeavor to master. We also bring to the mix our unique life experience. When we combine the two, invite students to the jam session and start playing, the music we create resonates across space and over time—the tunes and rhythms, cacophony and symphony. I testify to our song through the story I my own and do so through the words of Parker Palmer (1998) who wrote, “The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts—meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self” (p. 11).
  • On my website you will find the full manuscript along w/ more tables if you are into statistical analysis. Also a thorough review of Cohen’s perceived stress scale –and my twitter feed!
  • Transcript

    • 1. Neag School of Education Just Breathe: Mindfulness Practices in Teacher Training GNA Garcia [email_address] Department of Educational Psychology Cognition & Instruction Program
    • 2.  
    • 3.  
    • 4. James Alexander, a student at Piedmont Avenue Elementary in Oakland, CA, practiced being mindful, using a technique he learned in class. Brown, P. L. (June 16, 2007). In the classroom, a new focus on quieting the mind. The New York Times. Why Do I Care?
    • 5.
    • 6. What is Teacher Stress?
    • 7. What is Mindfulness?
    • 8. Research Program
      • Participants:
      • 44 adult students (average age ≈ 27; 75% female) in their first semester of an accelerated Teacher Certification Program (Master’s degree with certification in one year)
      • Setting:
      • Learning Theories course (six hours, one day a week, for six weeks)
      • Intervention:
      • Weekly mindfulness exercises lead by instructor (researcher), 5-7 minutes in duration, prior to lunch break
      • Methodology:
      • Action research with an intervention
      • Instruments:
      • Perceived Stress Scale (quantitative); Contemplative Education Survey (qualitative)
    • 9. Research Questions
      • Does 5 to 7 minutes of in-class weekly mindfulness practice decrease teachers in training perceived stress?
      • 2. How do participants perceive the role of mindfulness practice in the curriculum?
      • 3. How, if at all, do participants project the incorporation of mindfulness practices as a strategy to address teacher stress?
      • 4. How, if at all, do participants project the incorporation of mindfulness practices as a method of contemplative pedagogy?
    • 10. Reported Stress Management Techniques 27.27% 52.27% 34.09% 13.64%
    • 11. Weekly Mindfulness Practice & Stress Perceived Stress Over Time ( n = 44)
    • 12. Mindfulness in Our Curriculum ( n = 15) Student Outcome f S. Agree Agree Experience pedagogical care 13 21.4% 71.4% Relax 13 40% 46.7% Stay motivated 10 6.7% 60% Focus 9 13.3% 46.7% Increase energy 9 13.3% 46.7% Learn 8 13.3% 40% Manage my stress 7 13.3% 33.3% They did not help me 3 6.7% 13.3%
    • 13. Mindfulness & Teacher Stress
    • 14. Contemplative Pedagogy
    • 15. Implications for Teacher Education
      • Capitalize upon the experiences dealing with stress your candidates currently possess
      • Identify and talk about stress with students
      • Model healthy ways of dealing with teacher stress
      • Remain in the moment i.e., present with your students
      • Manifest joy in your own teaching and learning
      • Invite students to bring their whole selves into the learning environment
      INTERROGATE TEACHER STRESS MINDFULNESS ENLIVENS TEACHING & LEARNING
    • 16. Limitations
      • “ This [mindfulness practice] may be better used before a test than before lunch, as lunch is a time most students relax anyway” said a Monday Group student.
    • 17. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Thelonius Monk
    • 18. Neag School of Education MUCHAS GRACIAS. GNA Garcia [email_address] Full paper available @ WWW.GNAGARCIA.COM Cognition & Instruction Program Department of Educational Psychology

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