Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Building Teachers' Social-Emotional Competence through Mindfulness Practices

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Building Teachers' Social-Emotional Competence through Mindfulness Practices

Article excerpt

"I am so stressed out and overwhelmed by everything on my plate that I almost feel paralyzed."

"I am really worried about being judged harshly with the new evaluation rubric for teachers, and I am afraid of losing my job or status if my students do not score highly enough on the state standardized exams."

"I am at wit's end with how to deal with Celia's defiance and unwillingness to follow my directions in class and get on task."

"I snapped at a student when he questioned my authority in front of the class."

These comments reflect the kinds of emotional stressors and pressures that contemporary educators may face on a daily basis. Many teachers, especially those in urban or low-income settings, are stressed out, as widely cited (e.g., Abel & Sewell, 1999; Meiklejohn et al., 2012; Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). Weaver and Wilding (2013) report hearing repeatedly from teachers across the country that in the current educational climate, "they have become overloaded and overwhelmed with new policies and standards, and it has become difficult to find the time and energy to engage in anything beyond what is absolutely required by schools or districts" (p. 1). But to what extent do teachers have opportunities to develop concrete strategies and internal dispositions during their teacher preparation programs to help them address these increasingly challenging scenarios? Practicing teachers are rarely provided with resources for how to alleviate stress and maintain well-being (Meiklejohn et al., 2012). As Michalec argues, "In addition to technical expertise, 21st century teachers and teacher-leaders need a steady supply of passion, heart, and inner resiliency to resist burnout and effectively respond to the curricular, societal, and institutional conditions of teaching" (2013, p. 27).

This article reports on the process and lessons learned from a three-year action research project of integrating mindfulness and contemplative practices into my pre-service and master's level education courses as a way to build teachers' social-emotional competence, including the "inner resiliency" to which Michalec refers. The paper is guided by three research questions:

1. What are my students' perceptions and attitudes about the integration of mindfulness practices into our teacher education courses?

2. What evidence exists, if any, that the mindfulness practices contribute to teacher education students' social-emotional competence?

3. How has my facilitation and implementation of this process evolved over time?

This article is directed towards other practitioners who aspire to or currently integrate mindfulness practices into their courses, as well those interested more generally in mindfulness in education.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES

Colleges (and teacher education programs) as institutions have been criticized for focusing too much on knowledge development and not enough on personal reflection of one's self and larger purpose and how to seek meaning in one's life (Lewis, 2006; Taylor, 2010). However, "neuroscience, learning theory, and teaching experience all illustrate that the social and emotional dimensions of learning are not only inextricably linked to academic success, but are indeed at its very foundation" (Weaver & Wilding, 2013, p. 1). Methods of teaching and working with students that are grounded in contemplative modes such as mindfulness training "provide the opportunity for students to develop creativity and insight, hone their concentration skills, and deeply inquire about what means the most to them. These practices naturally deepen understanding while increasing connection and community within higher education" (Barbezat & Bush, 2014, p. 8).

An exponentially increasing body of neuroscientific research supports the claim that mindfulness training can help reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing. Mindfulness is defined by secular mindfulness expert Dr. …

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